FOCUS ON AFRICA
Uganda's President Musevini suddenly started being more positive about GM following private discussions with George Bush. This article suggests a possible explanation.
EXCERPT: "some critics wonder whether there are other issues at stake behind Uganda's newly found enthusiasm for GM crops. Some are questioning whether Ugandan support for GM is part of a range of measures agreed between Kampala and Washington following President Museveni's visit to the American capital earlier this year.
"One of the issues likely to have been discussed there, aside from the ongoing issue of terrorism, is the debate surrounding whether or not the constitution could be changed to allow Uganda's leader to try for a third term in office."
The article also notes how a leading Kenyan agricultural scientist, Martin Kimani of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences, has warned of the dangers of genetically modified crops and said that poor farmers need to have the ability to say "no" to companies imposing GM seeds on them.
He fears pressure to use GM crops "would mean undermining tried and tested methods currently in use by smallholder farmers in countries like Kenya where... smallholder farmers are already the targets of aggressive marketing by agri-business and agrochemical companies who are often supported by Ministry of Agriculture officials."
Museveni Finally Gives in to GM Food Production
The East African
Paul Redfern (Special correspondent)
THE UGANDA government is in danger of being dragged into the escalating war of words between the European Union and the United States over the issue of whether or not to use GM crops.
Earlier this month, President Yoweri Museveni indicated he was convinced over the logic of GM crops and steps are understood to be underway to institute a statute to start production, a position which will put Uganda’s leader at odds with many of his fellow sub-Saharan Africa leaders.
Last year, several African states, including Malawi and Zambia, refused US GM emergency relief crops during the acute drought and most African leaders, like their European Union counterparts, remain uneasy as to whether the benefits of genetically modified food outweigh the concerns as to their long-term effect on other crops, pests and the environment.
Britain is one of several EU countries conducting tests on GM crops, but the public in the UK, as with most European countries as a whole, remains sceptical.
If Uganda does pursue GM, this could alienate its biggest export partner, the European Union, which is currently engaged in a trade dispute with the US over its reluctance to buy American GM foods.
The US is pressing Uganda to join its side in the battle along with a few other African countries, including Egypt, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, who are all reported to be developing frameworks which would allow the use of GM products. But behind the scenes, some critics wonder whether there are other issues at stake behind Uganda's newly found enthusiasm for GM crops. Some are questioning whether Ugandan support for GM is part of a range of measures agreed between Kampala and Washington following President Museveni's visit to the American capital earlier this year.
One of the issues likely to have been discussed there, aside from the ongoing issue of terrorism, is the debate surrounding whether or not the constitution could be changed to allow Uganda’s leader to try for a third term in office.
Some sources in London claim that the Americans would not be too unduly concerned at such a development in contrast to the British and other EU states, which have already voiced their concerns.
But would a move towards Washington be in Uganda’s interests, given that the EU is its biggest trading partner and its largest source of aid?
However, in the meantime, GM is unlikely to be on the Ugandan market for between three to five years until a law to govern the introduction, application and commercialisation of GM products in Uganda is in place.
Once such a law has been approved, Monsanto and other companies can sell GM products if they submit an application to the National Council for Science and Technology.
In Kenya and a number of other developing countries, some scientific research has recently focused on sustainable agriculture using natural processes such as nutrient re-cycling and using natural pest predators. This approach minimises the use of non-renewable inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers that damage the environment and harm the health of both farmers and consumers.
Already there have been several notable successes in Kenya where more than 200,000 farmers across the country have more than doubled their maize yields and substantially improved vegetable production through the dry seasons.
A top Kenyan agriculturist has warned of the dangers of genetically modified crops and said that poor farmers need to have the ability to say "no" to companies who impose fertilisers or GM seeds on them.
Martin Kimani of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences said that he feared that pressure to use the new biotechnology would mean undermining tried and tested methods currently in use by smallholder farmers in countries like Kenya where, he argued, smallholder farmers are already the targets of aggressive marketing by agri-business and agrochemical companies who are often supported by Ministry of Agriculture officials.
"Farmers need to be empowered to say ‘no’ when companies come along and try to impose their fertilisers or genetically modified seeds. Let them know and understand the risks involved," Mr Kimani said.
In the so-called Green revolution of the 1970s many farmers were caught up in a cycle of high-cost inputs and high-risk cash crop production, Mr Kimani added. Most smallholders barely understood the technology and gained little from sacrificing their household-level food production.
Farmers started "producing food they didn’t eat and eating food they didn't produce" and Mr Kimani said he believed that the so-called GM revolution could have the same drawbacks.
He is working to promote the reintroduction of a diverse "mosaic of crops" in Kenya central to traditional agricultural methods, which had become less fashionable among development experts until recently.
Mr Kimani argued that in Kenya, it would be better to use resources currently being devoted to developing GM crops into organic methods of agriculture and integrated pest management to address the issue of food security.
In this way, he said, farmers would be encouraged to participate in making improvements, combining their indigenous knowledge with recent technologies. Mr Kimani was also sceptical of the role of the multi-national companies currently promoting GM crops. "After all, who needs who in this business? Are farmers saying that they’re in desperate need of this technology or are they being told they need it?"
Those in favour of GM crops say they would increase poor countries food security, raising the income of cash crop farmers and reducing the risk of disease.
But those against the foods point to accusations of the long-term effect on the creation of such crops on the environment, existing crops, and the possible creation of superbugs and superweeds.
Last year, a British television programme looked in detail at the pros and cons of Africa developing GM foods.
The programme, The High Tech harvest, produced by the UK-based Television Trust for the Environment, noted that a number of African countries, including Uganda and Kenya, have already started experimenting with GM crops. Crops produced in Uganda include bananas which are said to grow faster, give higher yields and are disease free.
British scientist Prof Martin Lipton of the University of Sussex, in the UK, said recently that: "Multinationals find that it pays them to research crops of interest to rich people. They are not doing anything wrong. But crops that are very important to poor countries tend to be neglected. That its why public spending is important."
Critics say that GM crops will damage food security and the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries by eroding their independence and making them dependent on the large biotech companies whose primary concern is sales.