AGRA’s Clarification on Biotech Research Welcomed

Published on 7th August 2007

African scientists and agricultural organizations welcomed the clarification by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that the organization “supports the use of science and technology” – including genetic modification (GM) technology – “to aid Africa’s smallholder farmers in their urgent efforts to end widespread poverty and hunger”.

Five major organizations working in agriculture – AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) – said the AGRA position is consistent with that of the New  Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in its report on biotechnology which states that “regional economic integration in Africa should embody the building and accumulation of capacities to harness and govern modern biotechnology”.

AGRA says in a statement that its mission “is not to advocate for or against the use of genetic engineering. We believe it is up to governments, in partnership with their citizens, to use the best knowledge available to put in place policies and regulations that will guide the safe development and acceptable use of new technologies, as several African countries are in the process of doing”.

The Alliance said its mission is to use the wide variety of tools and techniques available now to make a dramatic difference for Africa’s smallholder farmers as quickly as possible. It said it has chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques but would “consider funding the development and deployment of such new (GM) technologies only after African governments have endorsed and provided for their safe use”.

The Alliance clarified that conventional breeding was its starting point, however it pointed out that since science and society are continually evolving, and it does preclude future funding for genetic engineering as an approach to crop variety improvement when it is the most appropriate tool to address an important need of small-scale farmers.

AGRA’s new president, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was reported as having ruled out the GM technology as one of AGRA’s strategies in the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa. Anti-GM organizations hailed his statement as a sign that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - a funding partner to AGRA – has changed its strategy on the GM technology.

South African-based AfricaBio President, Prof. Diran Makinde, said “African agricultural organizations welcome the clarification from AGRA. We cannot fault their strategy and we agree that conventional plant breeding has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa, leaving untapped the inherent genetic potential available in African crops”.

Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, said “Africa’s leaders had asked African scientists to come up with a consensus position on this new technology. The NEPAD report clearly states that the continent must have the freedom to innovate. Many countries and regional organizations are busy domesticating the NEPAD Biotechnology Policy and will resist any effort to erode their freedom to innovate”.

The African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) CEO, Prof. Norah Olembo, said: “Africa is not choosing between the GM and conventional breeding technologies. Given the desperate situation the continent faces, we need desperate measures. The African Green Revolution will not come through one technology only. While we applaud the focus of AGRA on conventional breeding technologies, we also welcome their clarification that the GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition”.

Dr. Margaret Karembu of the Africa Center of ISAAA said “No country has resolved her food security needs using a single approach. The clarification from AGRA therefore clears the misconception that Africa should be restricted to traditional methods while the rest of the global community moves fast in embracing new and advanced tools including GM technology to enhance agricultural productivity”. 

Executive Director of BioEROC in Malawi, Mr. Wisdom Changadeya, said “nobody can deny Africa its right to a technology that will help it solve some of its most serious and urgent problems. Biotechnology needs to be embraced alongside other equally useful conventional technologies.” 

Issued on behalf of:

• AfricaBio
• Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF)
• Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI)
• Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC)
• International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)

By: Hans Lombard Public Relations

For more information:
Phone: +27 11 476 6926; Fax: +27 11 476 6127; Email: hanspro@iafrica.com


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