GM regulations move slowly forward in Africa

Transgenic harvest
Editorial. Published online 06 October 2010
African nations are laying foundations to extend the use of GM technology on the continent.

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops for food divides opinion, especially when it comes to Africa. Sharp views on the technology in the developed world, honed by more than a decade of arguments in Europe and elsewhere, are too easily projected onto Africa, with the continent portrayed as a passive participant in the global melodrama over GM food. So it is heartening to see a group of 19 African nations working to develop policies that should make it clear to all sides in the debate that Africa can make up its own mind.

After more than nine years, talks between member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have produced a draft policy on GM technology, which was sent for national consultation last month. COMESA is a trade bloc, and its proposals aim to develop research and trade in GM crops. But they also state that decisions should be based on sound science and evidence…more at link

Nature 467 , 633–634 (07 October 2010) doi:10.1038/467633b

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  1. Wouldn’t it be neat if Africa, the ‘Dark Continent’, moved ahead on this issue and left Europe in the dust?
    From the standpoint of at least one tenet of technology transfer and adoption, it’s actually more than likely.
    What Africa has in abundance, perhaps more than any other continent, is a lack of what are called ‘legacy systems’. Is anyone here familiar with ‘mobile banking’? It’s a system where you do your banking, and buy and sell, check account balances, etc. using cell phones.
    This is not yet very popular in Europe and North America, because in these places, we have ‘brick and mortar’ banks which are the backbone of the monetary system, complete with lots of labor- and paper- hungry activities.
    Africa has comparatively few brick-and-mortar banks, so the lack of secure financial management has had a comparatively stifling effect on commerce.
    Overnight, mobile banking has exploded across Africa. With nearly no competition from legacy brick-and-mortar banks, the streamlined, low-cost mobile banking systems have stepped into the the vacuum as though drawn.
    Europe has the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It’s hard to overstate the CAP’s pervasiveness and power, since 60 percent of income tax in the European Union is doled out as agricultural subsidies. So long as the EU has the financial wherewithal to massively purchase ag products from overseas, and spend money on hired gardeners to do activities resembling modern agriculture, things will remain as they stand.
    Meanwhile, Africa has everything to gain from modern seeds and related elements of food production, and nothing domestically to hinder development.
    Unless you count the NGOs hired by Europe to pretend they are African stakeholders who want to cling to the eternal famine cycle. Ironically, the African famine season coincides with the Christmas holiday season.
    Then, there’s a related development. China, India, and the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA/Gulf Arabs) are eagerly tying up vast tracts of African farmland to secure their own food security.
    Like the cell phone, not invented or manufactured by African companies, this influx of agricultural development capital will leap-frog systems that have no legacy. And, like mobile banking, use of modern germplasm and other agricultural efficiencies will rush to fill the vacuum.
    After all, investors will want a return.
    There’s a big problem in this scenario. If history teaches anything, it’s that transitioning the work force from the rural to the urban maximizes wealth/minimizes poverty. Trouble is, what sort of work will someone find in the city, when their main skill is recognizing and manually pulling weeds out of the dirt?
    The EU’s captive NGO, Fiends of the Earth, believe that the solution to this issue is to keep people on the farm pulling weeds. If that strikes you as a humanitarian goal, feel free to explain why you would enjoy that lifestyle.
    Certainly none of these issues will be resolved without turmoil, but meanwhile, Africa has a lot to look forward to, and perhaps more, than any continent.

  2. This is very good news, particularly if you remember the time (2002/3) when – driven by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, some other less known but equally effective pseudo-non-governmental organisations, not to forget the Europeans with their weird conception of food security, and some US Americans too – some countries that were struggling with a severe food crisis in the region were prepared to reject food aid on the ground that it was GM. Remember the “better dead than GM fed”?
    The Nature paper is somewhat short on the prospects of GMs in Eastern and Southern Africa. GM maize is widely grown in South Africa (and even blamed by the African Center for Biosafety – this is a pompous name for a pseudo-NGO boutique – in Johannesburg for having contributed to a bumper crop…). There are plans to introduce GM cotton in e.g. Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is testing a drought-resistant maize, etc. For more, see here.
    Incidentally, there is a comment on the situation in India with a link to Plagiarism plagues India’s genetically modified crops — Transgenic aubergine still banned after encouraging report is discredited, a subject that was addressed in previous comments. The link has offered an opportunity for some further research. For those who want to check by themselves what the hype is/was all about:
    . What has been (allegedly) lifted from a paper by Dr P. Anand Kumar and an ISAAA paper is described in more detail at Academies copied to push for Bt brinjal.
    . The report to the Minister, which contained the (allegedly) plagiarised bits, is here.
    . One of the (alleged) sources for text is here.
    Incidentally as well, the Christian Science Monitor had a piece on How genetically modified seeds can help – and hurt – Africa’s farmers on which I commented. Guess what! The comments (including the one that found the paper good) have been removed!

  3. Re “better dead than GM fed” (Avery says Benbrook has blood on his hands (16/3/2005)):”>
    GMOs in Africa:
    “Plagiarism plagues India’s genetically modified crops — Transgenic aubergine still banned after encouraging report is discredited”
    “Academies copied to push for Bt brinjal”
    The report to the Minister
    One of the (alleged) sources for text
    The Christian Science Monitor

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