Just so you know that all the biotech boosters are singing from the same hymn sheet, here's another article on GM in Africa.

As you may remember, Florence Wambugu told Reuters that resistance to GM in Africa has been "against foreign companies" and that GM crops would gain wider acceptance in Africa as more "homegrown projects emerge".

The following article "Africans embrace biotech future" promotes an exactly similar theme. Its subtitle speaks of, "Homegrown initiatives empowering African farmers, improving yields".

This emphasis on "homegrown" is underlined by references to:
"the recent explosion of local biotechnology initiatives, which farmers themselves often lead"
"Grassroots development of agricultural biotechnology across the continent"

We're also told that, "Local farmers and institutions already are vested in Africa's biotechnology future", as evidenced by 4 "trailblazing biotechnology initiatives" which the article describes.

Among these "local", "grassroots", "homegrown" biotechnology initiatives is one in Kenya, involving fighting stem borers with Bt corn. In describing the initiative, the article makes reference to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Research (CIMMYT), and "Kenyan scientists". It also says, "Kenya and KARI have positioned themselves to be leaders in sub-Saharan Africa".

The one thing the article makes no mention of is the real initiator and driving force behind this "empowering" project: the Syngenta Foundation which, as its name suggests, is the creature of the world's largest biotechnology company. Syngenta directors occupy 3 of the 5 seats on the Foundation's board, with the Chairman of the Board of Syngenta acting as the Foundation's President.

So now we know what they mean by "grassroots" and "homegrown". As for being farmer-led, according to a report by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, the Syngenta Foundation's activities have more to do with PR than with delivering real benefits to poor farmers.

DeGrassi says that, "The Syngenta Foundation has a poor record of supporting client-driven public agricultural research institutes" and that its track record has been marked by a failure to take account of the views and needs of local farmers.

DeGrassi also notes that stem borers are a relatively insignificant contributing factor to poverty in countries like Kenya and that, in any case, other less generously funded non-GM projects have not only already proven capable of protecting against stem borers in farmers fields but are already being adopted.

Another example given in the article below of local farmers and institutions investing in GMOs is headed "South Africa: Increasing Biotech Crop Acreage". Read this section carefully and you'll notice it avoids saying anything at all about GM cotton in South Africa beyond the fact that it was among the first genetically engineered crops approved there for commercial production.

This silence speaks volumes. This project was once the GM industry's showcase for how transgenic crops could help the poor. African scientists, farmers, and journalists were once brought in droves to observe this project. The chairman of the local farmers' association, TJ Buthelezi, has been flown halfway around the world to sing its praises. He even stood next to the US trade representative, when he launched the US's WTO action against the EU over GM crops and food.

But now local GM cotton farmers are in such debt that credit institutions have withdrawn from the area because the farmers cannot repay their loans. And instead of the "Increasing Biotech Crop Acreage" trumpeted in the article, the number of farmers planting cotton has dropped by 80% in the last few years. (THE SUCCESS STORY THAT NEVER WAS)

The article below also sings the praises of AfricaBio, describing it as "an independent, nonprofit biotechnology association", which "has offered local farmers training and tools" while working "with regional leaders and food buyers to promote consumer education."

Among the influential members of this "independent" organisation that the article somehow fails to mention are Monsanto, (Terminator developers) Delta and Pine Lands, Syngenta and Pioneer Hi Breed, plus their South African subsidary companies.

Finally, the article ends with the following quote, "It is only by adopting biotechnology that Africans can experience equitable distribution of wealth". They should try telling that to South Africa's debt-laden former cotton farmers who paid the price of embracing biotech.

But then this is a world where "African" initiatives that are "local", "homegrown", "grassroots", "farmer led", "empowering" and "independent" turn out to be the products of corporate board rooms in Basel, St. Louis and Des Moines.

Africans embrace biotech future
Homegrown initiatives empowering African farmers, improving yields
CBI (Council for Biotechnology Information) News
Monday, October 31, 2005

As individual African farmers plant, nurture and harvest crops successfully, they build a better quality of life for their often-struggling families, communities and nations.

But when those farmers face ongoing battles against drought, disease and infestations, their countries grow dependent on international subsidies and agricultural imports, and they clamber to maintain a hopeful vision of self-sufficiency. That's why the recent explosion of local biotechnology initiatives, which farmers themselves often lead, may be critically important to the long-term sustainability of African agriculture.

Grassroots development of agricultural biotechnology across the continent has the support of senior scientists and policymakers through the African Panel on Biotechnology. The panel is advising the African Union, an organization of African states, on how to adopt biotechnology in appropriate ways that involve local growers and integrate with community customs. The panel's mission is "a clear sign the African Union is finally pushing Africa toward science-led development," said Norah Olembo, executive director of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, which promotes public awareness of biotechnology solutions to Africa's problems. Calestous Juma, former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, co-chairs the panel and agreed that the issues facing African agriculture require an aggressive approach.

"Africa must take charge of its future and assess the usefulness of all existing technological options for meeting its needs," Calestous said. "The challenge is how to make biotechnology relevant to local needs and how to ensure that existing institutions meet this challenge." 1

Local farmers and institutions already are vested in Africa's biotechnology future. For example, seven African countries are holding trials on genetically modified crops that resist destructive pests. Following are examples of trailblazing biotechnology initiatives from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda.

Kenya: Fighting Stem Borers in Corn

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is conducting a three-year field trial to test a type of maize (corn) that resists the stem borer, a caterpillar that burrows into maize and grasses with thick stems. 2 According to KARI Director Romano Kiome, Kenyan farmers lose about 400,000 tons of maize to stem borers every season, which is nearly the same amount of maize the country needs to import each year. 3 If Kenya's trial successfully reduces stem-borer damage, farmers there will breed genetically modified maize with indigenous Kenyan varieties to develop new varieties that can thrive against the elements.

The Kenyan field study follows five years of laboratory research conducted partly at a $12 million, cutting-edge greenhouse. The facility, which KARI developed with the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Research (CIMMYT), enables Kenyan scientists to conduct biotech experiments that conform to international biosafety standards.

"With this greenhouse opening, and the training of competent staff to manage it, Kenya and KARI have positioned themselves to be leaders in sub-Saharan Africa in the use of biotechnology to meet the rapidly growing need to increase food production," said Masa Iwanaga, CIMMYT director general. 4

Tanzania: Protecting Cotton From Caterpillars

Tanzania is beginning its first field trials of biotech crops by testing modified cotton developed to repel the red bollworm caterpillar, which attacks cotton plants and causes disease. The government is sponsoring the research in the nation's southern highlands, where it halted cotton production in 1968 to prevent the bollworm from spreading to the rest of the country. Due to challenging growing conditions and limited market opportunities for other local crops such as sunflowers, farmers in the area have suffered ever since with few alternative crop choices and small yields. 5

"Tanzania cannot afford to be left behind [from] technologies that increase crop yields, reduce farm costs and increase profits," said Wilfred Ngirwa, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. Parliament member Paul Ntwina spoke for many farmers in southern Tanzania when he said, "I am glad we will be able to produce cotton. Technology is likely to be our liberator." 6

South Africa: Increasing Biotech Crop Acreage

South Africa has the longest track record on the continent for adopting biotechnologies that aid local farmers. In 1996 and 1997, South African regulators approved a cotton strain and two maize varieties as the country's first genetically engineered crops for commercial production. 7 Since then, the country has steadily increased its acreage of genetically modified crops - including a 25 percent rise in production in the Cape Town area in 2003, making South Africa one of the top 14 biotech growers globally. 8 These crops have significantly reduced the invasive stalk borers that damage maize and contribute to fungal infections.

AfricaBio, an independent, nonprofit biotechnology association, has offered local farmers training and tools to increase their production and control pests. AfricaBio also works with regional leaders and food buyers to promote consumer education. In 2004, AfricaBio created six demonstration plots of modified and traditional maize to illustrate the quality, health and yield benefits of biograins.

Sabina Khoza, a farmer in her second year of growing biotech maize, is seeing the results from South Africa's investment in biotechnology. She reports that genetically modified maize has much larger ears and less insect damage compared with South African varieties. "I don't want to plant conventional corn again," she said. 9

Uganda: Battling Cassava Mosaic Virus

Uganda has accelerated biotechnology initiatives in the past several years. In 2003, President Yoweri Museveni launched a biotechnology laboratory to research genetically modified bananas, coffee and other crops. In 2004, Uganda adopted its first biosafety policy bill, expected to pave the way for new biotechnology research projects and production. 10

At the local level, Ugandan farmers are embracing biotechnology to fight insect infestation. Ugandan Nanyoni Sharifa grows cassava, a grain that she and other farmers can mill and store as flour for nearly one year, making it a highly valuable food source. Sharifa saw her yields fall to one ton from eight tons per acre due to the cassava mosaic virus. Her farmers association won a $57,000 grant to test insect-resistant varieties of cassava and begin a series of farmer field trials. The group discovered varieties that were particularly productive and created surplus yields for 500 farmers in the region. In response to their results, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, a government body, recently invested $40,000 in a processing plant close to Sharifa's village. She joined the plant's executive committee, which encourages villagers to grow cassava and supply the facility. 11

Biotechnology Promises a Stronger Africa

The examples presented above are just a sampling of biotech work and adoption across Africa - and perhaps a harbinger of things to come as the continent addresses longstanding challenges. At a June workshop for journalists and scientists, Monty Jones, executive secretary of the Forum in Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA), an umbrella organization of major stakeholders in agricultural research and development, said Africa should adopt biotechnology to solve problems relating to hunger, disease and the environment.

"With the current state of 60 percent of soil degradation, coupled with water pollution and very little irrigation, the conventional way of doing things will get the continent nowhere," Jones said at the FARA-sponsored workshop, designed to expose journalists to biotechnology issues. He also suggested that biotechnology may hold the key to helping Africa achieve self-sufficiency - and more. That includes fulfilling his organization's vision for Africa to achieve at least 6 percent annual growth in agriculture by the year 2020.

"It is only by adopting biotechnology that Africans can experience equitable distribution of wealth and become a net exporter of agricultural products," he said. 12

1 Chege, Kimani. "African Union sets up biotechnology advisory panel," SciDev.Net, July 21, 2005.

2 Obulutsa, George. "Kenya scientists plant trial GMO pest-proof maize," Reuters United Kingdom, May 27, 2005.

3 Ogodo, Ochieng and Balile, Deodatus. "East African Farming Genetically Transformed,", June 10, 2005.

4 Chege, Kimani. "Kenya unveils $12m greenhouse," news24.ccm, June 29, 2004.

5 Balile, Deodatus. "GM crop tests get green light in Tanzania," SciDev.Net, Feb. 28, 2005.

6 Balile, Deodatus. "GM crop tests get green light in Tanzania," SciDev.Net, Feb. 28, 2005.

7 "South Africa: Genetically Engineered Crops Ready," Inter Press Service, April 15, 1999.

8 "Farmers Take to 'Supercrops' at Blistering Rate," Business Day South Africa, Jan. 20, 2005.

9 Holdmeyer, Frank. "Biotech brings hope to Africa," Wallaces' Farmer, June 2005.

10 "GM is Allowed in Uganda," A Harvest (Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International), Oct. 21, 2004.

11 Peacock, Christie. "Africa: Farming sense," OECD Observer, July 2005.

12 Kudom-Agyemang, Ama. "Africa Must Embrace Biotechnology," Accra Daily Mail, June 23, 2005.