Syngenta-New Labour love-fest / DfID's new ag policy (5/12/2005)

Here's an important update from Patrick Mulvany, Chair of the UK Food Group, on 2 significant papers out this week that show the direction of UK government policy.

One outlines the UK government's Department for International Development's agriculture policy. DFID's policy, as Patrick notes, includes commitments to help promote patented new agricultural technologies (i.e. GM seeds).

The other paper - "science, technology and innovation in Africa - going for growth" - is published by the Smith Institute, a think tank set up in memory of John Smith, the Labour Party leader whose death brought Tony Blair to power.

It's edited by the ardent GM-supporter Calestous Juma and it includes a section contributed by Syngenta, as well as a preface written by Gordon Brown, Blair's would-be successor.

As a sign of the kind of access the biotech industry enjoys with the Blair government, on Wednesday last week, Syngenta had a breakfast meeting at No.11 Downing St - Gordon Brown's residence - at which they presented the Smith Institute report to Brown and other leading MPs.

There's an interesting indicator in the Syngenta part of the document as to how Syngenta makes use of government access - "Syngenta has been able to work successfully with the authorities in Burkina Faso in supporting their development of regulatory expertise in new technologies".

Syngenta prides itself on the neatness of its regulatory latch-lifting in places where Monsanto has failed to break down the door.

Unsurprisingly, the Syngenta paper also talks about how, "Links between academia and industry can be vital to a regions economic performance."

They are even reported to have offered training courses to the judiciary.

We've got the politicians, we helped shape the regulations, we've signed up the academy, now we leave the rest to you.

New DFID agriculture policy and Smith Institute / Syngenta report on African science and technology

The new DFID Agriculture Policy paper is to be released on Wednesday 7th December, with its commitments to help promote patented new agricultural technologies (i.e. GM seeds). On Wednesday last week, Syngenta had a breakfast meeting at #11 Downing St organised by the Smith Institute at which they presented their report called "Going for Growth in Africa: science, technology and innovation in Africa ". Among other things it says that "Syngenta has been able to work successfully with the authorities in Burkina Faso in supporting their development of regulatory expertise in new technologies"!

Below are some comments on each paper.

DFID Agriculture Policy Paper

This paper will be launched by Hilary Benn on Wednesday 7th December at 2pm. This is the Minister who last year was interested in developing "Sustainable Agriculture" and the agroecosystems and social structures that would support it. The new policy is unlikely to reflect his early enthusiasm.

The UK Food Group will, however, welcome the renewed commitment to agriculture. However, the policy is expected to focus on agriculture as a stimulant for growth of national economies - not strengthening its potential as the provider of food, sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor and its potential environmental benefits, through supporting farmers' organisations and democratic processes.

The policy document is expected to mention the importance of farmers' organisations but will give no commitment to providing aid to supporting their development - only that developing country governments should ensure that farmers' organisations participate in shaping agricultural policies.

It is also likely to be silent on sustainable, non-market agriculture practiced by 100s of millions of people, especially women, throughout the world for the production of local food.

In the consultation process, the UKFG urged DFID to pay more than lip service to women:

"DFID [should] ensure that the organised voices of poor women in particular are heard. They are the principle food producers in many parts of the world especially Africa, and DFID should ensure that, through its programmes, they are empowered, respected and rewarded for their contribution to hunger alleviation, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, rather than being either forced out of production or being made to work for a market over which they have no control."

It is expected to provide a commitment to support the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (see below) and to improve access of resource-poor farmers to the products of privately-funded research in an environment of low-cost regulatory systems to ensure the safe application of new technologies. i.e. it will promote GM crops and cheap biosafety regulation. This is an issue that was 'non-negotiable' we were told in the 8 September consultation meeting. Why - and who is behind this?

It is likely that the policy paper will provide no indication of how budgets or implementation measures will be changed, increased or reorganised to support the new policy nor what indicators will be used to measure its effectiveness. However, it is expected to commit to measuring the impact of the new policy within 3 years. How and against what criteria? And in what way will the International Development Select Committee follow this up?

As the UK Food group said in its contribution to the consultative process < >

"We will be interested in following this process closely and, in particular, to watch how [this DFID Policy will] help developing countries to put into practice the four key areas of policy listed in para 137 (of the consultation document - more commitments may be added in the final policy):

*Create a long-term vision for agriculture and to reflect this within their poverty reduction strategies

*Ensure the participation of representatives of the rural poor in shaping agricultural policies

*Strengthen and, if appropriate, reform public sector institutions so they can deliver important functions which support agricultural development

*Ensure that agricultural development strategies provide incentives for the sustainable use of natural resources and environmental services."

This policy is the product of a top-down pro


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