Thanks to Wytze for this very useful report
The IFPRI conference in Bonn (4-6 September 2001) on Sustainable Foodsecurity for all by 2020 ended yesterday. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is one of the centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. (CGIAR).
The question central at the Conference was: can we, and if yes how, reach sustainable foodsecurity for all in 2020. The response to the conference had been overwhelming. More than 1000 people had pre-registered and several hundreds more registered at the beginning on tuesday. For IFPRI this was a 'mind boggling" number. Big delegations were present from African countries, among whom the Ministers of Agriculture of South-Africa and Uganda and there were also quite a big Asian delegation.
Public on day 1 consisted of 51% Europeans, 17% Africans, 10% Asians 12% North-Americans. North Africa and Lat. America made up for the remaining 10%.
Prior to the conference the IFPRI had published a draft policypaper which identifies challenges and priorities. From the programme (and seeing Syngenta, Aventis and Cargill among the sponsors ) it seemed clear what the aim was, at least for an important group of the organisers: get Africa into GE, get the TNC's in (Africa), bigger farms, more liberalisation, more trade focused. In short: A gentle and very well registered push for the neo-liberal globalisation model. In this set up on day one we heard a bit too often from all speakers how unacceptable it is that 800 million people are still hungry and how many children had gone malnourished in the 10 minutes speaking time. Too often, since the urgency of the matter was clear enough for all participants, especially the African people's delegates.
The only talk on day one about a remedy came from Heinz Imhof, chair of the board of directors who, acknowledging that hunger was a multi-faceted problem, could promote vitamin A rice for 10 minutes as the solution: "some critics say that people should get access to vegetables and carrots but that is not realistic, that is clearly not the way forward". Mr. Imhoff had no time for questions, he had to catch a plane to the US. Imhoff got more or less assisted by Volker Hausmann from Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and David Beckman from Bread for the World, who both pleaded for more, albeit free, help from industry in their work.
The German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, however, pointed out in her speech to the fact that African countries do not have the framework or the means to set up effective regulatory and control capacities just as she had more good points in her speech. The participants as polled on day one consisted of 40% researchers, 17% ngo's, 14% government officials, 11% interdevelopment agencies, 6.6% private sector and only 2.2% farmers.
The small presence of farmers was criticised among the audience just as many (especially Africans) were very frustrated after day one and a number did not return on day two.
There was only one workshop (on day 2) that dealt with agro- ecological solutions and even that was abused in an attempt to have GE accepted in this agro-ecological agriculture. But the critiques on the present globalisation process came through on day two when Chee Yoke Ling from the Third World Network painted the real picture about consequences of present globalisation, which got her the biggest and strongest applause from the paricipants. A sense of relief could be felt through the conference hall: "finally, someone who speaks from her being and shows the other side".
Another speaker who showed extremely clear where the real threat comes from was Dunstan Spencer from Sierra Leone. He explained how 90% of African farmers are small farmers who produce 95% of food in Africa. The Structural Adjustment Programmes of IMF/Worldbank totally undermine their position as does the opening up of markets for cheap heavily subsidized Western foods are doing. He made clear that present policies could very well lead to a new generation of boat refugees trying to get to Europe.
He and others pointed also to the unacceptable unfairness of Northern literate, subsidized farmers against unsubsidized, illiterate Southern farmers. There is no level-playing field here! In a public vote the great majority of the participants voted for the right of subsidies for small Southern farmers. The story of Honduran farmer Manuel Jesus de Reyes was most impressive. He is one of the farmers who joined agro-ecological farming. With beautiful pictures of his field since he switched to ecological farming he explained his way of working and how it has helped him. This silent but very succesful revolution, which started to grow strongly around 1990, is now practiced at 29 million hectares worldwide and has huge possibilities for small farmers and subsistence farmers. It was very much a pity that it was polluted by chair Klaus Ammann from the Botanical Gardens of Bern who (already for years) tries to compromise organic farming with GE. Nevertheless, his story made very clear to many how promising the ecological approach is for farmers in the South.
A most impressive speaker on day three was Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Head of the 2020 Vision initiative of IFPRI. (Shows that, in spite of everything, there are some real good people at IFPRI). He talked on corruption and hit like a Buddha. Starting with naming all kind of Southern government corruption he than pointed to European countries as a source of corruption, not forgetting the TNC's. He pointed to the importance of good governance and of building good institutions to combat and prevent corruption. Another wonderful speaker was Grace Akello, Minister of State for Entandikwa, Republic of Uganda. In a very lively way she also brought up the possibility of Africans invading Europe, coming to ask for the same breakfast as was served in the hotel where she stayed, a breakfast too abundant for her: "I asked just for a cup of tea and an egg but they came with tea and egg, but also with ham and this and that all kind of things. I did not ask for all that!"
However, world bank, scientists and industry people were abundant and a so-called "farmer's representative" from Kenya, Mrs. Mercy Karanja. Mrs. Karanja indicated the quoting signs on farmers representative herself with her fingers and rightly so apparently. I was told by someone from Africa that actually she works for the Biotechnology Trust and the Farmer's Union is an empty Union, but heavily Monsanto supported. She praised the world bank and that farmers did not care how their seeds had come about. Also Monsnato's Indian affiliate Mahyco seeds was present. These people were the speakers in the sessions on prioritysetting and whose responsability is it to end worldhunger?
However, when participants were polled about the priority setting the outcome was: 1) Investment in human resources 2)promote good governance 3)Improving markets, infrastructure and institutions in (the sense of protecting small farmers, see pressrelease at http//:www.ifpri.org )
It remains to be seen whether Sub Saharan Africa was convinced about GE. I heard from many African people, including researchers,that they are wary of them but information is hardly getting there, so they are prone to much pro-GE propaganda. Most city and rural population is totally uninformed about the subject.