FOCUS ON AFRICA
Delegates from 15 West African nations have gathered in Burkina Faso for a three-day US-backed conference on GM crops. The US Department of Agriculture says, "It is a response to the needs of hundreds of millions of people who don't have enough food." (items 1 & 3)
"This is being promoted by the United States. Now the United States has just been in trouble themselves with the World Trade Organization over their massive subsidies to cotton, which of course are hitting West Africa" - Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch (item 1 - GM Watch on Voice of America!)
"The W.T.O. report, which was not made public, upheld a preliminary ruling in April... that the more than $3 billion in subsidies the United States pays its cotton farmers distorts global prices and violates international trade rules.
"If Washington scrapped the subsidies... [it] would lead to a 12.6 percent increase in world cotton prices, helping struggling cotton farmers from Brazil to West Africa." - New York Times (item 2)
"We will defend U.S. agricultural interests in every form we need to" - Richard Mills, a spokesman for the United States trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick (item 2)
"GM involves large scale farming accompanied with highly modernized technology, hence it is likely to kill the livelihood of peasantry farming in Tanzania, " says Said Hassan, a farmer from the suburbs of Dar es Salaam. (item 4)
"Zambia has re-affirmed that it will not allow modified foods to enter the country without further research, with deputy Agriculture Minister Chance Kabaghe saying in Lusaka that there is a lack of evidence that it is harmless to human health and the environment." (item 3)
1.African Conference Discusses Genetically Modified Food - VOICE OF AMERICA
2.W.T.O. Rules Against U.S. Cotton Subsidies - NYT
3.Push to spread GM crops in Africa - BBC
4.Help for Tanzania with 'inevitable' GM crops - SciDev.Net
1.African Conference Discusses Genetically Modified Food
Voice of America, Abidjan
21 Jun 2004, 15:28 UTC
Listen to Carrie Giardino's report (RealAudio) http://www.voanews.com/mediastore/giardino_africa_GM_food_21jun04.ram
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A three-day, U.S.-backed West African conference on genetically modified seeds has opened in Burkina Faso. The controversial scientific development started with the planting of transgenic cotton in some areas of Burkina Faso for the first time last year.
The United States is sponsoring the conference to promote the use of genetically modified seeds and an overall understanding of biotechnology in the West African region.
Members of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, are attending the meeting in Burkina Faso, one of the first nations to accept testing of genetically modified crops. But some ECOWAS countries remain concerned about possible risks to human and environmental health.
Burkina Faso is one of Africa's poorest countries and its number-one cash crop is cotton. But the landlocked nation imports more products than it exports and relies heavily on outside food aid.
The United States is promoting the use of biotechnology which, it says, holds the promise of drought-resistant crops and the growing of African staples such as rice and cassava that would require less water.
But Jonathan Matthews, the coordinator of GM Watch, a British-based watchdog group specializing in genetically modified crops, says there are other ways that the United States could assist West Africa.
"This is being promoted by the United States. Now the United States has just been in trouble themselves with the World Trade Organization over their massive subsidies to cotton, which of course are hitting West Africa," he said. "So, if they really wanted to do something to help Africa, there are very simple things that they could do which do not involve an introduction of very sophisticated and expensive technology with a number of risks associated with it."
Last week, the World Trade Organization ruled against American cotton subsidies in a case brought by Brazil. The case stated that the United States paid more than three billion dollars to its cotton farmers in a move that affected global cotton prices.
Mr. Matthews also worries that the manufacturers of the modified seeds are not aware [that's not exactly what Jonathan meant!] that many farmers in developing countries reuse seeds from year-to-year.
"Another of the problems that comes with this technology is that it is a patented technology and the company keeps commercial control over it," he said. "And that means that traditional practices of saving and reusing seed are not possible, or there is a danger that if they do occur then the company will come after the seed saver and actually seek financial redress through the legal system. And obviously, that is a much bigger issue for farmers in the developing world where seed saving is very customary."
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says nearly half of the nations in Africa suffer from dire food shortages and that biotechnology could help feed billions of people during the next few decades.
2.W.T.O. Rules Against U.S. Cotton Subsidies
By TODD BENSON
New York Times, June 19, 2004
SÃO PAULO, Brazil, June 18 - In a landmark decision, the World Trade Organization ruled against American cotton subsidies in a case brought by Brazil, officials from the two countries said on Friday.
The decision could eventually lead the United States to reduce subsidies for its entire farm sector and encourage other countries to challenge such aid in wealthy nations, analysts said.
The W.T.O. report, which was not made public, upheld a preliminary ruling in April that supported Brazil's claim that the more than $3 billion in subsidies the United States pays its cotton farmers distorts global prices and violates international trade rules.
"We are very satisfied with the panel's decision," Roberto Azevedo, who heads the trade disputes department at Brazil's foreign ministry, said in a phone interview from Brasília. "Once this is all over with, we expect the United States to comply with the ruling."
In Washington, Bush administration officials criticized the decision, arguing that the best way to address distortions in world agriculture trade was through negotiations, not litigation. The officials also said the United States would appeal, a process that could drag on for months, and possibly more than a year.
"We believe U.S. farm programs were designed to be, and are, fully consistent with our W.T.O. obligations," Richard Mills, a spokesman for the United States trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick, said in a telephone interview.
"We will defend U.S. agricultural interests in every form we need to, and we have no intention of unilaterally disarming," he added, referring to the $19 billion in annual subsidies paid out to American farmers.
The W.T.O. ruling is not expected to be made public until late August. An arbitration panel will then decide what damages are due and to what extent Brazil can retaliate if the United States does not comply with the ruling.
In another recent case involving steel, President Bush chose to lift subsidies rather than face penalties.
In its complaint, Brazil, the world's fifth-largest cotton producer, used data from the United States Department of Agriculture to argue that the subsidies led to increased American cotton output, robbing Brazil of potential export markets and undermining the livelihoods of its farmers.
If Washington scrapped the subsidies, Brazil estimated, American cotton exports would fall 41 percent and production would drop 29 percent. That, in turn, would lead to a 12.6 percent increase in world cotton prices, helping struggling cotton farmers from Brazil to West Africa.
Brazil also claimed that the United States was providing illegal export subsidies to American agribusiness companies, who were given $1.7 billion to buy American cotton from 1999 to 2001, the period covered in the W.T.O. challenge. The combined aid has helped make the United States the world's top cotton exporter, with more than 40 percent of the world market.
As the first successful challenge of a wealthy nation's agricultural subsidies, the cotton case could help energize global trade talks, which have been stalled for more than a year over agriculture.
The decision also sets a precedent that could encourage more W.T.O. complaints from other developing countries that feel unfairly punished by the $300 billion in annual farm subsidies and supports paid to farmers in the world's richest nations.
"This has a value as a precedent that goes very far and broad," said Gary Hufbauer, a trade specialist at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. "It opens the doors for countries who are affected by agricultural subsidies to challenge a lot of other subsidies: sugar, corn, almost any product."
Brazil was joined in the case by Argentina, Australia, Benin, Canada, Chad, China, the European Community, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Taiwan and Venezuela, all of which were third parties.
3.Push to spread GM crops in Africa
Delegates from 15 West African nations have gathered in Burkina Faso for a three-day US-backed conference on genetically-modified crops. The US Department of Agriculture says the conference aims to combat prejudice about biotechnology.
"It is a response to the needs of hundreds of millions of people who don't have enough food," it says.
But critics accuse the US of selling GM crops to the developing world as an over-simplified solution to hunger.
The Burkina Faso government has already accepted proposals from the multinational firm, Monsanto, to allow the planting of genetically modified cotton, the first country in the region to do so.
Agriculture Minister Salif Diallo says GM cotton, with its promised resistance to pests, raises the possibility of increasing local production several times over.
He has urged other African countries to join it in making use of new technology to improve productivity in farming, saying it would be a monumental error not to participate in the development of biotechnology.
But there is widespread scepticism across Africa.
Critics argue that using modified crops makes growers more dependent on foreign bio-technology companies in return for as yet uncertain benefits.
Others worry that using genetically-modified seeds could endanger their own exports to Europe, which also has concerns about GM products.
Zambia has re-affirmed that it will not allow modified foods to enter the country without further research, with deputy Agriculture Minister Chance Kabaghe saying in Lusaka that there is a lack of evidence that it is harmless to human health and the environment.
During particularly severe food shortages 18 months ago, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa described GM foods as poisonous and intrinsically dangerous.
Other issues like water shortages are also on the agenda at the talks in Ouagadougou.
4.Egypt will help Tanzania with 'inevitable' GM crops
18 June 2004
[CAIRO] Egypt is to provide training and other forms of technical assistance to Tanzania to help it develop the capacity to produce genetically modified (GM) crops. The offer was made during talks between the countries on the sensitive issue of access to water from the River Nile.
"We are ready to support any of your projects," said Egypt's deputy prime minister and minister for agriculture, Youssef Wally, told a visiting Tanzanian delegation last week.
He was responding to a request for agricultural and veterinary training from Tanzania's minister for water and livestock, Edward Lowassa, who led the delegation.
But Wally warned that generating the capacity to develop GM crops is an expensive process, and that Tanzania was unlikely to be able to afford to embrace the technology on its own. He therefore suggested that it should seek further assistance from China and India, both of which have the considerable technological experience with GM technology.
Wally told the Tanzanian delegation that implementation of the technology was inevitable. Egypt is already carrying out tests of GM strains of cotton, sugarcane and other crops, although it has yet to grow any of them commercially.
"We must not be too sensitive about this issue," Wally said. "It is like unnecessary fear of globalisation, computer technology or the internet. Remember that fifty per cent of maize grown in United States is produced through biotech."
The Tanzanian delegation included nine members of parliament and eight journalists, and was visiting Egypt primarily for a week-long official dialogue on issues surrounding the use of water from the River Nile.
Tanzania is refusing to recognise the 1929 Nile River Agreement between Great Britain and Egypt, which bans any country from using water from the Nile for irrigation without Egypt's permission. The treaty also restricts East African countries from using waters from Lake Victoria hundreds of miles from the Egyptian border.
Egypt's deputy prime minister declined to comment on whether the offer of aid for GM technology was related to his country's efforts to persuade Tanzania to take a more flexible stance on the treaty. Nor did its minister for water and irrigation, Mohamed Abu Zeid, who said that there are issues other than the Nile on which the two countries can collaborate.
Meanwhile, views remain divided among ordinary Tanzanian farmers about GM issues. Some as elsewhere in East Africa are openly hostile.
"GM involves large scale farming accompanied with highly modernized technology, hence it is likely to kill the livelihood of peasantry farming in Tanzania, " says Said Hassan, a farmer from the suburbs of Dar es Salaam.
But others say they lack sufficient information to make an informed judgement.
"I have read about GM products, through newspapers, but I can't tell exactly what it is," says Majura Ndege, a farmer in Coast Region, Tanzania. "What I can say we depend much on the government's decision to lead us, if wrong decision is done, then we will be in trouble, if the decision is right, then we reap the profit."
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