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OAKLAND, Mar 18 2009 (IPS) - The biotech industry is using the increase in global hunger as a tool to win support for GM crops. Its tactics of “poor washing” (we must accept genetic engineering to increase production and improve livelihoods of farmers) and “green washing” (biotech is environmentally friendly and will help counter climate change) have won favor with the misguided philanthropic community as well.

For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-led Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is poised to become a key institutional vehicle for changing African agriculture. However, in its enthusiasm to help Africa feed itself with a technology package involving the use of chemical inputs and genetically-modified seeds, the Foundation has neglected to consult with the African farmers and communities they purport to help.

Though it claims to be an “African-led Initiative”, with former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan as its chairman, AGRA remains a “White Man’s Dream for Africa”. Recruits from the biotech industry who occupy key positions within the Gates Foundation are drawing up the vision for the agricultural revolution in Africa. Its external advisors are African political elites like Ruth Oniang’o, who can also be found on Monsanto’s web pages claiming that there is an urgent need for biotechnology in Africa.

To silence civil society’s criticisms, the foundation has been deliberately vague about its role in the promotion of genetically- engineered crops. Its grantees, however, are working to thwart widespread local resistance. St. Louis-based Donald Danforth Plant Science was recently awarded USD 5.4 million by the Gates Foundation to secure the approval of African governments to allow field-testing of genetically-modified crops.

Blinded by its ambition and deaf to the demands of the African farmers and environmental groups, the Foundation has chosen to disregard prominent studies that challenge the conventional wisdom of industrial and market-based agriculture agenda. The 2008 study by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP), clearly demonstrates that organic agriculture outperforms chemical-intensive farming and is thus more conducive to food security in Africa. An analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries demonstrated that yields more than doubled where organic, or near-organic, practices had been used. The research also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water, and resistance to drought in these areas. But these findings do not make it into the Foundation’s agricultural plan.

The 2008-2011 Agricultural Development Strategy Report of the Gates Foundation makes it obvious how far removed it is from those it intends to help. According to its claims, the foundation invests in agricultural development because the growing majority of the world’s poor rely on agriculture. However, the executive summary of the confidential report proposes moving people out of the agricultural sector without specifying or addressing where or how this new “land mobile” population is to be rehabilitated or reemployed.

Promotional campaigns for technological solutions to hunger regularly feature a handful of African spokespeople that drown out the genuine voices of farmers, researchers, and civil society groups. There is, however, widespread opposition to genetic engineering and plans for a “New Green Revolution” for Africa. Africa has been largely united against GM crops, opting instead for comprehensive policy interventions supporting family farmers to produce and trade their crops in a sustainable manner. Even when faced with dire situations of hunger, African countries have chosen to protect biodiversity over accepting GM food aid, as was the case with Zambia in 2002. It is crucial, particularly in this time of poor washing amidst growing hunger, that their voices be heard to ensure food sovereignty for Africa and her people.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and the editor of Voices from Africa: African Farmers & Environmentalists Speak out Against the New Green Revolution. www.oaklandinstitute.org

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