Here's an important update from Patrick Mulvany, Chair of the UK Food Group, on 2 significant papers out this week that show the direction of UK government policy.
One outlines the UK government's Department for International Development's agriculture policy. DFID's policy, as Patrick notes, includes commitments to help promote patented new agricultural technologies (i.e. GM seeds).
The other paper - "science, technology and innovation in Africa - going for growth" - is published by the Smith Institute, a think tank set up in memory of John Smith, the Labour Party leader whose death brought Tony Blair to power.
It's edited by the ardent GM-supporter Calestous Juma and it includes a section contributed by Syngenta, as well as a preface written by Gordon Brown, Blair's would-be successor.
As a sign of the kind of access the biotech industry enjoys with the Blair government, on Wednesday last week, Syngenta had a breakfast meeting at No.11 Downing St - Gordon Brown's residence - at which they presented the Smith Institute report to Brown and other leading MPs.
There's an interesting indicator in the Syngenta part of the document as to how Syngenta makes use of government access - "Syngenta has been able to work successfully with the authorities in Burkina Faso in supporting their development of regulatory expertise in new technologies".
Syngenta prides itself on the neatness of its regulatory latch-lifting in places where Monsanto has failed to break down the door.
Unsurprisingly, the Syngenta paper also talks about how, "Links between academia and industry can be vital to a regions economic performance."
They are even reported to have offered training courses to the judiciary.
We've got the politicians, we helped shape the regulations, we've signed up the academy, now we leave the rest to you.
New DFID agriculture policy and Smith Institute / Syngenta report on African science and technology
The new DFID Agriculture Policy paper is to be released on Wednesday 7th December, with its commitments to help promote patented new agricultural technologies (i.e. GM seeds). On Wednesday last week, Syngenta had a breakfast meeting at #11 Downing St organised by the Smith Institute at which they presented their report called "Going for Growth in Africa: science, technology and innovation in Africa ". Among other things it says that "Syngenta has been able to work successfully with the authorities in Burkina Faso in supporting their development of regulatory expertise in new technologies"!
Below are some comments on each paper.
DFID Agriculture Policy Paper
This paper will be launched by Hilary Benn on Wednesday 7th December at 2pm. This is the Minister who last year was interested in developing "Sustainable Agriculture" and the agroecosystems and social structures that would support it. The new policy is unlikely to reflect his early enthusiasm.
The UK Food Group will, however, welcome the renewed commitment to agriculture. However, the policy is expected to focus on agriculture as a stimulant for growth of national economies - not strengthening its potential as the provider of food, sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor and its potential environmental benefits, through supporting farmers' organisations and democratic processes.
The policy document is expected to mention the importance of farmers' organisations but will give no commitment to providing aid to supporting their development - only that developing country governments should ensure that farmers' organisations participate in shaping agricultural policies.
It is also likely to be silent on sustainable, non-market agriculture practiced by 100s of millions of people, especially women, throughout the world for the production of local food.
In the consultation process, the UKFG urged DFID to pay more than lip service to women:
"DFID [should] ensure that the organised voices of poor women in particular are heard. They are the principle food producers in many parts of the world especially Africa, and DFID should ensure that, through its programmes, they are empowered, respected and rewarded for their contribution to hunger alleviation, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, rather than being either forced out of production or being made to work for a market over which they have no control."
It is expected to provide a commitment to support the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (see below) and to improve access of resource-poor farmers to the products of privately-funded research in an environment of low-cost regulatory systems to ensure the safe application of new technologies. i.e. it will promote GM crops and cheap biosafety regulation. This is an issue that was 'non-negotiable' we were told in the 8 September consultation meeting. Why - and who is behind this?
It is likely that the policy paper will provide no indication of how budgets or implementation measures will be changed, increased or reorganised to support the new policy nor what indicators will be used to measure its effectiveness. However, it is expected to commit to measuring the impact of the new policy within 3 years. How and against what criteria? And in what way will the International Development Select Committee follow this up?
As the UK Food group said in its contribution to the consultative process < http://www.ukabc.org/ukfg_comments_dfid_ag_guidelines30sept2005.pdf >
"We will be interested in following this process closely and, in particular, to watch how [this DFID Policy will] help developing countries to put into practice the four key areas of policy listed in para 137 (of the consultation document - more commitments may be added in the final policy):
*Create a long-term vision for agriculture and to reflect this within their poverty reduction strategies
*Ensure the participation of representatives of the rural poor in shaping agricultural policies
*Strengthen and, if appropriate, reform public sector institutions so they can deliver important functions which support agricultural development
*Ensure that agricultural development strategies provide incentives for the sustainable use of natural resources and environmental services."
This policy is the product of a top-down process - Whitehall-dominated rather than consultative. In the 2 years it has taken to develop the policy, DFID could have developed a farmer-led process that would have provided a different set of policy proposals ones that open up agriculture policy processes to more diverse forms of knowledge and embrace participatory decision-making approaches in policy-making processes and agenda setting for research and development of agricultural science and technology. We are disappointed that this new DFID policy, with its principal focus on 'productivity' and 'growth', will ignore these decisive elements.
The Andhra Pradesh farmers who came to London to participate in the consultation process ( www.ukfg.org.uk/seminars/DFID_30_Nov-fs.htm) will be disappointed in the outcome. And the Minister will be held to account for a policy that is far from his early ideals and interest in promoting sustainable agriculture.
Smith Institute / Syngenta paper
"Going for Growth in Africa: science, technology and innovation in Africa".
It's edited by Calestous Juma, former executive director of the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Gareth Thomas, Dato' Lee, David King and Syngenta are among contributors as well as Robert Tripp on Civil Society. It covers some of the key issues in 130 pages but in a biased way... nothing on "sustainable agriculture" or "ecosystems" or "agroecology" or "biodiversity" but quite a lot on "environment" including reference to the Copenhagen Consensus organised by Bjorn Lomborg and the Institute for Environmental Assessment and much on Public Private Partnerships including the need to make patented technologies available to farmers (ie including GM crops).
The Smith Institute hosted a series of seminars earlier this year on Science and Technology in one of which Hilary Benn advocated the "development of new crop types". See: < http://www.smith-institute.org.uk/event-science-technology.htm>. Last year he was more interested in developing "Sustainable Agriculture".
Trustees of the Smith Institute include The Lord Haskel of Higher Broughton (Chairman), Lord Joel Joffe, The Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev. Dr John Sentamu.
Syngenta: [It is of] "cardinal importance where the introduction of new technology requires a fair, transparent and predictable regulatory and legislative environment. This sphere of governmental action is an essential contribution towards establishing a general business environment that is innovation- and entrepreneur-friendly. Well functioning legal, judicial and regulatory systems help create a stable macroeconomic environment, remove bureaucratic barriers to investment and foster support for business infrastructure and robust markets."
"Syngenta has been able to work successfully with the authorities in Burkina Faso in supporting their development of regulatory expertise in new technologies".
Tripp: "Consumer-based civil society may also oppose new technology, as the widespread concern about genetically modified organisms illustrates." What about the global opposition from farmers' organisations?
And what does he mean by "Civil society's demands for science and technology will be found where competitive markets reward innovation, rather than where political regimes favour protectionism and privilege."? Whose innovation? Most farmer innovation is undermined by markets and market-led appropriation of their resources, knowledge and technology.
But he also says "In addition, donors should insist that the NGOs they support help develop farmer organisations that can make their own demands on state services." (Will DFID commit to this in their new agriculture policy?)
However, concludes that "More thought is also required regarding the type of NGOs that can effectively contribute to supporting the growth of a civil society that helps foster technological innovation. The requisite skills include technical competence, an ability to develop user capacities to interact with relevant public- and private-sector technology generation, and strong commercial experience to link technology users to markets." (i.e. NGOs that will promote GM crops?)
Gareth Thomas has signed a DFID paper "Innovation, agricultural growth and poverty reduction" based on part of the DFID ag policy paper to be launched this week on Weds. (See above)
Among other things he notes:
"Beyond public-sector roles, one of the most notable changes in the structure of agricultural technology research and delivery in recent years is the growing importance of the private sector and recognition of the need to build partnerships between different stakeholders
There is increasing use of purchased inputs whose characteristics, combined with the increasing scope of intellectual property protection, make them appropriable and subject to private investment. The private sector has significantly greater resources for investment than the public sector, suggesting that public investment should be directed to those research areas not covered by the private sector, and should guide private investment towards poverty reduction goals."
And quotes DFID's support for pushing commercially developed, patented GM crops:
"Recognising the importance of accessing technologies developed by the private sector, DfID is increasingly exploring support to public-private partnerships. Differences in incentives, concerns about transactions costs and lack of information can limit immediate development of public-private partnerships but there are success stories (see box on public and private sector working together).
The public and private sectors working together
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation, based in Nairobi and supported by DfID, Rockefeller Foundation and USAID, helps farmers and African researchers to access productivity-enhancing technologies held by the private sector that would otherwise not be available, owing to intellectual property rights.
Similarly, the Global Alliance for Livestock Vaccines a partnership between large pharmaceutical companies and donors is making new livestock disease technology available to developing countries. Some three to four new vaccines, to tackle the deaths of one in five animals each year, will be developed within the next 10 years. This will help to transform the lives of the 600 million people who depend on livestock for their livelihoods."
[NB: Although the AATF website is sanitised <http://www.aatf-africa.org/> with hidden GM projects such as "Bio-fortified sorghum varieties that enhance vitamin A, minerals and proteins" that has many biotech company partners, (it still says things like "the project hopes to bring genetically modified cowpea to growers." and also that "Genetically modified crops will be subject to rigorous national regulatory testing and consent"), the rice industry website Oryza.com explained the purpose of AATF in straightforward terms, (in 2003). 'The goal of the AATF will be to work with governments, companies, non-governmental organizations, and research centers to negotiate the sales rights of genetically modified crops and bring new agricultural technologies to the African market.' And unlike AATF's website which only lists as donors USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development , Oryza.com also listed the following biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Agro Sciences and Syngenta.(Africa: Group to Promote GMO Sales, Oryza.com <http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=772>)]
The Syngenta paper concludes, unsurprisingly,
"Links between academia and industry can be vital to a region's economic performance.
The G8 nations have agreed to invest more in better education, extra teaching and new schools, and to help develop skilled professionals for Africas private and public sectors by supporting networks of excellence between Africa's and other countries' institutions of higher education and centres of excellence in science and technology.
Creating African centres of excellence
Over time, the networks of centres of excellence proposed by the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development plan could be supplemented by pan-African centres of excellence, each located at one of the geographic poles of the continent."
All this despite increasing skepticism that Centres of Excellence could ever deliver what poor farmers need, as was made clear recently at the APGOOD meeting on Science and Technology for development by both Ian Scoones (IDS) and the former director of IRRI. That meeting concluded that there was a need to look again at IPRs, now that 3 years have passed since the CIPR report was published and little action has been taken by HMG, despite its warnings that IPRs can increase poverty and countries should be strengthened to defend themselves from imposed IP regimes.
Chair, UK Food Group
[Senior Policy adviser
ITDG - practical action
CV23 9QZ, UK]
Tel: +44 1926 634469; Fax: +44 870 127 5420
URL: www.ukabc.org & www.itdg.org