1.Smaller farms mean future food security
2.Debate on GM crops not being guided by reason

EXTRACT: "At least until there is serious evidence for GM benefits in the fight against poverty, we should pursue what works now." - Alex Cobham, Policy manager, Christian Aid (item 1)
1.Smaller farms mean future food security
The Guardian (Letters), August 23 2008

Christian Aid agrees with Paul Collier that the focus must be on people living in poverty when considering Prince Charles's views on the future of agriculture (Charles's fantasy farming won't feed Africa's poor, August 22). A hard-nosed analysis of what will work, rather than any romantic or ideological approach, is exactly what is needed. Collier rightly notes it is conventional but unrealistic to say that Africa needs a chemical-led "green revolution". And we strongly support his view that increasing the productivity of farmland is crucial, while expanding the area used is not a long-term option given population and climate trajectories. Where we differ is over his promotion of a GM-led revolution.

The evidence is that the highest productivity per acre comes from smaller farms, even in the absence of sustainable access to markets and finance. GM technology, requiring greater finance, is likely to militate in favour of less productive large farms. This would inevitably neglect the larger part of the African population and is far from guaranteed to deliver the needed productivity gains.

Our report, Fighting Food Shortages, sets out how structures can be improved to enhance the stability of prices and of access to markets and finance for smaller farms. These measures, together with the ability of governments to protect their markets from heavily subsidised imports, would not only allow the possibility of greater productivity gains in food production. It would also do more to allow families to lift themselves out of poverty, and away from subsistence farming. At least until there is serious evidence for GM benefits in the fight against poverty, we should pursue what works now.

Alex Cobham
Policy manager, Christian Aid
2.Debate on GM crops not being guided by reason
by George Ogola  
Business Daily (Nairobi), August 22 2008

[Dr Ogola teaches at the University of Central Lancashire]

In an interview with the British newspaper the Telegraph last week, Prince Charles reignited the controversial debate on the environmental safety of GM crops.

Known for his strange use of hyperbole, the Prince of Wales was emphatic that genetically modified crops were an experiment with nature gone seriously wrong and that the world risked environmental disaster as a result.

His statement predictably elicited consternation in many places but it was the umbrage it caused particularly to the pro-GM lobby including the British Environment minister Phil Woolas, that has lead many to reflect more critically on the interview and what the reaction it evoked revealed.

Trapped in debilitating poverty, Africa has traditionally been a breeding ground for various experiments.

In a provocative article published in an issue of the Bidoun, Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina metaphorically captures the continent's vulnerability thus: “A windup radio. A magic laptop. These pure products are meant to solve everything.

They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver...; a product built to serve the needs of the needy assumes the needy have measured themselves as the product has measured them”¦ I am sure the One Laptop per Child initiative will bring glory to its architects. The IMF will smile. Mr Negroponte will win a prize or two or ten."

False magnanimity

Wainana's piece is not a mischievous jab at Western inventions, rather it is a powerful counter-discourse to the narrative of magnanimity so easily sold to the continent by corporations from the West who routinely deny legitimacy to opposing view points.

There are many unknowns on GM crops both positive and negative and the Prince's absolutist views may or may not be unqualified. Yet examined in its entirety, Prince Charles raised some useful points for debate. Indeed, it was Woolas' criticism that sounded more like the views of a Monsanto company salesman.

Rather than counter the Prince's position through argument, Woolas quickly dismissed Prince Charles' attitude as "entirely Luddite" and then in typical condescending attitude, invoked the potential benefits of GM crops to the Third World.

The criticism was an easy sell to those who fail to scratch beneath the surface as was the case with another pro-GM politician Phil Willis who accused the Prince of scientific ignorance and argued that the failure to develop GM crops would "condemn millions of people to starvation in areas like sub-Saharan Africa".

Yet Prince Charles did not question the science, rather he raised concerns over its application. Indeed, often times, there's a moral component to science that eventually makes it socially acceptable. Science does not necessarily exist in a moral vacuum.

The debate on the GM crops is much more complicated than is usually acknowledged in public debates where sentiment very often clouds reason.

It is important to note that because of the law of the unknowns, many countries in the West, apart from the US are only growing GM crops in closely controlled environments.

For instance, GM crops are not commercially cultivated in the UK and a recent report by the BBC indicates that there is only one on trial involving potatoes in Cambridgeshire.

If, as Woolas argues, the GM crops are unequivocally safe for the environment, in light of the current credit crunch and rising food prices in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, why is commercial cultivation in the UK not being encouraged?

It this a technology only useful for starving populations in Africa?

Part of Prince Charles' interview which I believe should have been the focus of far greater attention and analysis was his argument that there should be increased concern not so much on food production but on food security.

It is a legitimate argument widely shared by vocal but perhaps far less influential groups like Friends of the Earth whose campaign director Mike Childs reiterated the organisation's position in an interview with the Telegraph that GM crops will not necessarily solve the food crisis in the Third World and expressed fears that "an industrialised farming system will continue to fail people and the environment around the world".

Farming methods

Several independent reports argue that the adoption of GM crops should be contingent upon assessments of their possible effects in the long term. What are their potential impact on the environment and ecosystems in the long term?

Secondly, will increased crop yields necessarily resolve Africa's underlying problems such as poor farming practices? Isn't it better to educate the continent's populations on better farming practices? Indeed, one only needs to look to the Far East where several countries have attained food sufficiency without resorting to GM crops.

Finally, there's urgent need to reflect on the possible corporatisation of the food industry in Africa and what the consequences might be.

Africa cannot afford to mortgage its food security to businesses such as Monsanto. A continent's food security cannot be left to a coterie of multinational corporations. Africa has options; the obvious one is not sell out to the supposed magnanimity of the GM lobby because it is anything but that.

Dr Ogola teaches at the University of Central Lancashire. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.