The US Agency for International Development (USAID) was created by President Kennedy in 1961. Since then, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency for providing economic and humanitarian assistance to developing and 'transitional' countries.
It is 'an independent federal government agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State'. U.S. foreign assistance has always had the furthering of America's foreign policy interests, which includes furthering US economic growth, agriculture and trade, as a key part of its remit. It spends less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget.
The USAID website candidly states, 'The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms. Foreign assistance programs have helped create major markets for agricultural goods, created new markets for American industrial exports and meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans.' (See USAID and GM food aid)
The former head ('Administrator') of the agency Andrew Natsios aggressively attacked critics of GM, accusing environmental groups of endangering the lives of millions of people in southern Africa by, he claimed, encouraging governments in the region to reject the US's GM food aid. 'The Bush administration is not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions of poor people in southern Africa through their ideological campaign,' he said.
Promoting GM is an official part of USAID's remit - one of its roles is to 'integrate GM into local food systems.' George Bush has increased the US aid budget specifically for the purpose of encouraging the uptake of biotechnology. USAID has launched a $100m programme for bringing biotechnology to developing countries. USAID's 'training' and 'awareness raising programmes' will, its website reveals, provide companies such as 'Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto' with opportunities for 'technology transfer'. Monsanto, in turn, provides financial support for USAID.
At the Earth Summit in South Africa in 2002, the US government pledged $100 million over ten years to support agricultural biotechnology in the developing world. In May 2003, USAID announced a grant of $15 million to support biosafety policy-making and research in Asia and in East and West Africa, and that is only the most recent funding.
In a letter to the journal Issues in Science and Technology Online, Andrew Natsios, while USAID Administrator, wrote: 'USAID has already renewed its focus on agriculture programs, and
biotechnology is fully a part of this focus. Our renewed emphasis includes a more than fourfold increase in support for biotechnology to contribute to improving agricultural productivity. USAID currently supports bilateral biotechnology programs with more than a dozen countries
. Tangible experience with biotechnology among more developing countries is a prerequisite to achieving [the] goals of global scientific regulatory standards and open markets.' ('Biotech relations', Issues in Science and Technology Online, Winter 2005 - emphasis added)
A major USAID project, managed by the Michigan State University from 1991-2003 and now by Cornell, is the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP) . ABSPs private sector partners include, Asgrow, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and DNA Plant Technology (DNAP).
An example of an ABSP project is the Southern Africa Regional Biosafety programme (SARB) which promotes in-country 'biosafety capacity building' in southern Africa. SARB has been accused of employing a pro-GM lobbyist to advise on biosafety issues. USAID has said SARBs objective is to provide the 'regulatory foundation to support field testing of genetically engineered products' (emphasis in original). SARB not only uses South Africa as a base but seems to be using its weak biosafety regime , which has facilitated the rapid introductuion of GM crops into the country, as a model for other African countries.
In Nigeria in May 2004 USAID announced an investment of US$2.1 million in biotechnology. USAID's mission director in Nigeria, Dawn Liberiover, said the money was to 'assist leading Nigerian universities and institutes in the research and development of bio-engineered cowpea and cassava varieties which resist insect and disease pests.' Liberiover also said the money would be used to 'improve implementation of biosafety regulations, and enhance public knowledge and acceptance of biotechnology'.
The USAID assistance came shortly after Nigeria's adoption of 'guidelines on the safe application of biotechnology in the country, and coincided with the opening of discussions between Nigeria and South Africa on the formulation of a model biosafety law, which other African countries can emulate'. (US to give 2.1 million dollars) South Africa's weak biosafety regime has been described by environmental and development lawyers in South Africa as displaying a 'cynical disregard' for contemporary international and national environmental principles, as well as for the development imperatives of South Africa.
USAID has also played a leading role in promoting the acceptance of GM crops in Kenya, particularly via the GM sweet potato project associated with the Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu. Wambugu was recruited by Robert Horsch and another colleague at Monsanto in consort with Joel Cohen from USAID. USAID money paid for a three-year post-doctoral posit