1.Is Africa being bullied into growing GM crops?
2.Poverty and environment -- billions could be wasted
EXTRACTS: 'Gene corporations, together with the scientists that work for them, have invested a lot of time, effort and money in developing GM crops. Not surprisingly, they are the ones who propound the idea that transgenic crops can rescue Africa from poverty and underdevelopment.' (item 1)
'Silver bullets for poverty reduction are failing the poor and risk failing altogether.' (item 2)
1.Is Africa being bullied into growing GM crops?
SciDev.Net, 27 June 2007
Africa must not let multinational corporations and international donors dictate its biotechnology agenda, says David Fig.
Africa is rapidly becoming a focal point for multinational crop and chemical corporations clearing the way for the extended uptake of their products and technologies. In particular, African governments are facing enormous pressure to endorse and adopt genetically modified (GM) crops.
Organisations like the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa - bankrolled by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations - are partly to blame through their heavy investment in infrastructure aimed at supporting the development and distribution of GM crops and seeds.
But the African Union (AU) itself is now also encouraging the adoption of GM technology. Working in tandem with its development wing, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the AU's High Level Panel on Modern Biotechnology is soon to release a Freedom to Innovate plan - the clearest expression yet of the trend to back this controversial and risky technology. And it does so uncritically, rather than taking a more rational precautionary position that would safeguard Africa's rich biodiversity and agriculture.
The AU is also engaged in efforts to revise the carefully crafted African Model Law on Biosafety, which outlines the biosafety provisions necessary for African environmental conditions.
The revisions emanate from those seeking to make the biosafety content less stringent, placing Africa under even more pressure to conform to the needs of the gene corporations.
Saying no to the GM bandwagon
Support for GM technology, though, is by no means universal across the continent. The AU's efforts in shaping the Freedom to Innovate plan and model law contrast with the leadership role that the Africa Group took in developing the Cartagena Protocol to ensure more stringent biosafety precautions.
Indeed, a number of African governments and civil society organisations are increasingly speaking out against the pressures from gene companies - and the foundations that back them - to adopt their technologies.
For example Angola, Sudan and Zambia have resisted pressure to accept GM food aid, while nongovernmental groups such as the African Biodiversity Network, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, defend community and farmers' rights to reject GM seed. At one stage Burkina Faso implemented a moratorium on the planting of GM crops.
The Freedom to Innovate document does little justice to the debate raging around Africa. Instead it seeks to institutionalise the pro-GM position of larger countries like Nigeria and South Africa for the entire continent.
Offering unbiased advice
There is no question that Africa needs technology to develop. But it must be appropriate to a country's chosen path of development.
New technologies aimed at development must be evaluated in depth by, among others, scientists with no vested interests.
Natural scientists must assess GM technology's likely impacts on both the environment and human and animal health. Social scientists must also examine the potential socio-economic consequences of such innovation - such as impacts on local food security, trade or indebtedness. Stakeholders, including those who safeguard traditional knowledge, could further enrich such assessment by indicating proven alternatives.
This model of technological assessment could serve Africa very well. It could enable governments to formulate appropriate policies and development priorities.
Most importantly, if a technology is found to be questionable or negative in terms of its impacts - or if there are no clear development benefits to be derived from its adoption - a precautionary mechanism must exist that can delay and carefully regulate its introduction.
The freedom to choose
The Freedom to Innovate plan tries to advocate the idea that all biotechnology benefits Africa and fails to analyse the risks attached to their adoption. While some aspects of modern biotechnology might prove useful in African agriculture, this does not mean that one aspect of this - GM crops - can increase continental food security and farmer prosperity.
GM technology forces Africa into high-input, chemical-dependent agriculture which impacts on biodiversity and creates debt burdens for small farmers.
In addition, the regulatory steps required for control of GM crops are so demanding of resources that, even when other budgetary areas relating to food security may need more pressing attention, Africa is forced to prioritise their set up.
Gene corporations, together with the scientists that work for them, have invested a lot of time, effort and money in developing GM crops. Not surprisingly, they are the ones who propound the idea that transgenic crops can rescue Africa from poverty and underdevelopment.
But Africa must not let itself be bullied into accepting a technology that has yet to prove itself as appropriate for solving the continent's hunger problems. The AU's role should be one of providing governments with well-reasoned technological evaluation, rather than acting as a proxy for promoting a specific industry's commercial needs.
David Fig is an independent environmental policy analyst based in Johannesburg, and a trustee of Biowatch South Africa.
2.Poverty and environment -- billions could be wasted
New research to make science and technology work for the poor
Public release date: 25-Jun-2007
Economic & Social Research Council
Out-of-date policies are undermining unprecedented opportunities for recent aid commitments to improve the environment and combat poverty, according to scientists at a new global research centre launched today. The warning comes from the STEPS Centre, whose urgently needed new approach to development aims to respond to 21st century conditions.
We live in an era of unprecedented environmental and technological flux; apocalyptic predictions of climate change-induced drought and floods, avian Ã"flu and HIV/AIDS pandemics, unsafe food and scarce water supplies hit the headlines daily. Rapid change is creating new interactions between people, environment and technology, but also new problems, such as novel strains of avian flu and HIV drug resistances. Yet billions in aid could be wasted because current policy is failing to respond.
The STEPS Centre's new approach sees natural and social scientists working together, instead of separately. STEPS research connects, social, technology and environment issues, rather than dividing them. It creates solutions that are adaptive to change, build resilience to uncertainty and meet the priorities of poor and marginalised people in different settings.
With GBP4m of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, STEPS's five-year programme of research, with partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America, focuses on agriculture, water and health. Initial projects include investigating the effects of climate change on maize crops in Kenya, urbanisation in India and drug regulation in China and Latin America.
Professor Melissa Leach, Director of the STEPS Centre explains: 'Silver bullets for poverty reduction are failing the poor and risk failing altogether. They assume one-size-fits-all solutions can be applied across a stable world. But we live in a world of dynamic change and uncertainty. The STEPS Centre aims to tackle these challenges head on, combining new theory with practical solutions that make science and technology work for the poor and environmental sustainability, building on people's own knowledge.'
Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr, speaking at the launch, said STEPS' work was 'crucial':
'Meeting the needs of billions of people in ways compatible with a livable planet is a moral imperative but a huge challenge to our standard ways of thinking and working, in both North and South. Research which challenges assumptions underpinning failed, outmoded and unsustainable models of development is crucial to making the future work.
Unprecedented opportunities to address these global challenges exist right now, with international interest and investment higher than ever: The G8's $60bn pledge to fight disease in Africa; record levels of philanthropy - $1.5bn from the Gates Foundation in 2006; a GBP200m a-year search for global warming-proof crops by a consortium of governments.
But globalised one-size-fits-all solutions ignore differences on the ground and remain compartmentalised by geography, sector and discipline at a time when unparalleled interaction between people, the environment and technology demand interdisciplinary solutions.
Recent examples of these failings include the UN's polio eradication programme in Nigeria which backfired because Muslims believed vaccination was a ploy to inject people with anti-fertility drugs. Polio is now resurgent in Nigeria; Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's claims to cure AIDS with herbal medicine which risks derailing anti-retroviral treatments; and local opposition to large dam building and the GM crop Bt cotton in India.
Dr Ian Gibson MP, chairing the STEPS Centre launch, said: 'Science makes a massive contribution to our modern world. If we are to respond to the challenges of the twenty-first century, research like the STEPS Centre's, that makes science and technology work for poor and marginalised people, is essential. Economic development, matters of health and disease, climate change; it is hard to see where science and technology will not be a major component for poverty reduction programmes.'
James Wilsdon, head of science and innovation at think tank Demos, speaking at the launch, said STEPS fills a 'vital gap': 'The global landscape for science, technology and innovation is changing at an astonishing pace. But while the frameworks we use for analysing these changes are good at asking "how much" and "how fast" they are useless at asking questions about direction, the diversity of outcomes to which all of this activity and investment could lead. So the STEPS Centre will fill a vital gap: it will be a place where these questions can be asked and answered. I'm excited by the Centre's vision, and I hope it will shake up established thinking about the relationship between science, technology, poverty and sustainability.'
STEPS will partner Demos in the second phase of the Atlas of Ideas project, which is mapping changes in the global geography of science and innovation.
Andrew Scott, policy director at charity Practical Action, also speaking at the launch, said:
'The STEPS centre will help us understand how we can make technology development work in the interests of people living in poverty, rather than pander to the wants of the affluent.'
NOTES TO EDITOR:
THE STEPS CENTRE (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) is a new interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub uniting development studies with science and technology studies. We aim to develop a new approach to understanding, action and communication on sustainability and development. The STEPS Centre is collaboration between the Institute of Development Studies and SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex with a network of partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Find out more:
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007- 08 is Â£181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Julia Day, STEPS communications officer
T: +44 (0)1273 876814 / M: +44 (0)7974 209148 / E: [email protected]
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