No gateway to Africa's sorghum (10/7/2006)

from The African Centre for Biosafety

The African Centre for Biosafety, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, applauds the decision by the South African GM regulatory body to turn down an application by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct laboratory and greenhouse experiments with transgenic sorghum in South Africa. The Executive Council (EC) established in terms of South Africa's GMO Act, refused the application on biosafety grounds, fearing that GM sorghum will lead to the destruction of the sorghum varieties prevalent throughout Africa.

This decision represents a severe blow to the African Biotechnology Sorghum Project (ABS), bankrolled by Bill and Melinda Gates to the tune of $450 million to bring GM sorghum to Africa's poor. The ABS is spearheaded by a consortium, which includes Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Florence Wambugu's Africa Harvest Biotechnology International, Rockerfeller Foundation-backed African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the CSIR, the Agricultural Research Council, Ghana’s Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and University of California, Berkeley.

Notwithstanding the "lofty" agenda of the ABS, the EC has for the first time deemed it prudent to protect an African cereal in the face of huge international funding.

The African Centre for Biosafety warmly welcomes the decision by the EC as sorghum is an extremely important crop for Africa, having unique abilities to withstand the harsh environmental conditions on the continent.

Sorghum seeds have been discovered at an ancient site in Nabta Playa in Southern Egypt, dating the seeds back to 8000 years. Early domestication of sorghum took place near the Ethiopian border, west though Sudan and up to Lake Chad.

Today, there are several varieties of sorghum being grown in several countries in Africa. Although sorghum only represents 3.5% of the total cereal production, sorghum is of great importance to Africans especially where traditional agriculture predominates.

Issued by
Mariam Mayet
10 July 2006

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