Benn defends aid for GM crops (8/12/2005)

1.Benn defends aid for GM crops
2.So who are the African Agricultural Technology Foundation?
3.DFID - we have all been here before

1.Benn defends aid for GM crops
John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian, December 8, 2005

Britain is to direct more foreign aid to develop genetically modified crops in Africa to speed up economic growth on the continent and use modern science and new technologies to tackle hunger.

A paper from the Department for International Development, launched yesterday by international development secretary Hilary Benn, includes commitments to promote patented GM seeds and scientific research by GM firms.

But Mr Benn said that it was up to individual developing countries to decide whether they wanted the controversial technology. "We should work on the basis of good science. I am genuinely neutral about GM," he said. The paper commits the government to channelling much of its new GM research funding through the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation, based in Kenya, set up in 2003 by the Rockefeller Foundation with American and UK government money and the help of major GM companies.

2.African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

EXCERPT: According to its website (in 2003), 'The AATF is a new and unique public-private partnership designed to remove many of the barriers that have prevented smallholder farmers in Africa from gaining access to existing agricultural technologies that could help relieve food insecurity and alleviate poverty.'

The rice industry website Oryza.com explained the purpose of AATF in straightforward terms, 'The goal of the AATF will be to work with governments, companies, non-governmental organizations, and research centers to negotiate the sales rights of genetically modified crops and bring new agricultural technologies to the African market.'

And unlike AATF's website which only lists as donors USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, Oryza.com also lists the following biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Agro Sciences and Syngenta.(Africa: Group to Promote GMO Sales, Oryza.com )

In some ways AATF appears to be modelled on the longer-standing International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which although originating in the US, has an office in Nairobi. Both ISAAA and AATF also have very similar backers and both work on GM 'technology transfer' to Africa, but AATF has been given a more African facade. Its website states, 'The AATF will be based in Africa and will be led, managed and directed by Africans.'

AATF's board is chaired by Jennifer Thompson, a scientist and fervent GM supporter who came to prominence as part of South Africa's regulatory body SAGENE, originally established under South Africa's apartheid regime. Interestingly, Thompson is also on the board of ISAAA as well as the biotech-industry backed South African lobby group AfricaBio.

The selection of a permanent Board of Directors for AATF was made with the assistance of its Design Advisory Committee (DAC) which was created to play 'a critical advisory role, guiding the formation of AATF' and to provide 'guidance on key operational issues'. This included 'guidance on the business plan, selection of board members, selection of the African headquarters, and the development of criteria for the selection of pilot projects.' The Committee included the former Monsanto-trained scientist and lobbyist Florence Wambugu, who then headed ISAAA's AfriCenter, as well as a number of biotech industry employees, including Monsanto's Gerard Barry. Barry is quoted as saying that getting involved with AATF 'has been fantastic for us [ie Monsanto].'

3.DFID - we have all been here before

EXCERPT: In September 2002, The Independent on Sunday reported that DFID had been running a 'GBP13.4m programme to create a new generation of GM animals, crops and drugs throughout the Third World. The so far unpublicised programme has financed research in more than 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe into at least 80 GM projects ranging from long-life bananas to fast-growing pigs and fish...'

DfID was accused by Dr Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK of having 'deceived' the public about the scale of the programme. In a Leader comment, the Independent on Sunday said that the revelation that DFID had funded such a huge programme of GM research across the Third World was deeply disturbing. 'The whole programme legitimises and promotes technology still opposed by many Third World Governments and their peoples. Britain has no business doing this. And it certainly should not continue without subjecting the work to the kind of public debate that ministers have rightly decided must be completed before any decision is taken to commercialise the technology at home.'

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