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October 21, 2010


Kofi Annan on Agbiotech; Gates Foundation Focus; African Farmers Urged to Embrace GM; EU the Largest Food Importer


• Former UN Chief: Decision on Biotech Crops up to African Nations
• Gates Agriculture Grants Focus on Seeds, Climate
• Nigeria Spends N4.2tr on Food Imports Annually
• African Farmers Urged to Embrace Technology
• Vietnam to plant genetically-modified corn
• The EU ranks as the world's biggest net importer of agricultural produce
• India: Govt. Variety of Bt Cotton Bombs, Causes Losses


Former UN Chief: Decision on Biotech Crops up to African Nations

- Ian Berry, Dow Jones Newswires, Oct 14, 2010 http://www.nasdaq.com

DES MOINES, Iowa -(Dow Jones)- Use of genetically modified crops in Africa, where yields lag far behind the rest of the world, is a decision best left to individual nations, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday.

Annan, in an interview, said high prices and safety concerns stand in the way of the adoption of genetically modified crops in Africa, which is the only continent yet to attain food self sufficiency.

"What is important is that these governments develop the (expertise) that is necessary to determine whether [genetic modification] poses problems for health, " Annan said on the sidelines of the World Food Prize Conference in Iowa. "The decision of whether they use [genetic modification] or conventional methods is up to the government."

Annan noted that some countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, refused aid shipments of genetically modified crops last decade despite an ongoing famine. Farmers are concerned, he said, that if genetically modified grains contaminate supplies, they would lose Europe as a potential export market.

Large seed companies such as Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont Co. (DD), are making a push to increase their presence in Africa.

Annan, now chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, said a lot of potential exists in boosting yields through conventional breeding. He added that small, independent seed companies are key to improving farmer yields. The alliance focuses on increasing crop yields and food self-sufficiency in Africa.

"The large seed companies are not very big players" in Africa, he said. "First of all, the African farmers cannot afford their seeds."

Annan said the recent run up in agricultural commodity prices will have an impact on African populations, given many people there already spend 70% to 80% of their salaries on food. Corn and wheat prices at the Chicago Board of Trade have soared in recent months on supply concerns in the U.S. and places such as Russia and Pakistan.

"If this continues, I think you'll see some more social unrest," Annan said. He said the use of food crops for ethanol remains a concern. Annan has "no problem" with Brazil's use of sugar cane for ethanol, but questioned government subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which he said pushes food prices higher. "Some people say it has no impact," he said. "I'm not convinced."

Little action has been taken to guard against supply shortages since record- high food prices caused food riots in some parts of the world in 2008, Annan said. And while the establishment of a global grain reserve is a good way to safeguard against a supply crisis, it would be "extremely difficult" to get governments to agree on the structure and management of such a system.

"We missed an opportunity to exploit the (last food) crisis, just as we've done with the financial crisis," he said.


Gates Agriculture Grants Focus on Seeds, Climate

- Reuters, Oct. 14, 2010

Gates Foundation, which has donated $1.5 billion to agriculture in developing countries, is focusing more investments on seeds and technology to help small farmers adapt to climate change, the foundation's chief executive said on Thursday.

"Most of our grants support conventional breeding. But in certain instances we include biotechnology approaches because we believe they can help farmers confront drought, flooding, disease, or pests more effectively than conventional breeding alone," Jeff Raikes, chief executive of the foundation started by the billionaire founder of software giant Microsoft, said in a speech to the World Food Prize meeting.

Raikes cited recent funding for a project to develop drought-tolerant corn for African farmers, which is now being used in Malawi and other countries. Other grants have helped develop a variety of rice that can tolerate submergence so that farmers won't be wiped out by floods.

Gates Foundation, which focuses on aid to small farmers, is working on multiple fronts to address the problems that climate change is making for developing nations. "We've known for years that farmers were going to have to contend with harsher weather, but now we're getting a clearer idea of the scale and scope of the crisis," Raikes said. "The places that will suffer the most severe weather -- the volatile temperatures, the changing patterns of rainfall, the droughts and the floods -- are the same places where the poorest farmers live. Their very survival will depend on their ability to adapt to climate change."

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for about two-thirds of employment and one-third of total economic output, according to the Gates Foundation. In South Asia, rural poverty rates hover near 40 percent.

Raikes said development of crop varieties to resist pests, diseases and drought were vital but the climate crisis had sharpened focus on one practical issue: water scarcity. "Rivers in China are drying up. Groundwater levels in India are dropping rapidly. And yet, because of rapid population growth, urbanization, and changing diets, the global demand for water is on pace to double in just 50 years," Raikes said. "Without drastic changes, demand is going to outstrip supply in the areas where the poorest farmers live."

Given the growing crisis, Raikes said it was necessary for both the private sector and governments to resist cutting aid for developing countries' agriculture despite recessions. "We need to remain vigilant in these tough economic times to make sure that donors follow through on their pledges. Budget pressures are threatening the progress we've been making," Raikes said. "The G20 countries pledged $22 billion last year, but this year it looks unlikely that they'll meet their pledges."


Nigeria Spends N4.2tr on Food Imports Annually

- Ngozi Sams, Next (Nigeria), Oct. 20, 2010 http://234next.com

The nation spends N4.2 trillion every year to import food despite its rich agricultural potential, said Gbenga Makanjuola, Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture.

Mr. Makanjuole said yesterday in Abuja at a workshop on agricultural biotechnology organized by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation that prior to the emergence of oil in the 1970s, Nigeria had been a major exporter of agricultural commodities.

“With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $40 billion, Nigeria is Africa’s second largest economy, yet over two thirds of the population lives below the poverty line of $1 per day,” he said.

He said a concerted effort should be made to improve the performance of agriculture, agro-processing, and trade as well as the nation’s infrastructure to enable Nigeria take fuller advantage of emerging opportunities in the domestic and international markets.

Technology to the rescue
Mr. Makanjuola advocated the application of agricultural biotechnology for improved food production, sustainable socio-economic development, food security as well job creation in the country.

“The technology has numerous potentials which include the ability to increase food production, limit the use of pesticides, reduce the amount of land required for farming and improve nutritional value of food varieties for Nigerians,” he said.

Mr Makanjuola allayed fears about the potentially harmful effect of genetically modified products. He said that a biosafety bill which is currently before the Senate will act as a national biotechnology policy. He said it will define the modules of practice of the technology and the handling of the products to ensure safety for human health.

“South Africa and Burkina Faso are examples of two countries in Africa that have embraced [genetically modified] foods with the passage of biosafety bills,” he said.


African Farmers Urged To Embrace Technology

- Daily Guide (Ghan), Oct 20, 2010 http://business.peacefmonline.com/

African farmers have been urged to use technology to boost food production on the continent. Low levels of agricultural productivity over the years have contributed to the recurrent food shortage that affects over 30 per cent of the population, representing about 260 million people.

This problem can be addressed if farmers equip themselves with up-to-date agronomic knowledge, embrace technologies that promote adequate fertilizer application as well as use improved seeds that guarantees high yields.

There are plans to boost food production in tropical Africa and Pedro Sanchez, Director of Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment at the Columbia University, New York believes that it is possible to save many hungry people in Africa.

Interacting with visiting international journalists at a seminar on ‘Development and poverty reduction’ organized by the German based Capacity building institution- Inwent and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue of the Columbia University, New York, Mr Sanchez, who is also the Director of the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute of the university, said research in many African countries had shown that the soil lacks nitrogen which could be replenished through prudent use of fertilizers.

As a solution, agronomists and soil scientists are collaborating with Google to use the latest technology for a digital soil mapping that would help farmers around the world.

The new technology, according to the Director of the African Soils information Services (AfSIS), is developing the digital soil map of the world, which would allow farmers to test the soil to ascertain the level of nitrogen required by their lands through the use of mobile phones.

“Just about everywhere in African there are mobile phones and through the soil mapping project, farmers can send questions on how much fertilizer they can apply to the soil and get answers through SMS.”

He said lack of a subsidy program, inaccessibility to farm inputs by farmers and poor extension services can be named as the underling factor behind the failure of the continent, which has the potential to produce enough food.

“It is essential that the extension services of the agricultural sector are equipped with the needed logistics.” The senior research scholar also dismissed claims that organic farming in Africa was not feasible because of its depleted soil.

He noted that it is possible to promote the high yielding hybrid seeds in Africa, explaining that the promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) poses a new threat.

In most parts of Africa, Civil Society Organisations and other non-governmental organizations are against the introduction of GMOs, claiming that they pose as a threat to human lives and the environment.

“There is no scientific evidence of any damage to human health or the environment, for instance some GMOs like B cotton grown largely in South Africa have positive environmental effect as it reduces pesticide application,” he stated.

Two different research bodies in Europe have indicated that there are only simple agronomic problems related to GMOs. “It is not a scientific argument any more but a political argument. Burkina Faso had the political courage and is now a major producer of cotton in West Africa and they are doing well.


Vietnam to plant genetically-modified corn

- Vietnam Plus, 20/09/2010 | 18:32:22

Vietnam intends to plant genetically-modified corn in 2011 after successfully completing an experimental project. A recent seminar in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau discussed initial outcomes of the project, which was carried out in both the northern and southern regions.

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Bui Ba Bong, said the project showed that genetically-modified corn can adapt to the weather and land in these areas.

It also showed that this corn is resistant to pests, diseases and could help Vietnam reduce it imports of maize for making animal fodder.

Vietnam produces between 1.1-1.2 million tonnes of maize a year while it needs 1.5 million tonnes.

The genetically-modified corn will be planted on a large scale from 2011, if it passes a final test, said Bong.

According to Le Huy Ham, Director of the Agricultural Genetics Institute, various species of genetically-modified plants have been grown worldwide for 16 years, with a current acreage approaching 126 million ha.

Vietnam also plans to grow genetically-modified cotton and soya beans by 2013-2014./.

The EU ranks as the world's biggest net importer of agricultural produce while neglecting critical investment in agricultural research

- Berlin, Germany, October 13, 2010

International competition for agricultural production land is rising dramatically

The food situation in poor countries continues to deteriorate. On World Food Day, October 16th, the number of starving people worldwide will have reached a staggering 925 million.

"Even assuming the very best possible scenario, the poorest nations will fail by a wide margin to produce enough food to feed theirown populations over the coming decades," says Harald von Witzke, President of the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture. "This rapidly growing shortfall can only be met if richer nations are able to produce andexport more food. So far, the EU has turned a blind eye to this looming crisis. Despite the urgent need for immediate action, this important issue has received little or no publicity."

Von Witzke believes that the EU has neglected critical investment in agricultural research for far too long. In the meantime, it has become the world's biggest net importer of agricultural produce. This meansthat in order to meet its own demand for food, natural fibres, bio-energy and other agricultural products, the EU uses a virtual land area in other countriesof about 35 million hectares, equivalent to the size of Germany. The last ten years alone have seen net EU imports from virtual agricultural land increase by10 million hectares.

"The EU has become a huge virtual land-user outside of its own territory," says von Witzke. He points out that this expansion ofland by the EU overseas is leading to deforestation and contributing to climate change "We must collectively demand that the EU fully commits to innovation and high productivity in agriculture. This is vital if we are to eradicate hunger, make a stand against climate change, and maintain natural habitats."
The Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture is a leading Berlin-based think tank in global agriculture, bringing together a unique group of internationally recognised experts from science, civil society and industry. Its goal is to develop scientific-based policy recommendations for the future of global food and agriculture.


India: Govt Variety of Bt Cotton Bombs, Causes Losses

- Zia Haq, Hindustan Times; Oct 15, 2010 http://www.hindustantimes.com

A Bt-cotton variety targeted mainly at poor farmers because it is public-sector developed and, hence, cheap has failed in some parts, embarrassing government scientists and causing losses to growers. The government variety was flaunted as a boon for poor farmers because they could save the seeds and re-use them, unlike expensive Bt hybrids sold by MNCs, such as Monsanto’s, which need to be bought afresh each season.

The Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CISR), the leading state-owned cotton agency promoting the genetically modified ‘Bikaneri Narma Bt cotton’, however, said the variety only needed some fine-tuning and there was no question it being recalled.

Farmers in some pockets of Maharashtra have reportedly suffered losses, as the variety did not produce the promised yield and quality last year. Its seeds are being temporarily discontinued in some parts this year.

“There are some concerns about contamination and impurity. The seed-breeding institutions are trying to address the issues. It is incorrect to say we are pulling the variety out of the markets,” CISR’s director K.R. Kranthi told Hindustan Times.

In 2002, India took to Bt cotton in 9 states in about 80 lakh hectares, which helped push yields by 31 per cent and made it the largest cotton exporter in Asia after China, according to farm ministry figures.

The CISR had sourced Bikaneri, a non-hybrid Bt cotton, from University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, and the Delhi-based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology - its original breeders.

The incident has attracted fresh criticism from those opposed to GM crops. “This is an unacceptable wastage of taxpayer’s funds,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission.

Issues with Bikaneri variety have raised questions over how level the biotech playing field is. Government-developed non-hybrids have failed to take off due to stiff competition from expensive hybrids from private players, accounting for 90 per cent of India’s Bt cotton areas.

(So much for public sector, public-good, tax-payer investment that activists themselves called for to counter the private sector. Once it fails, they become cry babies - Prakash)