Today in AgBioView: August 29, 2002:
* Hunger is Not Just About Distribution
* Biotechnology Stakeholders ŰExcludedÝ from Summit
* "Bullshit Award for Sustaining Poverty" Awarded Today To Vandana Shiva
* 'Bullshit Trophy' for 'Contribution of These Three To Poverty'
* US Offers Zambia Assistance To Assess Safety of GMO Food
* African Countries Should Accept GM Corn
* Millions Face Starvation, The Zambian Government Cites Safety Fears...
* Economist Warns of 'Tragic Consequences' In Southern Africa
* In Johannesburg, Activists Sow False Fears
* The Earth Summit and Apartheid
* Author of the Bt Wild Sunflower Study Responds.....
* Subsidizing Agriculture in Rich Countries
* UN Report Backs Biotech In Africa
* Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development
* Excerpts from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Policy
Hunger is Not Just About Distribution
- AfricaBio - Press Release, Johannesburg, August 29,
From: Jennifer A Thomson, Professor of Microbiology, University of Cape
Town, South Africa
It is totally untrue to say that there is enough food in Africa and that
it is merely a matter of distribution to prevent mass starvation. Africa
has inadequate infrastructure for the transportation of food, not to
mention political unrest in certain regions, which prevent food from
reaching the poorest of the poor. What Africa needs is to produce more
food where it is needed. Farmers want to be able to produce their own food
and are proud to provide for their families in so doing when they can. We
have the poorest soils on the planet and our yields are a fraction of
those in other parts of the world. We desperately need to improve
Part of the answer to this is the use of crops that are genetically
modified to increase yield through resistance to pests, such as insects,
diseases such as viruses, bacteria and fungi and, most importantly,
tolerant to drought. Food derived from currently available Genetically
Modified (GM) crops have been tested for food safety. They are the only
foods in the history of humankind that are tested as if they were toxins.
They are subjected to standard toxicity tests used for decades by
organizations such the US Food and Drug Association to determine the short
and long term safety of drugs. Thus to say we donÝt know the long-term
effects of GM foods is totally incorrect. In contrast, they are the only
foods we know that are truly safe for human consumption. Indeed if wheat
were to come onto the market for the first time today it would probably
not be passed as safe ˝ more people are allergic to wheat products than to
any other food, other perhaps than milk.
Biotechnology Stakeholders ŰExcludedÝ from Summit
- Wednesday, August 28, 2002 (via checkbiotech.org)
Africa ˝ It would seem quite logical to hear from both sides of an
argument when you are discussing a topic at a world summit. The exception
is when you are a biotechnology representative wanting to attend the WSSD.
African biotechnology stakeholders and scientists have raised concerns
that they are not allowed to participate in debates concerning
biotechnology at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD),
Professor Jocelyn Webster, executive director of AfricaBio, said on
The African biotechnology stakeholders and scientists attending the WSSD -
to which they are accredited - comprise African scientists, farmers,
government officials and parliamentarians from ten countries strongly
supporting agricultural biotechnology.
"Our requests to present our view as part of the programme have not been
honoured. "We have been unable to provide our views on the benefits of
biotechnology or to participate in the events being planned, even though
we have requested speaking opportunities from the organisers.
"AfricaBio delegates have largely been unable to gain access to the
official plenary sessions. This leaves us with no voice at the summit,"
The dialogue process, she added, appeared to be one-sided: anti-biotech
campaigners paid for by Greenpeace, Biowatch, Organic Farmers Associations
and other non-science based organisations were given centre stage while
credible, science-based organisations were not allowed to take part in the
process or the dialogue. She has raised her concerns in a strongly worded
letter to Jan Pronk, special envoy of the UN to the WSSD.
"Bullshit Award for Sustaining Poverty" Awarded Today To Vandana Shiva
Johannesburg, August 28 - At a mass rally today in Johannesburg, the
winner of the Bullshit Award for Sustaining Poverty was announced. In a
closely run race, the winner was chosen for her important contribution to
sustaining poverty around the world, in her role as a mouthpiece of
In front of a rapt crowd of farmers from Africa and Asia, the award - a
plaque mounted with a cow manure, representing the traditional
agricultural technology that the winner favours - was bestowed on Ms.
Vandana Shiva. Other award nominees included Greenpeace International,
BioWatch, SAFeAGE, and the Third World Network.
The award was bestowed on behalf of Indian farmers by Barun Shankar Mitra
of the Liberty Institute in New Delhi, India, who commented:
"Vandana Shiva is an individual whose immense presence at the World Summit
on Sustainable Development and other global meetings, and her passionate
defense of poverty, has resonated as far as newspapers and TV cameras can
"Millions of people rely on backbreaking labor and low-intensity
subsistence farming, not out of choice but out of necessity, yet Ms. Shiva
claims that modern agricultural technologies are too dangerous for the
poor. But given the choice, poor rural farmers seize the opportunity to
use modern technologies to improve their agricultural productivity.
Ultimately, it is farmers who should make the choice over what
technologies they use, not eco-imperialists such as Shiva. Farmers are the
most important stakeholder in this debate and their voice must not be
Farmers are choosing modern agricultural technologies out of their own
free will - and for good reasons. And by so doing they are benefiting the
environment. Low intensity farming not only hurts farmers, but also
endangers environmental quality. Poverty and environmental degradation go
hand in hand - and modern technologies alleviate poverty and enable
environmental protection. This means that we should empower poor people to
use these technologies, to increase their consumption of resources, which
will benefit them as well the environment."
Unfortunately, the goddess of poverty was not able to attend the event in
person to receive the award (a sign that she is perhaps not omnipresent).
Mr. Mitra invites her to accept it at any time during the World Summit on
Sustainable Development. Liberty Institute (www.libertyindia.org) is a
member of the Sustainable Develoment Network (www.sdnetwork.net).
See the picture of this award at
For more information, or to interview Barun Mitra, please contact Kendra
'Bullshit Trophy' for 'Contribution of These Three To Poverty'
- Beeld Report newspaper (South Africa) (Translation from Afrikaans
AUGUST 29, 2002: Farmers from Africa and Asia and hawkers from all over
the country yesterday handed over a "Bullshit Trophy" (yes, that really is
the name) to Greenpeace, the Third World Network and BioWatch for their
contribution to the "continuance of poverty" in developing countries.
The trophy consists of a piece of wood with two mounted heaps of dried
cattle dung - "unluckily we could not find elephant dung in time". Mr
Barun Mitra of the Sustainable Development Network (SDN), a coalition of
non-governmental organizations that believe, amongst others, that
sustainable development is only possible through free trade, did the
handing over in Johannesburg yesterday.
Mitra accused the three NGOs of being parasites that "live on the blood of
the poor" and did not assist in improving agricultural productivity in the
third world. "They are not interested in famine or poverty. They are only
concerned with their own interests. "They sit here at the World Summit for
Sustainable Development in their hotels for the affluent and romanticize
everything", he said.
Seven vendor organizations, among them the Gauteng Hawkers Association,
and seven farmers associations from South Africa, Kenya, the Philippines
and India, yesterday protested under the banner of the SDN outside the
Sandton conference center. Amongst others the farmers demand more access
to the best technology, to be able to trade inside and outside the borders
of their countries, and to sell their products at a price which is not
distorted by agricultural subsidies, tariffs or quotas. The hawkers demand
the right to trade where and with whom they preferred without interference
by government and with self-regulation. The memorandums of both groups
were handed to Mr Mosiua Lekota, minister of defence. Mr Leon Louw,
secretary of the Informal Business Forum, to which most of the hawker
organizations belong, yesterday said it was a shame that hawkers had been
prohibited to sit and trade next to Johannesburg and Soweto streets during
the WSSD. The approximate 20 000 hawkers in Johannesburg were "losing
millions of rands" as a result of this ban, Mr Louw said.
US Offers Zambia Assistance To Assess Safety of GMO Food
- Dow Jones Business News, August 28, 2002
LUSAKA, Zambia (AP)--The U.S. offered Zambia technical assistance
Wednesday to help it asses the safety of genetically modified grain.
Although aid agencies estimate almost 2.5 million Zambians are in danger
of starvation if they don't receive urgent aid, the government has refused
to accept donations of genetically modified food, saying it may be a
health risk. It has also expressed concern that Zambians may try to plant
the biotech grains of cereal, contaminating the country's crops that
aren't genetically modified.
Andrew Natsios, the director of the U.S. Agency for International
Development, said Washington had offered to help Zambia set up its own
biotechnology plant, which would enable its scientists to develop the
capacity to research genetically modified foods.
The U.S. would also make available a wealth of data on the subject
collected by its own scientists, he said.
Natsios made the offer at a meeting with Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa,
during a two-day visit to Zambia.
Natsios told reporters shortly before his departure that the U.S. had also
offered to assist Zambian scientists to travel to the U.S. to review the
safety of the corn produced there.
He maintained genetically modified food aid was safe, saying it was
consumed by Americans every day.
The U.N. estimates 12.8 million people in Zambia and five other Southern
African countries - Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland -
urgently need help to avoid mass starvation caused by erratic weather and
exacerbated by government mismanagement in some countries.
To date Washington had delivered 490,000 tons of aid to hunger-stricken
southern African countries through the World Food Programme, Natsios said.
Another 100,000 tons of grain was currently being shipped to the region
and a further 290,000 tons was on order from U.S. producers, he said.
African Countries Should Accept GM Corn
- The Editorial, Ottawa Citizen August 28, 2002 (Via Agnet)
The thousands of delegates attending the world summit on sustainable
development in South Africa are, according to this editorial, unlikely to
go hungry during the 10-day event. Millions of dollars have been spent to
ensure they can debate world poverty in comfort. Yet just a day's drive
from the Johannesburg summit site, millions of Africans may soon be facing
a famine, caused in part by the policies of some of their governments
attending the summit.
Last week, for example, Zambia joined Zimbabwe and Mozambique in rejecting
a shipment of genetically modified (GM) maize that was part of an
international emergency relief effort to ease severe food shortages in
southern Africa, where some 14 million face starvation in the next six
months. "We have taken into consideration the scientific advice about the
long-term effects of the genetically modified foods and all related grains
and we are rejecting it," said Newstead Zimba, Zambia's minister of
The editorial says it's hard to understand that logic. Nearly two million
Zambians face starvation, right now, which could be partly alleviated by
the donated maize. But their government is worried that eating GM maize
might, possibly harm them at some point in the future. Furthermore, there
is no evidence that genetically modified food now on the market is unsafe
to either human health or the environment.
Indeed, the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, in a report
released this week, said that the 50 or so genetically modified products
on the market -- everything from corn and canola to soybeans -- "are, by
all measures of science methodology we have today, as safe or safer than
The United States, which has offered to meet half the emergency food needs
of southern Africa this year, also says there is "no scientific evidence"
to suggest modified maize is harmful, and notes that Americans have been
eating such products for nearly a decade. Fortunately, not all African
countries facing food shortages reject genetically modified maize: Malawi,
Lesotho and Swaziland have accepted such donations.
Meanwhile, back in Johannesburg, it remains a puzzle how those leaders
opposed to GM foods can continue to demand developed countries ante up
more aid money while simultaneously rejecting products from those
countries that could help feed their people.
Millions Face Starvation, But The Zambian Government Cites Safety Fears
For Refusing Grain
- Davan Maharaj and Anthony Mukwita, August 28, 2002 (via
SHIMABALA, Zambia - After waiting seven hours under the sizzling African
sun, John Shikuboni hoped to fill his empty sack with free corn stored in
a warehouse here.
But an aid official told Shikuboni and about 200 other hungry men, women
and children that he could no longer distribute the corn because the
Zambian government had ruled that the genetically modified grain was not
safe for them.
"Please give us the food," pleaded an elderly blind man wearing a
threadbare shirt. "We don't care if it is poisonous because we are dying
Many Zambians in rural areas have resorted to eating leaves, twigs and
even poisonous berries and nuts to cope with the worst food crisis in a
decade hitting southern Africa. Still, their government is refusing to
accept donations of genetically modified corn that the United Nations and
aid agencies say could help ease the starvation and suffering of about 2.5
The United States, United Nations and humanitarian aid groups insist that
the U.S.-donated corn is safe and identical to grain eaten daily by people
in the United States, Canada and other countries. But Zambian officials
say they fear that the gene-altered corn poses health risks to their
"We would rather starve than get something toxic," said Zambian President
Levy Mwanawasa, who declared a food emergency in the nation three months
Privately, aid officials say the Zambian government is looking a gift
horse in the mouth. The Bush administration has dispatched to Zambia its
top aid official, Andrew Natsios, administrator for the U.S. Agency for
International Development, to persuade Mwanawasa to accept the food.
Natsios is expected to meet with Mwanawasa today in Lusaka, the Zambian
"I'm going to tell him he needs to reverse that decision," Natsios said in
a telephone interview. "It's endangering people's lives, and we're going
to have massive losses of life if this policy remains in place."
A savage confluence of events--drought, bad governance and disease--means
that about 13 million people in six southern African countries face
starvation. Many of them now rely on rations from the U.N. food agency to
U.N. officials say they must have $500 million to avert a famine. So far,
the United States has been the most willing donor, shipping a few hundred
thousand tons of food to southern Africa. But the U.S. gifts have ignited
a debate in the region about the safety of grain whose genes have been
modified to produce higher yields and bolster resistance to drought,
diseases and herbicides.
Southern Africa is not alone in its suspicion of genetically modified
food. The European Union bans many modified products, and some European
scientists say the crops could cause allergic reactions in consumers.
Leaders of several African countries say they find themselves in a
dilemma: Feed their people food they believe causes allergic reactions, or
let them die. Agricultural officials also worry that the grain would be
planted and, through cross-pollination, would contaminate their natural
Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland agreed to accept the U.S. donations after
the World Health Organization--and several U.S. agencies--certified the
U.S. corn as safe. Zimbabwe and Mozambique accepted the grain on the
condition that it would be milled before distribution to prevent people
from planting it.
But Zambia--a landlocked nation slightly larger than Texas--has been the
lone holdout, saying its top scientists had warned about the alleged
health risks of gene-altered corn. The country's agriculture minister said
Zambia would import non-altered food to feed its hungry. "There's no way
we can help them if they don't accept the food," James Morris, director of
the U.N. World Food Program, said from his Rome office Tuesday night. "No
one is going to step up with donations of non-GM [genetically modified]
corn to fill the gap. This is food we have complete confidence in."
Despite the official skepticism in Zambia and other countries, some
prominent African scientists have been lobbying for African nations to
embrace genetic engineering to secure the food supply and increase
efficiency and crop yields.
"GM crops and foods are just one part of the overall strategy to ensure
sufficient food" for Africa, said Jennifer Thomson, a professor of
molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
"Europe has enough food. They don't need GM foods. But we have different
needs." Natsios, the USAID administrator, said he recently was heartened
by the Zambian government's decision to let aid workers distribute
genetically modified corn to Congolese and Angolan refugees living in
He said the Zambian government is probably trying to use the gene-altered
corn issue to gain leverage in its relations with the United States. He
noted that the United States greeted Mwanawasa's election last year with a
lukewarm response after the opposition and other groups alleged that the
balloting was rigged.
For the good of starving Zambians, Natsios said, Mwanawasa "needs to
separate the diplomatic issue from this [food] issue."
In Shimabala, a farming village 40 miles south of Lusaka, Shikuboni and
others say they hope the government swiftly reverses its policy. Only
recently, Shimabala was a bountiful collection of farms producing maize,
cassava and other crops. But the drought has reduced the corn fields to
parched brown earth with only a few dying shrubs.
Steven Grabiner, a food aid official, said the thousands of bags of food
in his warehouse could feed Shimabala's 300 families for at least a month.
"I would rather eat that maize than die because the government has no
alternative to the hunger problem," said Bweengwa Nzala, a 28-year-old
farmhand. "The government was elected by us the people, and now we are
hungry. We want the government to help feed us instead of forcing us to
resort to eating wild fruits like monkeys."
"We are not afraid," said Florence Chisanga, who also waited in vain at
Grabiner's food distribution center. "If we die tomorrow, no problem. What
we want is food."
Economist Warns of 'Tragic Consequences' In Southern Africa
- Stephen Clap, Senior Editor, Food Chemical News.
Thomas DeGregori, economics professor at the University of Houston, is the
author of "Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety and the
Environment," which is scheduled for publication by the Cato Institute in
October. He was interviewed by
Q. Does the situation in southern Africa, where countries are reluctant to
accept bioengineered corn for their starving populations, confirm your
worst fears about the opposition to food biotechnology?
A. I have even worse fears, but it╠s hard to imagine a situation where
people are starving and quality food is being turned down. I don't blame
the Africans. I blame the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], who have
caused so much confusion. For some time, the smaller, poorer countries
have lacked a scientific establishment that could sort out the various
claims. They are hearing things from all sides, and fear has triumphed
over solid science.
There are quality African scientists speaking out, but they are not
getting media attention. Jennifer Thompson in Capetown, South Africa and
Florence Wambugu in Kenya are world-class scientists, but they have not
been able to garner the attention of the media when it comes to the
situation we're seeing in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. The
consequences are tragic. The Africans have two fears. The first is that
the food itself might be harmful. Yet Zululand in the Republic of South
Africa is now harvesting GMO maize, whereas the previous maize variety was
being wiped out by disease.
Second, the major exporters fear that biotech maize distributed as food
aid will be commingled with conventional maize, and they won╠t be able to
send their crops to the European Union.
Europe is totally demagogic on this issue. "Consumers╠ right to knowË is a
convenient form of protectionism. There is a huge amount of hypocrisy
regarding biotech foods. Europe demands traceability and labeling for
biotech soybeans from the United States and Argentina. Yet they are
importing soybeans from Brazil, where 60 to 70% of soybeans are GMO
because of smuggling of seeds from Argentina that are used for planting.
This backdoor protectionism in Europe will cost lives in southern Africa,
and the Europeans ought to be called to account. The EU should either
stand up to the Green demagogues and exempt African imports or stand ready
to replace every kernel of transgenic corn that is deemed unacceptable and
to do so immediately. Even better, maybe Greenpeace should be asked to
make up the shortfall.
Q. What is the biotech opponents' response?
A. The NGOs won't let up in their arguments. Now they're saying the donor
nations should give the African countries money so they can buy
non-biotech food on the world market. Should U.S. taxpayers give money to
these countries so they can buy our competitors╠ products? The U.S. has
gone more than the extra mile in offering to have its biotech maize milled
where it is possible to do so. This means that the kernels can't be
replanted. We can't certify U.S. maize as GM-free because too much of it
is commingled with conventional varieties.
The NGOs are spreading lies, and they know it. Now their lies are coming
home to roost. They are paralyzing action to feed people around the world
through "golden riceË fortified with vitamin A and other crop
How many people have Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth ever fed? These
organizations do nothing except engage in PR full time and raise money to
do more PR. Aid organizations and scientists don╠t have the time to engage
in these battles. "I have to do the science, not PR,Ë one scientist told
Developing countries are struggling to overcome the paralysis over
biotechnology. Meanwhile, the NGOs are arrogant and convinced of the
righteousness of their cause. Their blind faith is not susceptible to
change through evidence. No scientist of any note will join them in their
Q. What would you do to counter the opposition?
A. We need to get the media to avoid using the language of the critics -
crops "contaminated" with GM material? The African countries should put
pressure on the European Union to follow the [World Trade Organization]
rules on science-based regulations so they do not have to worry about
importing transgenic foodstuffs.
We need to expose the fact that these battles are not without cost. The
precautionary principle can cost lives in southern Africa. Protectionism
and chemophobia cost lives. The situation in southern Africa is the most
dramatic illustration to date. We need to call media attention to the cost
of this vast misinformation campaign.
This article first appeared in Food Chemical News, Aug. 26, Page 9.
Copyright (c) CRC Press LLC, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.
For more information, go to www.foodchemicalnews.com"
In Johannesburg, Activists Sow False Fears
- Editor, National Post, August 28, 2002 (Via Agnet)
Jonathan Kay, editorials editor at the Post, writes in this op-ed that
6,000 journalists are in Johannesburg to cover the World Summit on
Sustainable Development. The BBC team alone is rumored to number at least
100. Never have so many traveled so far to report so little: The meeting
will likely produce nothing except the same tiresome effusion of
anti-Western rhetoric we heard from last year's "World Conference Against
Racism" in Durban. Already, both South African President Thabo Mbeki and
the summit's secretary-general have accused Western leaders of presiding
over a system of "global apartheid." Not to be outdone, Friends of the
Earth International declared Canada, the United States and Australia to be
part of an "axis of environmental evil."
Kay says that this preoccupation with class warfare is not only shallow,
it is deceptive. The majority of ordinary people in the Third World want
nothing to do with the anti-Western agenda that dominates the "sustainable
development" movement. Whenever a sweatshop is closed, well-fed graduate
students at Berkeley send up a rousing cheer. But the poor workers who get
thrown out of their jobs find little reason to celebrate. Africans
desperately want more trade opportunities and incoming investment -- and
have sensibly used the current summit as a platform to demand that Western
nations cut back on their farm subsidies. Yet most NGOs see corporate
involvement as anathema to eco-acceptable development. Maude Barlow of the
Council of Canadians, who is in Johannesburg to lead protests, insists
"the Canadian delegation should be rejecting the corporate brainwashing
that is happening here."
Tragically, some African leaders are listening to her message. Even as
three-million people in Zambia face the risk of starvation, that country's
government is rejecting donations of perfectly safe genetically modified
food -- in deference to the Council of Canadians' false warning that GM
technology is "imprecise and very unpredictable." What is at the root of
this perverse campaign? Why do Western activists fly halfway around the
world to prevent the world's poor from building a better life with the
same tools -- technology and capitalism -- that are the source of our own
wealth? Mr. Mbeki's accusation of "global apartheid" gives us a clue.
Opposition to colonialism and its alleged modern reincarnations is a
bedrock component of the modern Western worldview. Thus do our
universities pump out a steady stream of activists who see neo-colonial
plots meant to perpetuate racial disparities behind every Western
initiative, trade deal and investment in the Third World.
The Earth Summit and Apartheid
- Financial Post, August 28, 2002
The pretensions of this week's monster "Earth Summit" in Johannesburg
would be ridiculous if they were not both so close to, and so blind to,
real tragedy and real issues.
In Zimbabwe, the economy disintegrates and people starve. The savage
regime of Mr. Mugabe, in its desperation, has turned upon the white
farmers on whom the nation's agriculture depends. Typical of African
kleptocracies, Mr. Mugabe's wife has reportedly chosen one of the prime
expropriated properties for herself.
In Zambia, hysteria over genetically modified foods is bearing bitter
fruit in the decision by the government to let people go hungry rather
than accept GM food aid. The Zambian government also claims -- with more
justification -- that the cynical European farm lobby may use the alleged
risks of "contamination" to place yet further obstacles in the way of
Will these topics receive the attention they deserve? "The most important
... thing," declared British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett this
week, "is to make sure that the summit is not dominated by the issue of
Instead, South African President Thabo Mbeki kicked off the proceedings
with the usual anti-Western claptrap. He claimed that the international
economic system amounted to a form of "apartheid." The word was used by
Mr. Mbeki as a convenient insult. But the concept and reality of apartheid
are in fact relevant to what is holding the Third World back, although
almost certainly not in the glib way Mr. Mbeki intended.
Apartheid's economic roots lay in the desire of white unionized South
African workers to keep employment away from skilled and semi-skilled
black workers. It has been called "socialism with a racist face." The
massive Mine Workers' Union strike of 1921 bore the all-too-frank slogan
"Workers of the world unite, and fight for a white South Africa."
Capitalists would have loved to employ more black labour. Black labour
would happily have accepted lower wages than whites. But an increasingly
draconian set of restrictions prevented them from doing so. Poor whites
were taken care of by nationalizing industries and forcing out black
workers. Without apartheid and its restrictions on employment, movement
and settlement, black workers would have integrated earlier into the
economy and achieved far greater economic and social progress, while
boosting the South African economy as a whole.
Now fast-forward to those activists who -- pawns of First World labour
movements -- are taught to parrot the suggestion that First World labour
and environmental standards must be applied to Third World jobs. The
result, as under apartheid, is to take jobs from those who would willingly
work at them to put themselves on the path to a better life.
Such sentiment is rife at this week's unwieldy gabfest, which will examine
"progress" since the first such overblown shindig in Rio de Janeiro 10
years ago. But progress in Rio's terms has been impossible because Rio was
built on intellectual sand. Even as the rubble was still smoking from the
implosion of communism, Rio was based on exactly the kind of thinking that
had led to the creation of the Soviet Union: a belief in the fundamental
perniciousness of free-enterprise capitalism, and faith in the ability of
Soviet-style talking shops and bureaucratically mandated central planning
to put things straight. At the core of Rio's "solution" was the concept of
sustainable development, which won the battle for hearts and minds
semantically by implying that free-enterprise development was -- by its
very nature -- unsustainable. The Invisible Hand was not merely stained
with blood but cloaked by pollution.
Rio's policy doorstop, "Agenda 21," was based on the plausible but false
assumption that economic growth meant resource depletion and environmental
destruction. This line of thinking created a problem, since the
sustainable developers claimed they wanted to improve the lot of the
world's poor. The alleged answer was that the developed nations must
sacrifice themselves and consume less so that the wretched of the earth
might have more room to grow.
Such a plan was always economic nonsense. Third World development depends
essentially on investment from, and trade with, the First World. Such
investment and trade can only flourish with healthy and growing First
World economies. From the Third World end, investment and trade depend on
property rights and the rule of law, which can only be provided by
government, but erecting the required institutions is a long and arduous
process. Regurgitating updated "targets and timetables" is no substitute.
The United States and some of its allies are right to reject such a
proliferation of bureaucratic makework, which ignores the real problems
typified by Mr. Mugabe and restrictive trade policies in the developed
world (including those of the United States.)
Beneath the alleged concerns of most of those at Johannesburg are
discredited beliefs about the inability of economic growth to co-exist
with effective concern for the environment, along with the most blatant
forms of political self-interest. The real proponents of a new economic
apartheid are not outside the Earth Summit. They are running the show.
Author of the Bt Wild Sunflower Study Responds.....
- from Dr. Allison Snow , Ohio State University
In response to the recent interest in our research on Bt wild sunflowers,
I would like to offer a few clarifications and suggestions. This work was
presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in
Tucson, Arizona, and also at the annual meeting of the Weed Science
Society of America in Reno, Nevada. The abstract is posted at
http://www.esa.org/. A more lengthy abstract can be found at the website
from a recent gene flow workshop at Ohio State University:
This abstract includes answers to some of the questions that have arisen
about our goals, methods, and how we interpreted our results. Meanwhile,
the paper is in review for publication in an ecological journal.
The main goals of this study were to determine whether a Bt transgene
would be effective in crop-wild hybrids and to quantify possible fitness
benefits that were associated with the transgene when plants were grown in
field experiments. Our approach was to study backcrossed plants (BC1
generation) that segregated for the presence or absence of the transgene.
To summarize, we found that transgenic plants experienced less damage from
lepidopteran herbivores, as expected, and produced more seeds per plant
than non-transgenic plants. This fecundity advantage was quite large at
one of our two sites (55% more seeds per plant) and was smaller at the
other site (14% more seeds per plant).
We are eager to publish these results in a peer-reviewed journal so people
can evaluate the study carefully. However, the time needed for review and
publishing is typically at least a year, so the highlights of our study
were described in a University press release
(http://www.osu.edu/researchnews/archive/sungene.htm). Our finding that a
Bt transgene was associated with greater seed production in a weed is an
important first step in determining whether this trait could allow weed
populations to become more abundant. We are continuing to work on this
question using a combination of seed addition experiments, seed bank
studies, metapopulation analyses, and modeling.
We are well aware of the controversy surrounding GM crops and the
polarized views about them. Not surprisingly, some people have said that
our research is trivial and irrelevant, while others have exaggerated its
implications. At this stage, it is best to treat our work as a preliminary
finding until it appears in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
- Dr. Allison A. Snow, Dept. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal
Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus,
Subsidizing Agriculture in Rich Countries
- From: Greg Conko , Competitive Enterprise Institute,
In his August 28 Business Line article, Sharad Joshi writes, "From a
global point of view, sustainable development will be helped if the
governments of rich countries scaled down the various subsidies they
shower on their farmers and if the governments of poor countries ceased to
persecute their peasantry."
I agree completely, though the solution requires quite a bit more nuance
than is allowed in Joshi's statement. In many LDCs, upwards of 70 or 80
percent of the population is rural and thus engaged in farming. Even
though most operate at subsistence levels, years of good weather can
sometimes produce surpluses that can be sold in local markets.
But since farmers in industrialized countries are radically more
productive than poor farmers in LDCs, they can typically out compete with
lower prices even after accounting for the vast differential in labor
costs. Subsidies contribute to that disparity. Cheaper imported food from
industrialized nations can drive down the price of that locally produced
food. Thus, efforts that would make local products more competitive
locally, nationally, and internationally could only help. And cutting
industrial world surpluses certainly would contribute to that end.
This is especially important, because agriculture (and to some extent
resource development i.e. logging, mining, etc.) has typically been the
first step in any economy's path to industrialization. Farming first is
done for subsistence. Then, marginally better practices or especially good
weather allow for surpluses that can be sold. The revenue becomes capital
that is re-invested "on-farm" in the form of more nutritious food which
keeps the family healthier and still more productive. Sometimes, it is
enough to purchase farm equipment, bred seed instead of saved, health care
services, and occasionally education, each of which adds again to
productivity. And that allows for still greater surpluses that can, in
time, be invested outside the farm instead of on it.
However, I'll add a few other points. First, the growing urban poor
populations in LDCs definitely benefit from industrialized world ag
subsidies. Today, they represent a much smaller portion of the world's
poor than do the LDC farmers. But their ranks are growing much more
quickly than the rural poor are, and thus their needs and well being must
be taken into account.
Second, not all industrialized nations have lavish farm subsidies.
Australia is a prime example of a major industrialized economy with a
sizeable farm sector and vast ag exports, but with very low subsidies. We
ought not be fooled into thinking that eliminating ag subsidies in
industrialized nations will turn poor farmers in LDCs into major ag
producers overnight. They'll still have to compete with much bigger and
more efficient producers in other parts of the world.
Finally, a much bigger problem still is the fact that there is
functionally no legal apparatus in most of the LDCs that can enforce
property rights to the surpluses when they ARE generated by farmers (or
factories, for that matter). Corruption, lack of contract enforcement, and
insecure property rights, mean that reinvesting surpluses into production
(more land, better machinery, etc.) compound exponentially the inherent
climatic risk of agriculture by adding in layers of criminal risk and
political risk. This is probably the biggest single reason why aid money
seems to just disappear. Sure, there's a lot of skimming by corrupt
politicians. But even when aid actually makes it to villages, nobody knows
how to spend it best because of the inherent uncertainties that derive
from poorly defined rights and not effective means of redress for contract
violations, theft, or other grievances.
So, by all means, we should reduce or eliminate industrialized world ag
subsidies (there are good reasons for doing so, regardless of whether it
will help LDCs). But we have to be conscious that there are lots of other
problems that also need to be addressed.
UN Report Backs Biotech In Africa
- Katie Mantell, http://www.scidev.net/
New technologies such as genetically modified (GM) crops will be vital in
helping Africa achieve sustainable development, according to a report by
the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development, released to coincide
with this week's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg,
South Africa, warns that "the greatest risk for Africa is to do nothing,
allowing the biotechnology revolution to pass it by".
But the medical and agricultural benefits of biotechnology can only be
realised if a number of key challenges ˛ such as minimising risks and
making the technologies more relevant to the poor in Africa ˛ are
addressed, it says.
"Of particular importance to Africa are the recent advances in
biotechnology that promise to produce crop varieties with higher yields,
greater resistance to pests and disease, and better nutritional, health,
and environmental attributes", it says. The report cites Egypt, South
Africa and Kenya as examples of 'success stories' in deploying GM crops.
Biotechnology and genetics are also creating a wide range of new tools
that are changing how diseases are diagnosed, managed, and treated, it
says. These tools - such as gene therapy, DNA-based vaccines, and novel
vaccine delivery systems ˛ could enable African countries to stem the
devastation caused by HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
However, the report states that biotechnology is not a technological
"quick fix" to Africa's hunger and poverty problems, and that critical
analysis and careful planning are needed to minimise the risks and realise
the full benefits of the technology.
Three main challenges face Africa in harnessing the potential of
biotechnology, it says. First, the current focus of biotechnology research
is on crops and disease strains that are common in developed, rather than
Second, most African countries are not well equipped to address the
potential risks of these technologies to human and animal health.
And third, delivering these innovations to vulnerable individuals and
communities ˛ including farmers, people with HIV/AIDS, and those at high
risk of malaria and tuberculosis infection ˛ is difficult in poor
countries that lack resources and infrastructure.
To overcome these challenges, the report recommends that African countries
should promote African-focused biotechnology research on diseases
prevalent in Africa, and on 'neglected' crops, such as cassava, millet,
sorghum, sweetpotato and yams. It is also vital to increase investment in
modern biotechnology research, it says, and to promote regional
initiatives and public/private sector partnerships.
'African-owned' biotechnology policies ˛ devised with the involvement of
all relevant stakeholders - are also needed, the report states, as well
as the establishment of national regulatory institutions for risk
assessment and management.
Under the right circumstances, "modern medical and agricultural
biotechnology can contribute much to increased food security and better
health in African countries by speeding the agricultural productivity and
epidemiological transitions in these countries," the report concludes.
Download the UNECA report: Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable
Development at http://www.uneca.org/harnessing/ (Excerpts and conclusion
Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development
- Economic Commission for Africa, ECA Policy Research Report
New and emerging technologies can yield a high payoff in catalyzing
Africaăs transition to sustainable development. Where effective, the new
technologies can lower the incidence of disease, reduce food insecurity,
and reduce vulnerability to environmental damage by allowing more flexible
crop management systems.
These are some of the conclusions in Harnessing Technologies for
Sustainable Development. The report also tracks the progress of African
countries towards sustainable development. The indicators reveal sobering
challenges - while some countries have made good progress, many have
slipped down the rankings.
The Report identifies medical and agricultural biotechnologies as key
missing ingredients often overlooked as a basis for sustainable
development. These exciting new technologies range from genetically
engineered mosquitoes that have the potential to eradicate malaria, to
vitamin A enriched rice that can reduce blindness in children. And many
more are on the horizon.
But the new technologies are no panacea or silver bullet. Producing them
and spreading their benefits will not happen automatically. That will
require critical analysis and planning- by regional and international
organizations and governments, private sectors, and civil societies- to
take full advantage of the technological revolution. It will also require
coordinated actions and strategic partnerships in fostering first-rate
intellectual public goods, including scientific research and public policy
analysis, national and regionally. Economic Commission for Africa
Conclusion: Biotechnology offers rich opportunities to increase
agricultural productivity and address current food shortages in Africa. It
accelerates plant and animal breeding efforts. It offers solutions to
previously intractable problems. But it is no panacea. African countries
need to develop appropriate national policies and identify key national
priorities for biotechnol-ogy, bearing in mind the potential biological
risks and the needs of poor people who rely on agriculture for their
livelihoods. And the international community needs to loosen the
arrangements for access to proprietary technology˛enabling developing
countries to pro-vide poor farmers with improved seeds while protecting
them from inappropriate restrictions on propagating their crops.
Open debate is essential. Governments should involve diverse stakeholders
in the development of national biotechnology policies, strategies, and
plans. And they should encourage full and candid discussions on
biotechnology, aimed at determining how best to address problems while
building achievements. Biotechnology policy should take into account
national development policies, private sector interests, market
opportunities, and mechanisms and links for the diffusion of technology.
The biggest risk for Africa would be to do nothing, allowing the
biotechnology revolution to pass the continent by. If that happens, Africa
will miss opportunities for reducing food insecurity and child
malnutrition and see the agricultural productivity gap with industrial
countries widen. The result could be what Ismail Serageldin (1999), former
chairperson of the CGIAR, calls "scientific apartheid," with cutting-edge
science oriented exclusively towards industrial countries and large-scale
Realizing the Promise of Green Biotechnology for the Poor
"Thirty years ago I was chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,
representing the thousands of researchers who created the higher crop
yields of the Green Revolution. Today, we are faced with another equally
enormous task. We must learn to produce nearly three times as much food
for the more populous world of 2050. The International Food Policy
Research Institute recently projected that Africa is a "building
catastrophe." African farms are currently locked in a downward spiral, in
which the traditional bush fallow periods are shortened from 15 or 20
years to as little as two or three - which means crop yields are
declining, soil nutrients are depleted and still more land must be planted
every year to feed the people. I've spent the past 20 years trying to
bring the Green Revolution to Africa˛where farmers use traditional seeds
and organic farming systems that some call "sustainable." But low-yielding
farming is only sustainable for people with high death rates. Africa
desperately needs the high-yield farming systems that have made the First
World's food supply safe and secure." - Norman Borlaug, Winner of the 1970
Nobel Peace Prize (Wall Street Journal, 13 May 2002)
Some key facts
* About 70% of Africans live in rural areas and depend, directly or
indirectly, on agriculture. *Average cereal yields in Africa are half
those in the other developing regions - Asia and Latin America and the
Caribbean. * Across Africa, yields of maize - the staple food crop in most
of East and Southern Africa- average about 1.7 tonnes a hectare, compared
with a global average of 4 tonnes. * About 5 million hectares of forest
are lost annually in Africa, mostly to the expansion of crop area.
* By 2010 more than 35% of the Sub-Saharan African population will be
undernour-ished, the highest rate among all regions. * Advances in crop
biotechnology promise to produce superior variants: crops with higher
yields, higher nutritional content, and tolerance to pests and drought. *
In Kenya the genetically modified sweet potato is expected to raise yields
to levels up to 60% higher than those of traditional varieties˛without the
use of pesticides. * In South Africa the use of Bt (Bacillus
thuringiensis) cotton seed has increased cotton yields by an average of
Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development *Modern biotechnology
offers possibilities for amplifying the achievements of the green
revolution by improving the ability to diagnose plant and animal pathogens
and accel-erating conventional plant and animal research. * Like any other
scientific discovery, biotechnology will not work magic on its own.
African governments need to develop appropriate policies bearing in mind
the needs of poor people dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. *
Both modern biotechnology and conventional breeding techniques should be
sup-ported and encouraged.
Rapid developments in science allow people to understand living organisms
in greater detail than ever before. The new knowledge enables scientists
to modify the very building blocks of life - the genes themselves.
But many concerns about modern biotechnology have been raised in the
developed world. * Consumer concerns about the short- and long-term safety
of genetically modified (GM) foods for people. * Environmental concerns,
including worries about such effects as reduced biological diversity,
proliferating superbugs, gene leakages, and the sustainability of
agriculture using GM seeds. * Ethical, religious, and other societal
concerns stemming from the possible impact of GM crops on society.
Africa has an important stake in this debate, but its concerns have not
been adequately voiced (Juma 2000a). Dictating those concerns is the
urgent need to feed its growing population and reduce widespread poverty,
hunger, and starvation. Africaăs current population of 750 million is
projected to rise to 1.7 billion by 2050, growing faster than the
population of any other major region- and twice as fast as food production
in the region (Pinstrup-Andersen and Pandya-Lorch 1999). So, in the
absence of significant productivity gains or expansion of agriculture into
tropical forests and marginal lands, it is clear that there will not be
enough food to feed people and reduce poverty (Wambugu 1999; McGloughlin
The green revolution has demonstrated that technological change in
agriculture can be a powerful force in increasing crop yields and reducing
poverty. The new high-yielding varieties introduced in the green
revolution doubled cereal production and lowered real food prices. The
poor benefited more than the rich, since they spend more of their income
on food (FAO 2000). The high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat were
based on new genes for dwarfing that made the varieties shorter and more
responsive to fertilizers. Of particular importance to Africa today is
whether recent advances in biotechnology can be safely harnessed to
produce foods that have greater yields, resist pests and diseases, and
offer other positive nutritional, health, and environmental attributes
(Brink, Woodward, and DaSilva 1998). Many African countries depend heavily
on agriculture, so they stand to benefit disproportionately from any
technology that can increase the production of food, enhance its
nutritional quality, and minimize the exploitation of forests and marginal
Realizing the Promise of Green Biotechnology for the Poor 81 Top leaders
in Kenya have embraced the promise of GM crops, stressing that "while the
Green Revolution was a remarkable success in Asia, it largely bypassed
Africa. Today the international community is on the verge of a
biotechnology revolution that Africa can-not afford to miss" (Paarlberg
2001, p. 46). Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture underscores that same
point: "Agricultural biotechnology, whereby seeds are enhanced to instill
herbicide tolerance or provide resistance to insects and disease, holds
great promise for Africa - We don't want to be denied this technology
because of a misguided notion that we don't understand the dangers of the
future consequences" (UNDP 200, p.69).
Despite support for biotechnology from some governments (the United
Kingdom, the United States) and international organizations (Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research, Food and Agriculture
Organization, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,
United Nations Development Programme), opposition remains strong in
several industrial countries, particularly in Europe. Concerns about GM
foods, cultural preferences, resource sustainability, and environmental
protection have led to restrictions on modern agricultural technology,
including a moratorium by the European Union on the approval of commercial
use of GM foods.
Highly publicized outbreaks of food-borne diseases (such as mad cow
disease) have rooted food safety issues at the heart of this debate and
heightened consumer awareness. Much more needs to be done to clarify the
issues. In most public debates biotechnology has become synonymous with
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), though these are only one of many
products (box 3.1). Moreover, the debate over GMOs has so far focused on
risks to human health and the environment, with little attention to the
concerns of developing countries (Juma 2000a).
The economic stakes are high because Africa needs to diversify away from
traditional export crops to higher-value-added foods, such as tropical and
subtropical fruits and fresh vegetables. GM products could be met with
non-tariff barriers to trade, which would limit Africaăs ability to
exploit its comparative advantage in non-traditional exports and thus the
ability of the nascent private sector to create jobs and raise incomes.
But biotechnology could catalyse enterprise development, enhance the
competitiveness of agricultural products, and thus promote Africaăs
integration into the world economy (Juma 2000c).
This chapter critically evaluates the debate on crop biotechnology in the
African con-text. Illustrating the range and nature of current risks and
opportunities inherent in the technology, it focuses on how to ensure that
access to agricultural biotechnology benefits poor farmers in Africa. The
conclusion: while there are serious concerns about the impact of
agricultural biotechnology on human health and environmental safety, the
benefits are likely to greatly outstrip the risks (Egwang 2001). But to
realize these benefits, African countries need to develop appropriate
national policies and identify key national priorities for biotechnology
while bearing in mind the potential biological risks and the needs of the
poor. All stake-holders should be involved in formulating the national
biotechnology policies, strategies, and plans.