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Expert lashes poor's new enemy
WESTERN anti-biotechnology activists represent a "new imperialism" that
would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair, a leading
authority on Third World agriculture said in Melbourne this week.
Professor Channapatna Prakash, director of the Centre for Plant
Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Alabama, told guests at a
lecture sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs that biotechnology was
essential to solving problems of poor health, inadequate nutrition, food
security and poverty in developing nations.
An adviser to the United Nations and the aid agency USAID, Prof. Prakash
said anti-gene technology activists were trying to vilify the achievements
of the Green Revolution in the 1970s and '80s.
"Before the Green Revolution, India grew only 10 million tonnes of wheat.
This year it produced 80 million tonnes," he said.
"Food production increased from 50 to 205 million tonnes. Without the higher
yields of Green Revolution crops, we would have needed four times more land
to produce that much with traditional varieties -- where would we find that
land, when just about every piece of usable land in India is already being
Claims that farmers in developing nations did not want transgenic crops, and
should shun the new agricultural revolution in favor of supposedly
sustainable organic farming systems, were "absurd", he said.
Eighty per cent of farmers in India already practised organic farming, and
the situation was similar in Bangladesh, Pakistan and poor African nations.
"The anti-GM activists claim that organic farming is sustainable, but the
only thing it is sustaining in India and Africa is hunger, misery and
poverty," he said. "They want to escape from their situation, and they know
biotechnology can help them.
"Organic farming will only worsen their problems, so it's a dangerous
message to send. They don't want authoritarian activists in wealthy
industrialised nations preaching to them, they need technology and a modern
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those who have
embraced modern agriculture are more prosperous, healthier and not starving.
It's the reason the Western world is self-sufficient in food production."
Prof. Prakash said it was hypocritical to keep Third World farmers in
poverty with romantic notions about a form of agriculture that had been
largely abandoned by the West.
"There is nothing more insulting than romanticising the poor," he said.
"What I see is extremist groups opposed to biotechnology, using arguments
about food safety and environmental impact to frighten Western consumers and
to deprive the Third World of new technology that it desperately needs.
"They have a broader agenda -- they want to control the production and
distribution of food, on their terms. But I would rather see it done by
multinational companies with enormous skills, resources and investment,
which are all badly needed in the Third World."