More boulders in Africa's farm path
By Dennis T. Avery
The African Biofortified Sorghum project centered in South Africa, is striving to breed sorghum with extra lysine, vitamin A, iron, and zinc to help millions of African small farmers meet their families' nutritional needs. The project is funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, collaborating with Du Pont and Pioneer Hi-Bred Seeds. Unfortunately, the project has been unable to get South African regulatory approval for its field trials. The test planting will now have to be done in the U.S., though African trials would be a better test.
Also in South Africa, researchers are working on insect-resistant biotech potatoes for Africa's millions of small highland farmers who can't afford pesticides. USAID is collaborating with Michigan State University and the South African Research Council. The project has foundered amidst regulatory disputes between South Africa's agricultural researchers and its environmental regulators.
The ultimate First World roadblock: Africa spends virtually no money on developing new high-yield seeds—but thanks to Europe it already has a complete set of environmental regulatory hurdles ready to block biotech crops on the grounds of unproven risks to "food and environmental safety." The regulators seem to ignore the obvious potential benefits such as food security and wildlands preservation.
The Green Movement long ago convinced the First World of a huge global warming threat, which has failed to occur. Similarly, they have convinced Africa's educated elite that biotech seeds are a bigger threat to Africa's people and wild species than famine.
Let's look at the concerns Africans raise about biotech:
1. Fear of large multinational companies. Are they also afraid of Toyota cars and Boeing airplanes? Both companies provide products in exchange for cash. If a farmer didn't want the biotech product, he needn't buy it.
2. Loss of traditional landrace seed varieties. Landrace seeds are already being maintained in seed banks worldwide—permitting higher yields on scarce prime cropland.
3. Loss of European export markets for African flowers and vegetables. This is a big stick wielded by the European market that bans imports of biotech vegetables. However, the earnings from bigger and more stable biotech crops promise to dwarf the earnings from the few flowers and vegetable imports the EU allows under their present restrictions.
4. High costs of seed. If the farmer doesn't make more from the biotech seed than from saving his own seed, he won't buy it. If the seeds increase his food security and/or profits the cost will be covered.
5. Legal restrictions on farmers saving biotech seed for replanting. Seed sales are the only way for biotech companies to fund their research. More and more biotech crops, moreover, are coming from non-profit organizations such as Gates, universities, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
6. Perceptions of "dumping" untested food on unsuspecting Africans. We've "dumped" millions of tons of these "untested" crops on willing consumers all over the Western Hemisphere—but only after they were tested for toxicity, digestibility, protein levels, pollen dispersal, genetic stability, and many other characteristics. Not even a sneeze has been triggered.
If Africa puts up insurmountable roadblocks to food security through modern agriculture, it risks starvation of its own people and loss of wildlife habitat. It seems as if First World activists and the African powerful (who aren't going to starve in any case) are in collusion to keep Africa unstable and hungry. This will, ironically, also keep them burdened with high birth rates driven by the parents' famine fears.
Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on www.cgfi.org.