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2013 articles

Monsanto's next conquest for GMO dominance: Africa

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big agro business dominating Africa

There's an all-out push to get GM crops into Africa.


  1. Monsanto's Next Conquest for GMO Dominance
  2. African farmers’ problems can’t be solved by high-tech seeds
  3. Tanzania: Government to Endorse GM Maize Trials Soon?

Many followers of the #GMO hashtag on Twitter were startled recently by a flurry of tweets from the US Embassy in Harare promoting the safety and efficacy of GM crops.

It turned out to be the social media phase of a "biotech outreach" programme underway in Zimbabwe involving Wayne Parrott, a well known GM proponent long associated with the AgBioWorld lobby group.

You can see details of one of the "outreach" events he's been doing here.

Thanks to Wikileaks we know the US State Dept has been aggressively promoting Monsanto's interests across the developing world - see the report: Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry's Global Agenda.

And Wayne Parrott is just the latest GM lobbyist to head for Africa. Earlier this year Jay Byrne, Monsanto's most notorious spin doctor, was there liaising with local industry front groups.

Prior to Monsanto, Byrne worked for the US State Dept's US Agency for International Development, which has for years been specifically tasked with promoting GM crops and integrating them into local food systems.

While in Africa, Byrne flagged up material that he thought would be useful to Mark Lynas, who followed him to Africa on a GM promotional tour just a few months later. From what little is know about Lynas' funding it seems very possible that it is coming from groups and programmes with US State Dept and industry backing.

But as well as these overt PR efforts, USAID and industry backed groups are also active in setting the agenda behind the scenes. For instance, for some years ISAAA and Florence Wambugu's Africa Harvest have been running training workshops for African journalists, like a recent one in Ghana, "to help them report biotechnology news more accurately".

AGRA, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and the Gates Foundation are big players, and a lot of the GM push is being accomplished through changes in seed regulations and the establishment of GM-sympathetic biosafety regulations.

At this point even US investment websites like the well known Motley Fool (see item 1 below) are waking up to the scale of the assault on Africa and the potential seriousness of its impact.

1. Monsanto's Next Conquest for GMO Dominance

Rich Duprey. The Motley Fool, 14 September 2013

While Africa has long been intransigent in its stance against introducing genetically modified crops, cracks are forming in the opposition, and the world's leading biotechs -- DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta among them -- are poised to take advantage of the weakening stance and flood the market with seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. With Europe effectively closed off to GM crops, the seed and chemical giants are looking to Africa to be their next growth market.

To pave the way for choking off conventional seed stock and replace it with GM seeds, an African agricultural organization issued a report last week saying opposition in Africa to GM crops is a "farce" based on a "fear of the unknown". Backed by the former head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA, says GM crops have been closely studied for decades and are no riskier than conventional crops.

The report goes on to note that only four African countries have permitted fully commercialized GM crops -- Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa, and Sudan -- and of those four, South Africa accounts for 82% of the total.

That's why DuPont's acquisition of South Africa's largest seed company, Pannar, was seen as an important conquest. It gives the chemicals company a large handhold over maize, one of the most important crops on the continent, three-quarters of which is already genetically modified. DuPont, through its Pioneer Hi-Bred division, now has control over one of the largest collections of genetic resources for the crop.

AGRA says enabling environments for adopting GM crops are being put into place. Five countries are conducting field trials of biotech crops -- the final step before adoption -- while most others have signed on to conventions and protocols that set the stage for adopting the necessary policy and regulatory "frameworks".

If Africa does succumb to the siren song of GM crops, control of the food chain will be taken from the hands of the family farmer and placed into those of the agri-giants. No longer will the traditional practices of seed saving from one year to the next be permitted, but farmers will be forced instead to buy new seed from DuPont or Monsanto each year, or at the least pay royalties. We've seen that here in the U.S., where Monsanto has successfully sued farmers because they bought seed from third parties and then tried to grow crops afterwards without rendering royalties to the biotech.

Then starts a cycle of becoming ever more reliant on the herbicides and pesticides necessary to grow those crops. Why buy Monsanto's Roundup-resistant seed if you're not going to spray the herbicide afterwards? Unfortunately, the overapplication of these chemicals is leading to the creation of superweeds and superbugs and have been linked with the destruction of the honeybee population. For farmers who wished to go back to the old ways, their fields would have to lie fallow for years before the chemicals poured onto them were gone, a practical impossibility when the harvests are used for subsistence.

Monsanto withdrew bids to grow eight of nine genetically modified crops in Europe because of staunch opposition and will instead focus on conventional seed types. Syngenta is now fighting the EU's ban on its pesticide thiamethoxam, the neonicotinoids thought responsible for honeybee colony collapse disorder. Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical's AgriScience division have resorted to combating the anti-GMO sentiment rampant on the continent by creating a website dedicated to pushing its agenda and combating fears.

Perhaps the far easier solution is to look elsewhere for easier fish to fry -- or turn into Frankenfood. The fertile, untapped potential of Africa is just such a place, and while local resistance to GM crops is mounting, the individual governing bodies may yet pave the way for their introduction. A new era of agricultural colonialism will be born where the local farmer ends up becoming enslaved to the global profit demands of corporate agriculture.

Corporate investment in foreign markets isn't always the subject of international fury, and you can profit from our increasingly global economy simply by looking in your own backyard...

2. African farmers’ problems can’t be solved by high-tech seeds

MAJWALA MEAUD MAJOR, Africa Review, 13 September 2013

As Uganda's parliament debates the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill, a lot still remains unknown. Employing experts in this field for capacity building and knowledge enhancement may be essential.

New biotechnology has evoked high hopes, high stakes and fears for ultimate human control over nature amidst food insecurity, poverty, and climate change.

Behind claims for hypothetical risks and benefits, there lies conflicts over how nature may be controlled and even reconstructed for specific human purposes.

Agricultural biotechnology has provoked much debate on how to anticipate unintended effects on soil quality, nutritional values, natural resources and the general environment.

At a recent G8 Summit, President Obama unveiled a $3 billion 10-year programme to reduce hunger in Africa. At the meeting, Mr Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, arguing that the advanced farming techniques developed by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont can be an effective response to the “moral imperative” of ending hunger in Africa.

As part of the alliance, agricultural corporations from several countries will collaborate with government officials in selected African nations, along with civil society groups and local farmers to increase crop yields.

Monsanto is committing $50 million to the plan. The US-based corporation, which specialises in biotechnology research and applications, says it will focus its investment partly on Kilimo Kwanza project in Tanzania.

Monsanto seeks to introduce new maize hybrids suitable for Tanzania, in addition to making financing more easily available to farmers.

Not well-intentioned

Meanwhile, Obama’s Africa food plan prompts alerts on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Those opposed to farming initiatives involving GMOs say the food security scheme is mainly to help US agribusinesses to bring biotechnology to African countries.

The goal of agribusiness corporations is not to fight hunger; their objective is to make money. The fundamental argument is that the aim of reducing hunger in Africa by promoting corporate investment in agriculture is not well-intentioned and misguided.

A similar project is underway in Kenya. Pioneer, a unit of Du Pont, at the beginning of this year, announced an African project similar to Monsanto’s that is aimed at developing maize varieties that produce more grain on less nitrogen fertilizer.

Boosting African food production could also take some political heat off US farmers and biofuel producers accused of boosting global food prices by diverting corn/maize and soya beans into ethanol and biodiesel.

Increased maize prices fall especially hard on Africans for whom maize is a staple food.

In Kenya, the seeds are to be distributed free of the royalties that are typically included in the price of a bag of seed.

These royalties cause biotech seeds now sold in South Africa to cost about 30 to 40 per cent more than conventional varieties.

Too complex

Similar field trials are planned in Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique and Burundi. In Uganda, even with no clear policy framework on biotechnology, trials are going on backed by informal field trials.

Yes, the agricultural revolution that entails innovative commercially-oriented and modern agriculture has prompted the need to embrace biotechnology even without going the whole distance on field-based research, technical and regulatory mechanisms, sustainable land use and management, effective capacity building and knowledge enhancement for our farmers.

This African project may be a publicity stunt. African farmers’ problems are too complex to be solved by high-tech seeds.

With poverty, poor storage facilities, pests and diseases, land conflicts, drought and inadequate markets, Monsanto’s super seeds are unlikely to help.

Yes, biotech seeds could boost yields during shorter dry spells, or a period of moderate drought, by as much as 25 percent. [GMW: There doesn't appear to be any evidence to support that. GM has had little success with drought resistance whereas non-GM plant breeding has.]

Also, American agribusiness interests argue that Africans must drop their opposition to genetically modified crops if the continent is going to feed its growing population, but GMOs should be regulated.

Mr Major is the president of Sustainable World Initiative – East Africa.

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3. Tanzania: Government to Endorse GM Maize Trials Soon?

FINNIGAN WA SIMBEYE, Tanzania Daily News, 15 September 2013

LOCAL seeds experts are optimistic about government move to allow field trials of genetically engineered maize which has already proved successful in confined laboratory trials at Makutupora in Dodoma region.

Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) Principal Research Officer, Dr Alois Kullaya told the 'Sunday News' during the week that although it has taken many years to change regulations barring field trials of GM maize, progress is being made to that effect. He hoped that implementation of the plan may come true before end of this year.

"I hope a decision will be made soon, probably this year, I am very optimistic," said Dr Kullaya. MARI has undertaken confined laboratory trials for GM maize in a pilot project which ended in 2009 but strict regulations have stopped field trials of the same.

According to the country's Biosafety Regulations of 2009 set out, it applies a strict liability principle which essentially holds anyone associated with importing, transporting, selling or using a GM product liable for any perceived harm associated with it.

Scientists argue that the "guilty until proven innocent" approach is detrimental to the technology which is already being used by over 17 million farmers globally.

Dr Kullaya warned that while other east African countries like Kenya and Uganda have adopted a different, fault-based regulatory approach where harm and negligence must be proved, Tanzania risks losing out as commercial approved in the two countries will have a negative impact in the country.

"Kenya and Uganda are doing field trials and soon they will authorize commercial production which will also affect us as we cannot stop GM crops from crossing our border," Dr Kullaya who is also Coordinator for Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) initiative noted.

But anti-GMO activists are pressing the government to stay the course and ensure that the country remains a GM free territory for fear of the unknown.

Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity Coordinator, Abdallah Mkinde said, "The stringent law should continue to exist so that whoever introduces GM crops should be responsible for whatever happens on the ground." He said TAB and its 18 member non-governmental organizations is doing a sensitization campaign to the public to warn farmers and consumers about the dangers of growing and eating genetically engineered organism.

TAB is planning a major sensitization meeting with lawmakers to inform them of the negative effects of GM technology and prepare them to shoot down any government bill seeking to amend the 2004 National Environmental Management Act.

The TAB Coordinator said recent research by French scientists which has linked GM foods with cancer is a wakeup call to the government to maintain its strict position on the crops which are also linked with negative impact on the environment.

But with the country facing a rapidly increasing population and climate change affecting food production, the decision to allow drought and disease resistant maize and other staples looks imminent.

Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Engineer Christopher Chiza has already announced that five regions are facing food shortages because of inadequate rains and disease attacks on maize and bananas.