FOCUS ON AFRICA
Following on from the profile of South Africa's GM lobbyist Muffy Koch and her involvement in promoting so-called 'Biosafety Capacity Building' projects in Africa, such as those funded by USAID, here's more on how USAID is targeting African countries and trying to lock them into following South Africa's weak biosafety regime.
Here's an excerpt from an article on what's happening at the moment in Nigeria, "The USAID assistance comes 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**." (item 1, emphasis added)
Note also how the Nigerian money ($2.1 million) as well as being used for GM crop research is to "improve implementation of biosafety regulations, and enhance public knowledge and acceptance of biotechnology".
As the USAID website candidly states, "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States." (item 2)
1.US to give US$2.1 million for Nigerian biotech
2.USAID - a GM WATCH profile
1.US to give US$2.1 million for Nigerian biotech
SciDev.Net, 21 May 2004
[LAGOS] Biotechnology in Nigeria has received a major boost with the announcement by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that it plans to invest US$2.1 million in the area over the next three years.
The funds will "assist leading Nigerian universities and institutes in the research and development of bio-engineered cowpea and cassava varieties which resist insect and disease pests," says USAID's mission director in Nigeria, Dawn Liberi.
She adds that the money will also be used to "improve implementation of biosafety regulations, and enhance public knowledge and acceptance of biotechnology".
The announcement has been welcomed by Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who says that "Nigeria should, as a matter of priority, initiate appropriate steps to explore the use of biotechnology for the benefits of Nigerians and thus ensure that Nigeria becomes one of the international leaders in biotechnology".
Nigeria's minister of science and technology, Turner Isoun, applauds the move. But he also warns that there is opposition in some quarters against the application of biotechnology in Nigeria, for example in its application to genetically modified (GM) crops.
"The problem of biotechnology is fundamentally based on the fear that humans have of the unknown," he says. "Opponents worry that we do not know enough of the impact of biotechnology applications."
Isoun adds: "Those who promote the application of biotechnology do so on the basis that it is safe, and that where doubts remain, necessary regulations have been put in place. What is needed is communication in order to bridge the gap existing between the two positions."
Peter Hartmann, director-general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the driving force behind the promotion of biotechnology in Nigeria, and a partner in the project, says the USAID funding will help to accelerate the growth of Nigeria's agricultural sector.
"IITA does not see biotechnology as a [total] panacea [in the fight against poverty], but as an important tool," he says. "We have to use all possible tools when over 24,000 people die every day from starvation. Sometimes the answers we seek are hidden in the crops themselves. To uncover them, we need all the tools we can master."
The USAID assistance comes 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.
When the law comes into force, a national biosafety committee will be set up to approve the testing and growing of GM crops in the country. Nigeria would then join Egypt, Kenya and South Africa as the only African countries to have adopted formal biosafety regulations.
2.USAID - a GM WATCH profile
[for links to sources etc.
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 head of the agency Andrew Natsios has 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.
A major USAID project, managed first by the Michigan State University and now Cornell, is its Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP). ABSP’s 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 SARB’s 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 position for her with Monsanto.
The GM sweet potato project was subsequently moved to Kenya for field trials and, although it has proven an expensive failure (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails), the project has been central to the building up of a biosafety regime in the country. Kenya along with South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt are the only African countries to have adopted formal biosafety regulations and there has been marked US aid and trade influence on these countries.