1.Let GM crops flourish across the globe
2.Gimme dat new-time religion!
Note: This passionate defence of free trade and 'science' in agriculture (item 1) comes from a fervent denier of human-induced climate change!
Seems Dominic Lawson also fervently believes not just in 'the extraordinary potential of GM' but that - thanks to this miraculous technology - there are 'newly-developed strains of drought-resistant crops' available that Africa's being denied.
Perhaps Dominic Lawson would like to produce them for us all to see - from a magician's hat presumably, as the most optimistic estimates suggest drought-resistant crops produced through genetic engineering are at least a decade away (that's assuming they actually work at all). Meanwhile traditional breeding, marker assisted selection, and building up organic content of the soil are proven methods of dealing with drought.
Item 2, funnily enough, comes from The Telegraph - the sister paper to the Sunday Telegraph, which Dominic Lawson used to edit - and is about the credulity of governments in the face of techno-hype when it comes to IT procurement... but it could just as well be about GM.
1.Dominic Lawson: Feed the world? Tear down trade barriers and let GM crops flourish across the globe
The Independent, 18 April 2008 http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-feed-the-world-tear-down-trade-barriers-and-let-gm-crops-flourish-across-the-globe-811176.html
Apparently, it's official: free trade in food would be a disaster for the world's poorest. That, at least was the way the media have summarised the conclusions of a 2,500-page UN-backed tome , called 'The Synthesis Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development'.
If you think that's a mouthful, you should try reading the 22-page executive summary. It begins by declaring that 'Under the rubric of IAASTD, we recognise the importance of AKST to the multifunctionality of agriculture and the intersection with other local to global concerns' and concludes that 'success would require increased public and private investment in AKST, the development of supporting policies and institutions, revalorisation of traditional and local knowledge and an interdisciplinary, holistic and systems-based approach to knowledge production and sharing.'
I suppose that's the sort of verbiage which we might expect from a document put together by representatives of 60 nations the more obscure and waffly the language, the more likely it is to be approved by all the delegates. Probably it was only the coincidence of the report's publication with the outbreak of food riots in various parts of the world which encouraged journalists to brave this impenetrable thicket of beaurocratese and try to present its conclusions as a publishable story.
As a matter of fact, I think the reporters did a good job in deciding possibly with the aid of hot flannels over the head that this UN report does indeed come down against liberalisation of trade in food, and against the expansion of the agricultural technology known as Genetic Modification (GM). What I can't understand is why none of the accounts have observed that this represents a truly shocking betrayal of the world's least-well fed the very people whose plight the report was meant to address.
The report quite rightly refers to 'price-induced hunger' in other words, hunger caused not simply by an absolute shortage of food, but by its increasing unaffordability to the poorest. Yet what is the principal cause of this 'price-induced hunger'? Not agricultural free trade, but barriers put up against it by governments. While the European Union and the United States are far from blameless in this respect, it is the governments of the poorest countries whose behaviour is the most perverse, since their consumers are the least able to afford the cost of such domestically-imposed tariffs.
The World Bank, which was actually one of the sponsors of this report, has estimated that global free trade in agriculture would add about $180bn per year to world income most of that going to countries in the developing world. It is, after all, those countries which impose the greatest barriers to trade against each other. Agricultural exports between Sub-Saharan nations endure the highest tariffs of any region on earth.
Many of these tariffs apply to staple foods, the most direct way of causing 'price-induced hunger'; some of the highest are applied to fertilisers a most efficient method of putting downward pressure on food production. At the Abuja Fertiliser Summit two years ago, 40 African nations agreed that 'as an immediate measure, the elimination of taxes and tariffs on fertiliser and fertiliser raw materials is recommended'. This has not come to pass, and we can probably assume that a principal reason for this is various forms of local corruption and graft against which even the most well-intentioned politicians find it hard to fight.
The most recent surge in food prices, however, has had a salutary effect on a number of these governments if only out of fear for their own political lives. They have suddenly begun to abandon their cherished import bans. Unfortunately some of them have simultaneously introduced more export bans, which leads to the sort of retaliatory regional trade policy which has helped to get them into this mess in the first place.
It really can't be emphasised too much: the problem the world faces is not so much a technical inability to produce enough food to fill every mouth on the planet as politically imposed obstacles to making sure that the stuff actually reaches every marketplace.
It is obviously true that as the world's population has expanded, there is growing pressure on agricultural science to find ways of increasing yields from existing farms rather than just annex ever-increasing amounts of land and water to meet the demand for food. You might have thought that a UN report entitled 'The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology' would have welcomed the extraordinary potential of GM to meet this objective
Again, however, the report is perverse, instead extolling the sort of back-breaking traditional subsistence methods, which can lead to an African farmer spending months to weed a single field.
It is Africa which could benefit most from GM technology, especially from newly-developed strains of drought-resistant crops. There are other examples: efforts are underway to develop a genetically modified strain of Cassava a staple for hundreds of millions of Africans which is resistant to the blight known as Cassava mosaic virus. Despite some laboratory success, field tests in African nations have been held up by governments suspicious about the whole idea of biotechnology.
Instead of trying to persuade the developing world of the environmental benefits of GM it would lead to less rather than more intensive use of land the UN report panders to the sort of superstition which in this country was masterfully whipped up by the Daily Mail with its 'Frankenfoods' campaign.
As Professor Paul Collier (the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What can be Done about It) points out, we in Europe can indulge ourselves in popular anti-scientific hysteria over GM foods. We can, at least for the time being, afford to pay the price of rejecting such increases in agricultural productivity as GM offers; but Africa, argues Professor Collier: 'cannot afford this self-denial. It needs all the help it can possibly get from GM drought-resistant crops.'
The author of The Bottom Billion also insists that 'trade in agricultural produce has been the main economic activity to have resisted the force of globalisation: the cost of this is now being picked up by the poorest people in the world'. Yet 60 nations have managed to put their names to a document which argues that an increase in free trade or globalisation could lead to more poverty and hunger in the developing world; reservations were expressed by delegates from only four countries the US, Canada, Australia and China.
I regard it as shaming that this country was not among the dissenters when the report was released three days ago. It is not surprising, however: the principal author of the report is also the chief scientific advisor at our very own Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We lead the world in lunacy.
2.Gimmie dat new-time religion!
In this respect, IT procurement resembles primitive religion. Tribal elders, trembling with awe, approach feared witch-doctor. Here, they say, is an enormous package containing the shiniest rocks we have been able to dig out of this here hill, some top-quality drugs and a baker's dozen of the village's most nubile virgins for you to have your wicked witch-doctoring way with. Good, says the witch-doctor. Now, I shall burn this corn dolly as an offering to the gods, and they shall bless the harvest.
Six months on, the crops fail anyway, and the village elders return to the witch-doctor. We are starving to death, they say, and we are most peeved on account of having no crops, and no drugs, and no shiny rocks or nubile virgins neither. What giveth?
And the witch-doctor says: this is what you get if you do it on the cheap. The gods are exceedingly angry with you. The only way to fix the situation is to burn a much, much bigger corn dolly. And this is going to cost you, be warned, a whole bunch more drugs and shiny rocks - and, while you're at it, virgins. And the villagers, in fear and trembling, set about it.(extract from 'Is there a sensible reason for ID cards?') http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/03/08/do0804.xml