Techno-fixes from the Green Revolution in Africa
Biotechnology corporations and Green Revolution champions are currently promoting drought tolerant GMOs as a climate change ‘solution' for African agriculture. Monsanto recently secured $47 million from the Gates Foundation to fund Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA). This "gene revolution," however, is as much about breaking down regulatory barriers in Africa as it is about hunger. This initiative joins a long line of Green Revolution "techno-fixes" to agricultural problems, when genuine agrarian and global trade reforms are the only lasting solutions.
Rather than giving African smallholders the tools they need for self-determination and sustainable agriculture-smallholder land rights; local control over grazing, water, seed varieties, livestock breeds and fisheries-and rather than regulate the global markets and giant grain monopolies that have destroyed African food production over the last three decades; the Green Revolution's view of progress is to enact market-based land reforms to promote the most efficient users (and evict the rest), and give farmers inputs and microcredit to turn them into agribusiness capitalists. By ignoring the true needs of smallholders and injecting agrochemicals, western ‘expertise,' and GMO seeds into African soils the Green Revolution will only serve to fill the coffers of biotechnology corporations and agro-input dealers while the rural poor remain food insecure and Africa's agriculture is taken out of the hands of African farmers.
From the perspective of the biotechnology and agribusiness corporations, replacing local control and traditional plant breeding methods with expensive, imported high-tech ones is merely good business. A recent report (PDF 1.6 MBS) by the African Centre for Biosafety describes how biotechnology corporations' solution to climate change depends not on a humane collective response to the crisis, but on 1) The mass adoption of Genetically Modified seeds and industrial agricultural practices, 2) The surrender of Africa's food sovereignty to foreign corporations, and 3) African acceptance of biotechnology patents on their genetic inheritance.
African smallholder farmers are not asking for GM seeds and inputs, and many African countries have placed restrictions on them; but the biotechnology companies want to make GMOs a ‘fact of life' in Africa. The World Bank, USAID, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and The New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) have all come out in favor of cross-border "harmonization" of GMO regulatory statutes. Monsanto and Syngenta have entered into public-private-partnership agreements with agricultural research centers to orient research and policy towards GMOs. They have moved to elide the distinction between traditional crop breeding and biotechnology through Marker Assisted Selection, which looks a lot like traditional cross-breeding methods, but employs GM techniques and, more importantly, maintains GMOs Intellectual Property structure. Africans will not achieve food sovereignty if they are forced to buy transgenic seeds and chemical inputs from northern agribusiness corporations.
African civil society organizations at the World Social Forum in 2007 released a statement condemning biotechnology as a chemical-intensive, destructive form of agriculture that will not help the small farmers that produce the majority of food that Africans eat:
"This push for a so-called "green revolution" or "gene revolution" is being done once again under the guise of solving hunger in Africa. Chemical-intensive agriculture is, however, already known to be outmoded. We have seen how fertilisers have killed the soil, creating erosion, vulnerable plants and loss of water from the soil. We have seen how pesticides and herbicides have harmed our environment and made us sick. We know that hybrid and GM seed monocultures have pulled farmers into poverty by preventing them from saving seed, and preventing traditional methods of intercropping which provide food security. We vow to learn from our brothers and sisters in India, where this chemical and genetically modified system of agriculture has left them in so much debt and hunger that 150,000 farmers have committed suicide.
The push for a corporate-controlled chemical system of agriculture is parasitic on Africa's biodiversity, food sovereignty, seed and small-scale farmers. Farmers in Africa cannot afford these expensive agricultural inputs. But these new infrastructures seek to make farmers dependent on chemicals and hybrid seeds, and will open the door to GMOs and Terminator crops. Industrial breeding has in fact been driven by the industry's demand for new markets--not to meet the needs of farmers."We need to listen to the collective voices of African Farmers' movements, that represent the millions of smallholder farmers that produce Africa's food, not the amplified and parroted voices of multi-billion dollar corporations.