1. Corporate missionaries target the South
2. Kenya Joins War On Biotech Products
3. A farmer’s eye view - Asian farmers' comments on biotech
1. Corporate missionaries target the South
Be interesting to know, wouldn't it, just how often those cited as "scientists" supporting GM crops in developing countries actually have some sort of vested interest in the technology's acceptance? The article below, for example, cites scientist Dr. Florence Wambugu. Dr Wambugu is, in fact, a Monsanto-trained biotechnician ie her whole career is tied in to the acceptance of GM crops. Dr Wambagu also represents the ISAAA which is heavily biotech-industry funded and which until recently even had Monsanto on the board. Novartis currently occupies that seat.
Yet Dr Wambugu's support for GM has been cited in more than a score of articles on this issue with her views often being projected as those of a disinterested African scientist taking on self-interested European activism. Here Dr Wambugu goes as far as to claim that the critics' real agenda is to keep the South dependent on the North: "They don`t want Africa to embrace biotechnology because they know the technology has the potential to solve Kenya`s famine problems".
Quoted alongside Dr Wambugu is a fellow biotech supporter who claims, "It is a panacea for hunger and poverty problems currently ravaging the country".
If that seems pretty evanglistic, no wonder -- given the old-time-religionist sales-pitch enthusiasm of the ISAAA propaganda disseminated in the South by Florence Wambugu and company.
Here are some extracts from a recent ISAAA article by its Executive Director which begins:
"Despite its tremendous potential for safer and more nutritious foods, biotechnology... [that's called question begging]
"As with any new technology, those countries that adopt it first gain the most... [as with US grain exports presumably]
"These new crops are popular because they provide farmers, life sciences companies, and consumers with major benefits such as reduced pesticide applications, higher yields, and lower consumer prices (Wald 1999)." [http://www.biotech-info.net/havoc_hope.html]
That last load of bull (given we've seen life science corporations going belly up, little evidence of overall pesticide reductions, and both yields and export markets hit, not to mention the startling absence of any apparent consumer benefits from currently available GM crops) is referenced to an article aptly titled,“Biotechnology and industry: A union of promise.” [The OECD Observer (March 1999):3234] A union made in hype-heaven, perhaps.
The ISAAA's Executive Director concludes by calling for "innovative, bold, and sometimes daring actions" to achieve the rapid introduction of plant biotech into the South: "Let us not waste these first years of the new Millennium when people all over the world are united around the idea of a new beginning and are hopeful for a better future."
No wonder Hans Herren in the article below cautions, "Too many hopes and expectations are being pinned on these technologies to the detriment of more conventional and proven agronomic technologies that have been very successful`".
He might have added that many of those doing the pinning have a sizeable vested interest and that to oversell a yet poorly-understood experimental technology heavy with corporate interest to countries grappling with poverty and hunger is pretty much a criminal activity.
After all, the stakes are pretty high for poor farmers in the South, as Rekha Begum, a Bangladeshi farmer, makes clear from painful experience of previous "panaceas":
''We lost our own seeds when company people and government officers told us that Irri dhan (HYV rice variety) was good. Believing them we not only lost our seeds, but we lost our fish because of pesticide, lost our livestock because the fodder was reduced and the quality was bad, and most importantly we lost our health. It took more than 10 years of hard work to reintroduce our varieties and we are far better than before. Now the companies are talking about new types of seed produced by bizarre manipulation (biotechnology) to cheat us again." [see item 3 below]
The conclusion of a recent Grain briefing (October, 2000), "ISAAA in Asia -- Promoting Corporate Profit in the Name of the Poor" holds as good for Africa as Asia:
"ISAAA’s agenda will only make conditions worse for small farmers.... Small farmers need sustainable, inexpensive technologies that do not come with high risks, or generate dependency on foreign companies.. ISAAA is pushing a much broader agenda than the donation of private technology ”” one that benefits industry from the North while offering no clear benefits to the South. Rather than accept the gifts of high-tech papayas, people of all walks in Asia should filter out the hype and make a much more critical assessment of what biotechnology, and its agents like ISAAA, really have to do with 'development'." [http://www.grain.org/publications/reports/isaaa.htm ]
In the end, of course, it should be for those in the South -- those without a vested commercial interest, that is -- to decide. The recent project initiated by ActionAid in India involving a jury of Indian farmers, whose very livelihoods depend on what they grow, is particularly interesting in this regard: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/indjury.htm
From New Delhi to Mombassa, meanwhile, the corporate missionaries continue to target the South.
2. Kenya Joins War On Biotech Products
Panafrican News Agency
Wednesday -- November 29, 2000
Supporters of genetically engineered crops argue that it was the surest way of ensuring food sustainability in the African continent, known for its perennial food shortages.
But while some scientists endorse the new technology, others see risks in biotechnology.
Scientists in Kenya and other parts of the continent have not been left behind in the raging international debate over whether to embrace genetically modified foods.
In Kenya, certain scientists are rallying together to defend genetically modified food and have been highlighting the importance of biotechnology to developing countries.
Operating under the umbrella of the African Biotechnology Forum, these scientists are taking anti-genetically-modified food campaigners head-on, and they are bitter with them.
The Kenyan scientists charge that those against the concept are out to deny Africa the chance of embracing the technology by spreading myths against science.
``They don`t want Africa to embrace biotechnology because they know the technology has the potential to solve Kenya`s famine problems,`` Dr. Florence Wambugu of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, says.
She defends the technology, saying biotechnology was one of the fastest growing sciences, with one of the highest levels of adoption.
The scientists argue that by inserting genes into crops from other plants, Kenya can engineer a near-miraculous array of crops that are needed in developing countries.
According to them, 40 to 60 percent of crop yield in Kenya are lost to pests, adding that genetically modified organisms or GMO could help solve the problem.
``It is a panacea for hunger and poverty problems currently ravaging the country,`` Dr. John Wafula, head of biotechnology at the state-owned Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, says.
Anti-GMO crusaders, however, are pouring scorn, describing the new technology as a ``pipe dream.`` ' `These new miracle technologies are not necessary, let alone desirable, in solving the world`s food security problem,`` Dr. Hans Herren, director general of the Nairobi-based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, says.
He says that it is only on certain instances that biotechnology could be used to improve certain food crops and may be nutritional qualities.
He cautions that the trend towards partial monopolisation of funding in agricultural development into a narrow set of technologies is dangerous and irresponsible.
``Too many hopes and expectations are being pinned on these technologies to the detriment of more conventional and proven agronomic technologies that have been very successful,`` Herren adds.
The University of Nairobi`s department of biochemistry, and the Green Belt Movement concurs with Herren, saying there is need for more research on GMOs before these crops get commercialised in Kenya.
They believe that African countries can boost their agricultural production using conventional means without having to resort to transgenic crops.
According to the Green Belt Movement, allowing GMOs into the country could cause over dependency on few species in the agricultural sector ``leading to the extinction of other plant varieties which are crucial to the fight against hunger.``
The University also believes that the crossed transgenic crops might cause complicated health problems, which might take many years to curb ``as long as scientists continue to act God.``
A question often asked is: Should Kenya, which is among countries growing transgenic crops, go ahead with the technology?
``Yes,`` Dr. John Mugabe of the African Centre for Technology Studies, says, adding, however, that there is need to put in place mechanisms.
``The coming of biotechnology to Africa is inevitable, but we (Kenya) should be able to choose what is good for us and discard what is bad...for example, government should implement bio-safety regulations to prevent health or environmental problems occurring in the foreseeable future,`` Mugabe says.
Kenya has already joined the growing list of countries growing transgenic crops. Recently, its scientists, in conjunction with Musanto, a private life science company, developed a genetically altered potato, which has been undergoing mock trails in several parts of Kenya.
A GMO type banana is also doing well in some parts of central Kenya, and scientists have since described the achievement as a major breakthrough.
They claim that the crop is expected to boost food production as it is disease and drought resistant.
-- Copyright © Panafrican News Agency --
3. A farmer’s eye view
Shaban Ali, Shekher Dair, Ishwardi, Pabna, Bangladesh
"Tell me, if I can do very well with my existing seeds, why should I need laboratory seeds or the altered seeds (GMOs)? If I can conserve my own seed, why would I be so stupid as to purchase seed from the company? The problem is that farmers are helpless because government and the scientists are collaborating with the companies to destroy us. This is not science; it is politics. Science should start with the knowledge of the farmers; what the present seeds are doing, and what is possible to do in the future. It is not the task of science to mutilate the generative capacity of seed, or to make a variety that is a bizarre combination of characteristics. No sensible person will find any justification in such act."
Pak Siawang, Jene'berang Village, Gowa, Indonesia:
"All technologies have some negative impacts and can marginalise people, creating inequality. This is the same with genetic engineering, of which we don't know and we are not being informed properly about how it was produced, but it must have negative impacts, just like the high-yielding variety seeds. We will be forced to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides, for which the prices always increase."
Mr. Witoon Boonchado, President of Tung Kula Ronghai Farmers Association, Roi Ed, Thailand
"The GE crops are happening because of the greed of TNCs. This cannot give us any benefit. TNCs are the sole beneficiaries. There are many alternatives and sustainable ways to solve farmers’ problems. By using only organic fertilizer and traditional varieties we can improve both yield and quality."
Rekha Begum, Village Kandapara, Delduar, Tangail, Bangladesh
''We lost our own seeds when company people and government officers told us that Irri dhan (HYV rice variety) was good. Believing them we not only lost our seeds, but we lost our fish because of pesticide, lost our livestock because the fodder was reduced and the quality was bad, and most importantly we lost our health. It took more than 10 years of hard work to reintroduce our varieties and we are far better than before. Now the companies are talking about new types of seed produced by bizarre manipulation (biotechnology) to cheat us again."
Jahanara Begum, Badarkhali, Chokoria, Bangladesh
Who needs these seeds? Do not [claim] that seeds produced in some laboratory can feed the hungry. We want paradise on earth, not hell created by seed companies, because we care for where we dwell with our children and our extended family that includes our animals, birds, plants and everything that is our life. We do not want more paddy by destroying our dwelling and our community relation of love and sharing. Companies should leave us alone; farmers know how to take care of themselves and live happily.
Mrs. Nuan Namkiang, Roi Ed, Thailand
"I do not want to repeat the mistake made when farmers embraced the Green Revolution some 20 years ago."
For more on this topic see: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/feedtheworld.htm