GMOs may do more harm than good in Africa
GMOs could do more harm than good in Africa: Lewis
The StarPhoenix, October 6 2009
World-renowned humanitarian Stephen Lewis said Tuesday that leaders should proceed cautiously in using genetically modified organisms to combat an agricultural crisis in Africa, which has been ravaged by HIV-AIDS.
Food aid and dedicated research into agricultural development must be two parts of an effort to assist countries in crisis, particularly in Africa, said Lewis, the keynote speaker for the National Agriculture Awareness Conference, an event aimed at raising the profile of agriculture in Canada, that is being held in Saskatoon this week.
Lewis was critical of Bill Gates' role in developing Africa and his partnership with Monsanto Corp. Countries in the European Union are opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Lewis believes "caution" is needed when adopting GMOs in agriculture.
"I'm not expressing outright condemnation," he said. "I have a natural apprehension about the behaviour of multinational corporations. Nothing that has happened in the last two years makes me confident about corporate social responsibility."
Monsanto is already working with developing nations, often in a philanthropic role, a Monsanto spokesperson said Tuesday.
"We have technologies that have a 13-year history of safe use. They're used widely all over the world, including places in Africa and many other developing world areas," said Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada.
Jordan lists projects such as giving growers in Malawi hybrid corn seeds, tripling their yields. [GMW: They're non-GM]
She said these projects are not an attempt to secure future business success in these areas.
"Ultimately everybody has the potential to be a customer. But that's not the point I'm making.
. . . Growers have a choice every single day about the seeds they purchase. We're not the only player in this market," she said.
Lewis bases his hesitation on concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMO-based agriculture.
"I might be embracing a higher yield in the present, which would result in damage down the road that would then prove even more difficult for these famers," Lewis said.
Africa is struggling with food production because farmers, mainly women, have died in staggering numbers due to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, he said. This lost generation of farmers means lost knowledge about food production.
"The natural transfer of knowledge and expertise, of values and background that we take for granted from mother to child, just isn't happening. There's a whole generation that doesn't get the agricultural knowledge," Lewis said.
Intense droughts and rainfall also compromise agricultural development, coupled with "looming" consequences of climate change, he said.
The conference continues today.