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Can Biotech Save African Farms?

Florence Wambugu / BUSINESS DAY (Johannesburg, South Africa) 6aug02

[article below commentary]

Ms. Alice Chasan, Editor
World Press Review
PO Box 228
Shrub Oak, NY 10588-0228
letters@worldpress.org
www.worldpress.org

16 September 2002

Dear Editor,

The article by Florence Wambugu in the Oct 2002 issue of WPR, on p.13 was a most unfortunate selection. Dr. Wambugu, a black woman, and leading plant geneticist in Kenya who helped create the genetically altered sweet potato, is eternally paraded about the globe by the biotech industry as the “voice of the people.“ She is presently, the director of the African Center of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), which is funded by biotech companies like Pioneer, Monsanto, Novartis and AgrEvo as well as government agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Florence Wambugu "saving Africa"Furthering the white man's transnational corporation colonialization of Africa

 

She is portrayed as a savior of her people in the industry-written magazine children’s magazine, Your World: Biotechnology & You (v.10, i.1 2001). (See more industry-financed propaganda) It is produced by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the primary biotech trade association representing more than 900 biotech companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and more than 27 other nations. BIO sends Your World gratis to schools around the globe. According to the BIO, there are over 5,000 schools that are getting copies. Val Giddings, a vice president of BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization), was quoted as saying, "I wish we could clone her."

In short, Dr. Wambugu, knowingly or not, is aiding the present-day colonialization of Africa by transnational corporations (TNC) such as Monsanto. Few of the promises by that powerful industry have come to fruition. The crops do not produce more or reduce the amounts of pesticides used. More importantly, in the case of Africa, the poor cannot afford the additional cost of the product. Through globalization, biotech crop patents will bind the poor of Africa to the TNC until the end of time. Ask Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer whom Monsanto sued, about the benevolence of the biotech industry.

Sincerely,
Paul Goettlich


Can Biotech Save African Farms?

Florence Wambugu Business Day, Johannesburg, South Africa 6aug02

AFRICAN SCIENTISTS, along with leaders in agricultural development, have had a busy time this year preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development [held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from Aug. 26-Sept. 4]. The need for a clear and unified position has been prompted by other pan-African initiatives such as the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

It is a paradox that one of the most contentious sciences-biotechnology- has become a unifying factor for African scientists. Arriving at a consensus position has not been easy given the controversies relating to the science. But biotechnology has gained acceptance because there is consensus that it is a global opportunity.

Both multinational groups and farmers stand to gain, as confirmed by experiences in China and Africa. Programs such as the tissue-culture banana project [in which disease-free banana plants are cultivated in a laboratory] in some East African nations have shown that biotechnology can have a positive effect on hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. In some cases rural farm incomes have tripled as a result of biotech techniques.

The question then arises: Should the agricultural sector remain unchanged while every other aspect of life on the continent is changing? The anti-biotech lobby asserts that the continent needs to be protected from large multinational biotech companies. This often Eurocentric view is founded on two premises: The view that Africa has no expertise to make an informed decision, and the suggestion that the continent should focus on organic farming.

But African scientists meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, in March of this year pointed out that Africans themselves must decide the way forward for agricultural development. The meeting, organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, brought together African countries, development agencies, national agricultural research institutes, nongovernmental organizations, donors, bilateral and multilateral development agencies, global financial institutions, donor agencies, the scientific community, and other interested parties.

At the end of the meeting biotechnology was adopted as one of the key factors that will jump-start the agricultural sector in Africa. It was noted that the forum and NEPAD share common goals: in particular, the need to achieve a 6-percent annual growth in the agricultural sector over the next 20-25 years.

It is clear that biotechnology is causing a silent revolution in Africa. Farmers have embraced the new technology because it makes them more efficient, protects or increases yields, and reduces their reliance on chemicals.

Africa is already in the biotechnology revolution. The challenge now is to create technology and specific policies and institutions to enable Africans to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with biotechnology.

For example, African policy-makers and scientists urgently need to identify specific areas of biotechnology in which their countries should invest. Other priorities include mapping global trends in biotechnology, its socioeconomic benefits to African countries, and intellectual property protection in promoting the transfer of safe biotechnology techniques and products to Africa.

Africa needs to increase its biotech expertise and prevent brain drain. Other areas that need attention include policy analysis to enlarge the region's ability to participate effectively in international negotiations, and long-term biotechnology policies to successfully participate in global trade.

Africa has advantages in biotechnology, which include its enormous genetic diversity and prior scientific knowledge in agriculture. Biotechnology provides new opportunities to transform rural agriculture, without undermining local ecologies and socioeconomic landscapes. Instead of treating the science as a threat, Africans need to come on board as stakeholders and as partners.

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