New book on GMOs in Africa (6/12/2007)

NOTE: Here are some extracts from the African Centre for Biosafety's important new book, 'GMOs in Africa: Food and Agriculture Status Report 2007'. This booklet is the 4th in ACB's Biosafety, Biopolitics and Biopiracy Series, and it's highly recommended.

About the Book:

The book provides an excellent overview of the current status of GMOs in Africa's agriculture and food systems. It provides a synopsis of the current situation in Africa, an analysis of the key issues and trends, regional overviews and country by country status reports.


Please note that the PDF version of the book has been made available free of charge for download from the ACB's website at http://www.biosafetyafrica.net/portal/images/ACB/gmos_in_africa.pdf


As the ACB are badly in need of financial support, we encourage you to buy the book from ACB, if you possibly can, in order to allow them to recoup some of their costs.

You can order the book by going to the shopping cart on their website at www.biosafetyafrica.net

The ACB are one of the most effective and hard working groups fighting on these issues anywhere in the world, and there work in Africa is of vital importance. You'll get a sense of the quality of their work from the extracts below.


Biosafety, Biopiracy and Biopolitics Series: 4 GMOs in Africa: Food and Agriculture Status Report 2007
By: Shenaz Moola and Victor Munnik
Edited by: Mariam Mayet and Rose Williams Layout and design by: Leslie Lewis,
[email protected]
ISBN: 978-0-620-40099-2



More than 10 years have passed since GMOs were first commercialised in the world, yet out of more than 50 African countries, only South Africa has explicitly taken biosafety decisions to authorise the commercial cultivation and importation of GMOs for the purposes of food, feed and processing.

In 2006, 44 countries in Africa received food aid, with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) providing a staggering amount of almost 5 million metric tons, with USAID supplying at least 75% of this. US food-in-kind donations are contaminated with GMOs as these are freely grown in the US and there are no segregation, traceability and labelling systems to enable the provision of non-GM food aid. Several African countries such as Sudan, Angola and Zambia have fiercely resisted receiving GM food aid, precipitating reforms in food aid policies internationally. The European Union (EU) now insists that its monetary contributions buy only GM-free aid, and in 2003, the WFP adopted a policy that allows recipient countries to specify whether they are prepared to receive food aid containing GMOs.

However, only a few African countries are in a position to specify this, or to test food aid for GM contamination; none can do this on an on-going basis. Some African countries including Zambia and Sudan have acquired testing equipment to determine whether food imports and food aid contain GMOs. But other countries are not in a position to effectively test food aid they receive due to resource and other capacity constraints. In August 2007, CARE International announced that it would no longer accept the US system whereby US grain is exported, using US carrier ships, as food aid, instead of donations in cash as many other countries do. CARE labelled the system as expensive and hugely inefficient.

The GM push in Africa has recorded several significant setbacks and failures, with Florence Wambugu's GM sweet potato in Kenya and the Gates Foundation's GM sorghum in South Africa being the most prominent. The rejection by South Africa's GMO regulatory authority of the GM sorghum project is extremely significant, as this sets the boundaries that even pro-GM South Africa cannot cross: namely, that genetic engineering of a crop where Africa is the centre of origin will not be tolerated. Importantly, this rejection represents a huge set back for crucial components of the 'New Green Revolution in Africa' push, which is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.

Indeed, 2007, has not been a good year for GE in South Africa. The first ever GM cassava field trials also faced the thumbs down from the South African regulatory authorities; a major retailer in South Africa, concerned about the possibility of GM potatoes still in field trials in South Africa having entered the food chain, publicly announced their decision not to stock GM potatoes until its safety had been proven. The South African sugar industry also strongly indicated their extreme reluctance to throw their weight behind GM sugarcane. The South African regulatory authorities also rejected out of hand, Syngenta's application for commodity import of its GM maize for ethanol on food safety grounds.

While the GE lobby has waged a heavily resourced battle for acceptance of GMOs, public reaction has in many instances been hostile. The media has been extremely critical of GMOs in countries such as Kenya, Zambia and South Africa and several well-organised coalitions of civil society groups are in the forefront of resistance to GMOs in several African countries.

The fiercest opposition can be found in South Africa, Kenya and several countries in West Africa. An example of strong opposition in West Africa is COPAGEN, a coalition of farmers' organizations, consumers' organizations, trade unions, women's organizations, youth groups, national and international NGOs, cultural groups, academics, artists' organizations, and individuals opposed to GMOs in various West African countries. The coalition of Kenyan civil society groups very recently successfully mounted a campaign to stop the Kenyan Parliament from passing a pro-GM Biosafety Bill. South African civil society is extremely active in resisting GMOs, with the charge being led by several groups including the African Centre for Biosafety, Biowatch SA and the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeAGE).

As at 23 October 2007, 40 African countries are Parties to the international environmental agreement regulating the cross border movement of GMOs, namely the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. These include Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

This huge number of Parties to the Protocol from Africa signifies a strong commitment to the international biosafety regulation of GMOs. Very few countries have fully functional biosafety systems in place to adequately regulate GMOs. Indeed, several countries, including Mali and Kenya have delayed promulgation of controversial biosafety legislation, in the face of widespread opposition from civil society groups in their countries.

Several countries in Africa have imposed biosafety restrictions on GMOs including Algeria, Angola, Benin, Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Only nine countries in Africa have to date reported field trials of GMOs, namely, Burkina Faso; Egypt; Kenya; Morocco; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Twenty-four countries have some capacity and institutions to conduct GM research and development, with South Africa and Egypt being involved in numerous projects. These include Algeria; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Egypt; Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; Madagascar; Malawi; Mali; Mauritius; Morocco; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Analysis: key issues and trends

As a result of its well established, large scale industrial farming and agribusiness sector, GMOs easily found a place in South Africa’s agriculture several years ago. Yet, 2007 has been marked with several significant set backs for the pro-GE lobby in South Africa.

Kenya, with its high concentration of pro-biotech support, has pushed ahead with its lax and permissive 2007 Biosafety Bill, despite widespread opposition, public protest and court action in that country. However, the dissolution of the Kenyan Parliament before it could pass the Bill on the 22nd October 2007 opens up new opportunities for revision of the Biosafety Bill in that country. The South African and Kenyan activities are spearheaded by a range of players that include multinational companies, research institutions, government institutions and agribusiness players.

Burkina Faso is Africa's biggest cotton producer and is the focus of efforts to bring GM cotton into commercial production in that country. Indeed, Burkina Faso is the bridgehead for a concerted move to proliferate GE cotton in West Africa's cotton belt. In March 2007, at a Ministers' meeting of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), a regional group of fifteen countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guniea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, produced a 2006-2010 'Action plan for the development of biotechnology and biosafety in the ECOWAS sub-region', backed by the World Bank, and executed by WECARD (West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development), INSAH (Sahel Institute) and CILSS (Permanent Inter-state Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel), with a total budget over five years of US$ 23,6 million.

The plan includes as key actions 'promotion of biotechnology products specific agribusiness', 'strengthening of the seed systems and national phytosanitary legislations to facilitate dissemination of the products' and 'reinforcement of the intellectual property systems to enable all the parties involved to take advantage of the development of the biotechnology sector in the region'. Part of the action plan is 'harmonisation' of biosafety legislation in the region. COPAGEN described this as 'using the Burkina Faso's pro-GM stance as a template to be imposed on other countries in the region'. COPAGEN notes that its participation in consultations on this plan had been manipulated and their position seriously misrepresented on the GEF website where it is claimed 'COPAGEN-BF - previously hostile to the Program - were this time noticeably more supportive of its aims'.

A second grouping of African countries - of which both Zimbabwe and Ghana are examples - appear to be hastily introducing biosafety legislation in the absence of the requisite biosafety capacity and resources for monitoring, control and enforcement being in place. These countries have drafted weak biosafety legislation, substantially weaker than the minimum standards established by the Biosafety Protocol, and aimed primarily at making GE research and development, importation of GE foods and eventually commercialisation possible.

Harmonisation of biosafety legislation

'Harmonisation of biosafety regulation' is designed to create a one-stop GMO approval system at the sub-regional level, so as to side step a country-by-country, case-by-case risk assessment and decision-making process. In this way, fast-track GM approval systems can be created...

The harmonisation approach is supported by the World Bank, USAID and national and regional affiliates of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and various African academic and research institutions. Several African governments are also in favour of harmonisation. In West Africa, ECOWAS strongly encouraged by the World Bank, are the drivers behind a harmonisation push in West Africa. Kenya is the focal point for the harmonisation push for the East African countries of Uganda and Tanzania, under the auspices of the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), funded by USAID. The African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development Africa (NEPAD) have also urged all African states to adopt 'a consistent Africa-wide position on food and environmental standards'.

New Green Revolution in Africa

On 12 September 2006, the Rockefeller and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations launched a new partnership which they named Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA has committed an initial $150 million to enable the transfer of a technology package featuring improved hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilizers, water management and extension services to Africa. AGRA's goal is to develop 100 new varieties in 5 years focusing on at least 10 different staple crops, including maize...


...The drive for agrofuels as a 'renewable energy' substitute is creating new opportunities for GE. This has been met with alarm in civil society circles because of the dangers of gene pool contamination as well as the large scale take-over of current food growing resources, especially land and water. A variety of crops - maize, soybeans, groundnuts, cassava, sugarcane, pumpkin seeds and non-food crops such as Jatropha - are all earmarked for agrofuel production in Africa.

There are a colossal number of players involved in the promotion of agrofuels in Africa. From these, the Brazilian government, the oil industry and carbon traders stand out as being the most strategic - and the most rapacious. Brazil has swooped on the African continent as an important pawn towards its global ambitions to create a global market for ethanol. Brazil is successfully garnering support through bilateral and trilateral cooperation agreements with a number of African countries such as Senegal and Benin. Brazil has targeted the African Union, flanked by several UN agencies, to ensure regional buy in for the roll out of harmonised legal and economic instruments to sustain a viable biofuels market...

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