FOCUS ON AFRICA
According to this article a "leading South African biosafety expert" has said the "biotechnology revolution is beginning to roll across Africa, with small-scale farmers clamouring to grow genetically modified crops".
The article fails to mention that this expert is up to her ears in industry interests. Where the article is correct, however, is when it says this industry lobbyist has "played a key role in developing South Africa's regulatory protocols and legislation governing GM crops".
Thanks to the regulatory influence of lobbyists like Muffy Koch, the country has become the industry's open door to Africa. That's Koch's vision of the future: "If the activists don't get their way, we're going to see biotech crops spread right up through Africa".
For more on Koch: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=271
Biotech's Growing In S Africa, Conference Hears
Graeme O'Neill, Australian Biotechnology News, Oct. 5, 2004
A leading South African biosafety expert has told a Brisbane conference that the biotechnology revolution is beginning to roll across Africa, with small-scale farmers clamouring to grow genetically modified crops.
Muffy Koch, of consultancy Golden Genomics, said biotech-developed cutlivars of bananas, maize and cotton are delivering enormous yield increases and big profits to small farmers, who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the revolution.
Koch told delegates to the 4th International Crop Science Congress that seven African countries are now running field trials of GM cultivars of African staples like cassava, sweet potato, sorghum and white maize, and exotic crops like soybeans and potatoes. But their commercialisation was being impeded by misinformation spread by anti-GM activists in some African nations, she warned.
In South Africa, the government was "under tremendous pressure" from anti-GM activists to impose a moratorium on GM crops, and to rescind approvals for existing GM crops like Bt maize and Bt cotton, she said. Anti-GM activists had launched a series of unsuccessful legal actions and appeals against Monsanto, aimed at forcing it to quit South Africa.
Koch said the NGOs did not mind that they had lost all of these cases, because they were succeeding in delaying the introduction of new GM crops. Zambia, which had rejected US food-aid shipments this year because they contained GM maize, had had excellent results from trials with GM cotton four years ago, but had not proceeded with the technology because of misinformation spread by anti-GM NGOs.
Mauritius, a small country with "superb biotechnology capabilities", had developed several promising biotechnology crops by 1998, but had still not released them because it had not passed its biosafety laws until January this year.
Koch said that the experiences of those African nations that were growing biotech crops, like South Africa and Kenya, or which had trialled them, had all been positive, despite claims by anti-GM activists. "If the activists don't get their way, we're going to see biotech crops spread right up through Africa," Koch predicted.
Not just GM
Koch, who played a key role in developing South Africa's regulatory protocols and legislation governing GM crops, said not all the successes involved genetic manipulation -- tissue culture and marker-assisted conventional breeding were also contributing.
In Kenya, researchers had employed tissue culture to eliminate black sigatoka disease and other microbial pathogens from a range of popular banana cultivars. Farmers who had bought the pathogen-free plants at $1 each had achieved "staggering" yield increases.
South Africa has approved five genetically modified crops, of which two -- Bt maize and Bt cotton -- are being grown by small farmers. Bt cotton, released in 1997, was an instant success with small-scale cotton farmers; the uptake of Bt maize, introduced in the same year, had been slower because the first varieties were yellow maize, not the white maize preferred throughout Africa. A GM white maize had been released two years ago.
Farmers had achieved huge yield increases, and there was still only enough seed to meet about half of the demand. Golden Genomics' analysis confirmed that the success of GM crops was independent of the scale at which they were grown. In fact, smaller farmers who had been unable to afford the cost of pesticides to spray their conventional crops were now reaping proportionally greater yield increases and profits than larger enterprises.
South Africa's next GM crops would be drought-tolerant soybeans and maize, Koch said -- not developed by multinational agbiotech companies, but by South Africa's Agricultural Research Council and the University of Cape Town, using public germplasm resources.
But the largely Western, urban-based anti-GM movement had driven up the costs of regulatory approval to the point where a range of GM crops developed by local agencies over the past decade were still sitting in cold storage, awaiting field trials.
Koch said she considered the actions of anti-GM activists immoral, because they failed to consider the impact of not allowing the technology to proceed. "If one were to quantify those costs, it would be astounding," she said.
After seeing the success of South African farmers, small-scale farmers in nations like Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, also wanted to grow GM crops, but their governments had rejected the crops after massive disinformation campaigns by anti-GM NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Paradoxically, most of the African nations that had publicly rejected shipments of unsegregated US maize to alleviate famine during this year's drought, had actually been importing GM maize from both the US and Africa for the past six years.
"It's not a health and safety issue, it's a control issue," Koch said. "It's a case of, 'We import it because we want it, but don't tell us we have to take it'."
In developing African nations, the arguments were all about risk assessment, rather than the technology's potential benefits, she said, claiming the debate ignored the socio-economic impacts on communities, and the impact on food security, in nations that did not grow GM crops.
Muffy Koch says biotech rolling across Africa (6/10/2004)
FOCUS ON AFRICA