More bullsh*t over Africa (4/9/2006)

Below are several items related to a recent pro-biotech conference in South Africa and a report published to coincide with the event.

The conference was orgainsed by the Sustainable Development Network. It was held in Johannesburg and it presented a very African face, with Moeletsi Mbeki of the South African Institute of International Affairs and the Hon. Ruth Oniang'o, MP, of the Government of Kenya, as its keynote speakers.

But don't be fooled. The Sustainable Development Network is a deceptively named organisation. Although it gives little away about itself on its website, not even an address, the contact details are as follows:

Kendra Okonski, coordinator of the SDN
phone: 4420 7836 0750

That's a London number and it doesn't just belong to SDN. It's also the number for the International Policy Network (IPN). http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=779087

IPN is an ultra-right lobby group headed by Julian Morris, who also claims the title of Environment and Technology Programme Director for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government".

Kendra Okonski works under Morris at IPN. The daughter of a U.S. lumber industrialist, Okonski has also previoulsy worked for a variety of other anti-regulatory NGOs, including the Monsanto-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington DC.

IPN uses SDN as a front for pro-corporate lobbying on development issues. And Okonski, wearing her SDN hat, has used Johannesburg as her stomping ground before. On that occasion she was involved in organising the notorious Fake Parade in support of GM crops that was held during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. (see The Fake Parade) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?ArcId=288


From Subsistence to Sustainable Farming in Africa
Sustainable Development Network.

To achieve a sustainable food supply, Africa needs an agricultural revolution, according to the authors of a new report, "Growing Green: The Challenge of Sustainable Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa". The report was released at the Sustainable Development Network conference, "Sustainable Agriculture in Africa: from ideas to action" (16 August 2006, in Johannesburg, South Africa).

Download report at http://www.sdnetwork.net/files/pdf/growing-green-final.pdf

The report outlines how yields can be increased, for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the environment. These steps include dramatically increasing the use of fertilisers to replace nutrients and minerals; increasing the use of irrigation; using insecticides to control insects, which eat crops, and herbicides to control weeds, which compete with crops for nutrients. Biotechnology is also needed to develop new crop varieties for Africa.

A Biotech Revolution For Africa?
Douglas Southgate and Douglas H. Graham, August 16, 2006. E
xcerpted from "Growing Green: The Challenge of Sustainable Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa".

'Is anti-GM activism having an adverse effect? Are African leaders sufficiently supportive? '

Agricultural biotechnology offers the potential to increase yields, enable adaptation to more extreme environments, and improve nutritional content. However, its uptake and progress has been slowed by a variety of concerns...

While testing for environmental and food safety is an appropriate part of approval and regulatory processes that should precede the commercialization of GM products, the concerns that have been raised by interest groups seem disproportionate to the risks posed.

...One might even speculate that the high costs and long periods of time that characterize approval and regulatory processes in Europe, which has the strongest anti-GM movement in the world, are in part a signal to other regions that adopting the products of agricultural biotechnology could lead to the loss of European markets.

But if African authorities respond to this signal by rejecting GM products, they will harm large numbers of their fellow citizens and agricultural biotechnology might well bypass the region. The EU will be partly to blame but not entirely: African governments have a choice. So far, the only nation to take a firm stand against external pressure is South Africa, which has permitted commercialization of two GM crops and is continuing to investigate a number of others.

August 16, 2006
Organisation: Sustainable Development Network
City: Johannesburg, South Africa

Most African countries currently suffer from very low agricultural yields compared to the rest of the world. Since a large proportion of the continent’s inhabitants are subsistence farmers, these low yields contribute to a lack of economic development, poverty, and high levels of infant mortality and premature childhood deaths. At the same time, opponents of modern agriculture – including both domestic and foreign NGOs, ideologues and policymakers – have promoted policies that perpetuate the low yields and returns which are characteristic to subsistence agriculture. Similarly, African government policies towards agriculture have tended to be biased towards the politically connected elite rather than poor rural producers.

This half-day conference will focus on issues and challenges relating to the practice of sustainable agriculture in Africa, including

The use of modern agricultural technologies - or lack thereof.


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