|Opposition to GM field trials in South Africa / Testing expands in Burkina Faso (25/9/2006)|
1.Opposition to GM field trials in South Africa
1.'Plans won't benefit poor'
Opposition to GM field trials in South Africa Cape Times 9South Africa), September 25 2006
Enviromental organisations have objected to plans to grow genetically modified (GM) cassava plants in South Africa in what would be the first GM cassava field trials in Africa.
Cassava, originally from Latin America, is one of Africa's staple food crops.
The Agricultural Research Council has applied to run field trials of GM cassava near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. It has advertised its intention and the public may object.
The genetic modification is intended to provide virus-resistant cassava.
Teresa Anderson, of the international environmental organisation Gaia, said in a statement that the push by the biotech industry to get GM cassava in Africa was in part an effort to industrialise cassava agriculture for the export markets.
Cassava has traditionally been a staple food crop of small-scale farmers.
"In Nigeria the move towards an export-focused cassava economy has priced the crop out of the reach of the poor. There is also talk of large-scale cassava production for bio-fuels, a strategy that undermines claims that these projects are aimed at improving food security," Anderson said.
She said although the virus-resistant GM cassava had been developed seven years ago, there had been "a quiet admission" by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre that it had since lost its resistance to the mosaic virus. The centre is funded by Monsanto, the world's biggest GM seed company.
"The centre quietly admitted in May this year that the GM cassava developed in partnership with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and a consortium that includes USAid and Monsanto, is no longer virus-resistant," Anderson wrote.
"But as with the failed GM sweet potato project, the failure of the crop has not stopped it being hyped as proof that GM will solve hunger in Africa."
Miriam Mayet, of the African Centre for Biosafety, which has submitted an objection to the proposal, criticised the Agricultural Research Council for not releasing the proper information to the public.
Mayet said the council had been quoted in media reports as saying no genes from other plants or organisms were present in the GM cassava to be grown in the trials, but that two cassava genes had simply been swapped around. But the council's application showed the cassava would include firefly genes.
"Without basic information relating to the genetic engineering, the public cannot have confidence that adequate safety is being ensured," Mayet said.
She said problems associated with GM cassava included the possible contamination of other cassava plants as they were pollinated by insects. Small farmers' crops could become contaminated.
Mayet said the development of GM cassava was aimed at industrial use of the plant and not at benefiting the poor.
2.Monsanto waits as South Africa stalls decision on modified maize
CAPE TOWN - Multinational seed giant Monsanto was battling to get government approval to launch a new variety of genetically modified maize, the company said yesterday.
The seed is a "stacked gene" variety that combines two genetically engineered traits: a built-in resistance to weedkiller and an insecticide. Monsanto launched its stacked gene cotton in SA almost a year ago, ahead of the 2005-06 planting season. It said at the time that it had already applied for a permit to launch similarly engineered maize. Two years later, the application is still pending.
3.Burkina Faso industry: Monsanto and Syngenta to expand testing of GM cotton
Two foreign agro-industrial companies will be permitted to expand testing of genetically modified (GM) cotton during the 2006/07 farming season, according to Zourata Lompo, the director of the Agence nationale de biosecurite.
US-based Monsanto of the US and Switzerland's Syngenta were chosen from an initial list of four companies offering a total of 14 varieties of cotton; the two firms will plant six strains of GM cotton.
Local civil and environmental groups have expressed concerns about the planting of GM varieties, and Ms Lompo emphasised that the country has not yet decided to release GM seeds into the general farming system, and that these plantings will be part of a process of testing and experimentation that has been under way for two seasons.
Strict security conditions are being demanded at the test stations to guard against GM seeds reaching regular farms. If those conditions are not met or the companies provide inaccurate information, authorisation may be withdrawn. Under new legislation that entered into force in April, violation of biological security regulations are punishable by prison terms of up to 15 years and fines of up to CFAfr5bn (US$9.7m).
Union nationale des producteurs de coton du Burkina, which has been closely monitoring the testing process, reports that 663 farmers have so far planted test fields of genetically modified cotton, on a total of 316 hectares of land in several parts of the country.
Burkina Faso is a leading proponent of biotechnological research within the regional Union economique et monetaire ouest-africaine, and the francophone grouping is backing its efforts with the equivalent of US$24m in financial support. If Burkina Faso's experiment is successful a number of its neighbours are likely to be interested in following a similar course.
4.Gateses' approach to African hunger is bound to fail
The teaming up of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with the Rockefeller Foundation to bring a "new" Green Revolution to Africa sadly ignores the lessons of the failures of the first Green Revolution ("Gates and Rockefeller attack hunger in Africa," Sept. 13).
In the first Green Revolution, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations exported industrial-style agriculture -- based on chemicals and "high-response" seeds -- to the Third World, with the paradoxical outcome of greater production of a few food crops, accompanied by even worse hunger, and by environmental degradation. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers eventually degraded the soil, leading to declining productivity, and the high cost of those inputs deepened the divide between rich and poor farmers, swelling the ranks of the hungry.
The Gateses' apparent naivete about the causes of hunger have led them to make private investments in genetically engineered seeds and to launch this $150 million altruistic offensive to promote technology packages that use irrigation, fertilizer and, not surprising, new seeds. Unfortunately, the likely results are higher profits for the seed and fertilizer industries, negligible impacts on total food production and worsening exclusion and marginalization in the countryside.
Today's rural Africa has been devastated by 25 years of free trade and anti-peasant policies imposed on the continent's governments by the World Bank, the Intertional Monetary Foundation, the WTO, the United States and the European Union. The forced privatization of food crop marketing boards -- which, though flawed, once guaranteed African farmers minimum prices and held food reserves for emergencies -- and rural development banks, which gave farmers credit to produce food, have left farmers without either financing to grow food or buyers for their produce.
Free trade agreements have made it easier for private traders -- the only buyers and sellers of food left now that the marketing boards are largely gone -- to import subsidized food from the U.S. and the European Union than to negotiate with thousands of local farmers, driving local farm prices below the costs of production. Faced with this negative panorama, peasant families across the continent have abandoned agriculture in search of low-wage jobs in urban slums and in the international migrant stream.
Understanding this reality is critical to addressing hunger in Africa.
Under such circumstances, what difference could a new "technology package" make? Farmers still could not afford the inputs, or sell what they grow, or make a living as farmers -- not to mention the severe environmental and human health risks of genetic engineering technology.
In contrast, the global alliance of family farm and peasant organizations, Via Campesina (www.viacampesina.org), will hold a world conference in Mali in February 2007 on "Food Sovereignty," an approach far more likely to reduce hunger in Africa. Delegates from across Africa and around the world will debate the changes that are needed to truly reverse the policy-driven collapse of food production in Africa and other continents. Those policies, including a step back from free trade extremism and market fundamentalism, plus increased supports for family farmers, improved access to farmland for the poor, and ecological farming methods, are together called Food Sovereignty.
Without such changes, no farming technology can truly address hunger. In contrast to the Gates/Rockefeller guaranteed-to-fail approach, creating such a favorable policy environment for family agriculture would make it possible for the hungry to feed themselves using sustainable, ecologically sound farming methods.
Peter Rosset is the author of "World Hunger: Twelve Myths" (Grove Press, 1998), "Food is Different" (Zed Books, 2006) and "A New Green Revolution for Africa?" (Food First Books, forthcoming). He is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley.