This paper looks at the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project within the context of the race by massive agribusiness corporations to bring climate change related crops to the market. The first part of the paper explains the WEMA project within this context, outlining the players and the stakes involved. It looks at who stands to benefit from the project and what the African countries involved are asked to sacrifice. The second part of the paper looks at Monsanto‘s strategic positioning within this climate change race and how it intends to use WEMA as leverage to bring its controversial crops to a wider global market, simultaneously opening up key markets in Africa for its GM crops. Finally, we outline our concerns and make recommendations with regard to appropriate agricultural systems in Africa.
In this paper, we critically analyse the African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project, a GM ‘poster project’ in Africa. We dig beneath the veneer of the project being an “African led solution” to poverty and malnutrition on the continent. We also focus attention on the myriad of sorghum research initiatives currently underway in Africa, using both genetic engineering techniques and marker assisted selection (MAS). In this regard, we pay special attention to the USAID funded INTSORMIL programme. We also provide a snapshot of the GM sorghum research being conducted elsewhere in the world.
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: Turning Africa into a repository for failed agricultural technologies
The ‘new’ Green Revolution push in Africa is directed squarely at increasing agricultural production as the continent’s most fundamental development priority. The most visible actor in the Green Revolution onslaught is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Despite initial successes in increasing output in Asia and Latin America, the Green Revolutions in those respective continents have nevertheless been criticized for their environmental, nutritional and micro-economic impacts. In light of these disparate findings on the various impacts of the Green Revolution, the wholesale adoption of its methods on the African continent would appear miss-informed.
The genetic engineering (GE) industry is facing a shrinking global market as more and more countries adopt biosafety laws and GE labeling regulations. Africa and Asia are the new frontiers for exploitation by the agro-chemical, seed and GE corporations. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) appears to be at the forefront of a US marketing campaign to introduce GE food into the developing world. It has made it clear that it sees its role as having to ‘integrate biotechnology into local food systems and spread the technology through regions in Africa‘. Through USAID, in collaboration with the GE industry and several groups involved in GE research in the developed world, the US government is funding various initiatives aimed at biosafety regulation and decision-making in Africa, which, if successful, may put in place weak biosafety regulation and oversight procedures. USAID is also heavily involved in funding various GE research projects in a bid to take control of African agricultural research.
By Edward Hammond December 2009.
A gene recently isolated from a Tanzanian farmers’ variety of sorghum may yield tremendous pro?ts for multinational companies and government researchers in the United States and Brazil. Called SbMATE, it is not only useful in sorghum; but also may be used in other crops, including genetically engineered (GE) maize, wheat, and rice as well as GE tree plantations.
Government researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the Texas A&M University (US) have patented the gene in the US. They have also ?led an international patent application in which they state that they will seek patents on the Tanzanian gene across the world, including in Africa.
The commercial potential of the gene is strong. Although it was only recently identi?ed, the giant multinational Dow Chemical is already negotiating with the US government to license it. Japan’s second largest paper products company has also expressed interest in buying access to it.
Uncertainty and apprehension often afford opportunity to the cunning. This is certainly the case with climate change. The multinational seed and agrochemical industry see climate change as a means by which to further penetrate African agricultural markets by rhetorically positioning itself, even if implausibly, as having the solution to widespread climate concerns. Their so-called ?final solution? to deal with the impact of climate change on African agriculture depends on mass adoption of GM seeds and chemically intensive agricultural practices. This model poses serious biosafety risks and demands the surrender of Africa‘s food sovereignty to foreign corporations and the widespread acceptance of patents on life in Africa.
Despite its obvious pitfalls, this model is being aggressively promoted by multinationals, private philanthropy and some African national agricultural research programmes, often funded by the first two. The money and public relations forces backing the seed giants threaten to drown out other voices and other possibilities for African agriculture.
In this briefing, we expose the forces behind ?climate ready? crops, including the central role played by gene giant Monsanto and provide data on patents on climate genes in respect to key African staple and other food crops.
?You people. We thought you folks had taken everything you could.
You took our land, you took our homes.
You stole our pottery and our songs and our blankets and our designs.
You took our language and, in some places, you even took our children.
You snatched at our religion and at our women.
You destroyed our history and now,
now it seems you come to suck the marrow from our bones.?
Jeanette Armstrong, an indigenous woman from Canada
at a meeting on the Human Genome Diversity Project
By Edward Hammond and Mariam Mayet
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non- profit activist organization based in South Africa, has today released a report documenting 7 new cases of suspected biopiracy involving legally untenable patents/patent applications.
Some patents have already been granted and others are still pending in Europe and the USA in respect of African resources ranging from medicinal plants, and marine sponges to human viruses. The patent claimants include European big corporations such as Bayer and Louis Vuitton (Christian Dior), small natural health businesses, and even include the USA government.
?The 7 cases show that the patent systems in Europe and the United States are being used to promote the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and biological resources from the South? said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.
German based agriculture and healthcare giant Bayer, has staked a claim to the use of any extract from any plant of the Vernonia genus in Madagascar for ?improving the skin status.? The patent application appears to violate international law as it duplicates traditional knowledge held by indigenous communities in Madagascar. Bayer has in particular, laid claim to a particular Vernonia species endemic to Madagascar, known as ‘ambiaty’, which is used
The cases of suspected biopiracy are summarized and discussed in a few paragraphs. Patent numbers and/or application numbers are provided for each, as well as contact information for the entity or entities that have lodged the patent claims. Using the provided data, the full patent (application) text can be accessed online at patent websites, such as the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), or the European Patent Office (EPO).8 Although patent application documents can be accessed, outside of the US, EU, and a few other countries, accurate national level patent status data can usually only be obtained by contacting the national patent office.
Read the press release here.
‘Marker Assisted Selection’ uses molecular markers as tools in a plant or animal breeding programme to select for important agricultural traits, such as nutritional quality, drought tolerance, disease and pest resistance.
It has been suggested that MAS has the potential to increase food production and help initiate a new Green Revolution in Africa. A much celebrated MAS and Green Revolution programme is the ‘New Rice for Africa‘, (NERICA) that was developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA). Globally, most of the MAS programmes are focused on cereals; particularly maize, rice, wheat and barley.
Monsanto who has 23% of the global seed market and 9% of the global agrochemical pesticide market, is rapidly adopting and developing MAS for their breeding programmes. MAS produced crop plants are generally not subject to biosafety regulation, which means Agricultural-biotechnology companies can avoid biosafety costs and more rapidly, bring their products to the market. Agricultural-biotechnology companies stand to gain the greatest economic benefits because MAS methods and products can be protected by patents, enabling greater market domination and control over agricultural systems by these companies.
There are several biosafety risks associated with MAS that are of concern. Products developed by MAS