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TRADE-UGANDA: Exposing &#39&#39The African Green Revolution&#39&#39

Analysis by Aileen Kwa*

GENEVA, Feb 21 2008 (IPS) - Uganda’s major trade partners are not only looking for food markets but also for seed markets. This has happened in a push that has been packaged as ‘‘the new green revolution’’ by corporations involved in biotechnology and chemicals. They have been supported by philanthropic organizations, notably the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Another such organisation is the Yara Foundation which was established in 2005 by Yara International, the world’s leading supplier of mineral fertilizers. This Norwegian company is the only international fertilizer producer which has had a significant presence in Africa over the past 25 years.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also promotes hybrid seeds through its myriad projects in African countries, particularly funding to governments’ agricultural research institutions. It influences their direction and agenda, as is happening in Uganda. Other donors are also involved, such as the German government.

Last but perhaps of most critical importance is the World Bank. It has played a pivotal role in promoting its liberalization agenda since the 1980s. This had led to the opening up of African countries to agricultural inputs.

Under its influence the seed market across Africa has been privatised, preparing the ground for the entry of private companies. The presence of seed corporations is felt but is hidden.

Researcher Elenita Dano writes in her publication ‘‘Unmasking the New Green Revolution in Africa: Motives, Players and Dynamics’’ that ‘‘agricultural chemical and biotechnology corporations have notably downplayed their role in the push for a New Green Revolution…

‘‘(They) appear to remain on the sidelines, even as they quietly push their agenda forward through a myriad of partnerships with public research institutions, non-government organizations and farmers’ organizations…’’

Dano says that, having learnt from their experience in Asia, these corporations have allowed ‘‘public research institutions to be at the forefront in Africa, along with their philanthropic backers.

‘‘Corporations have also managed to subtly plant their most sophisticated operators in philanthropy as well as in the international agricultural research centres in an effective way so as to directly influence decision-making and research priorities,’’ according to Dano.

Furthermore, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) set up the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) as a local lobby group for the transnational seed industry.

AFSTA’s mandate is to ‘‘promote regional integration and harmonization of seed policies and regulations supportive of U.S. seed trade’’, with an explicit target of securing a five percent increase in US seed exports to the region within its first five years’’, according to a publication of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development. As mentioned, Uganda is one of the targeted countries. Its seed market is relatively small compared to other African countries (annual domestic sales of 6 million dollars in 2005 compared to South Africa’s 217 million dollars and Kenya’s 50 million dollars).

It sits next door to the much bigger Kenyan market and at the centre of the East African Community’s market. Seed exports are already flowing from Kenya to Uganda.

Before the structural adjustment reforms of the 1990s, the government essentially oversaw and subsidized the production of new seed varieties and their distribution to farmers. The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) produced the new varieties and released them to the Uganda Seed Project for processing and multiplication.

The Uganda Seed Project also had the responsibility for marketing and distribution to farmers. All of this changed through the 1990s as a result of structural adjustment policies, the belief in liberalized markets and the lobbying efforts of both the US government and US philanthropic organisations.

The Uganda Seed Project and the formal seed market have become privatized. There are now about 10 private seed companies operating in the country.

Donor governments, philanthropic organizations, the World Bank and Ugandan politicians and bureaucrats have all had a hand in providing the funds, changing the policy context and drafting new laws. They have shifted institutional priorities towards the privatisation of seeds and, in small but sure steps, towards embracing biotechnology.

USAID supports a project in Uganda known as the ‘‘Uganda Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme’’ (APEP) which promotes the use of biotechnology. According to the APEP website, ‘‘USAID-Uganda provides support to enable the country fully utilize the potentials of biotechnology in the overall economic development strategy.’’

Its objectives are to support the development of a national biotechnology policy and implementation strategies, including research and design, technology transfer, biosafety and intellectual property rights; and to facilitate strategic collaboration and business partnership with public and private biotechnology organizations.

Early in 2007, an article in a Ugandan newspaper reported that the Rockefeller and Gates foundations had donated 150 million dollars to Uganda for the ‘‘Green Revolution’’ programme.

With the handing over of the donation in January 2007), Dr. Joseph De Vries of the Rockefeller Foundation announced that the ‘‘donation is aimed at causing a Green Revolution in Africa to fight starvation and famine’’. He directed an appeal at seed companies to utilize the funding once the programme was launched.

*The second in a two-part series of articles

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