This paper focuses on research and development (R&D) relevant to non-commercial so-called ‘orphan crops’ in Africa—cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea and millet —as well as one commercial crop, rice. This paper should be read in conjunction with work already produced on GM banana (Schnurr, 2014) and GM cowpea (ACB, 2015). These non- commercial crops as well as rice are mainly carbohydrate crops that constitute staple food for African populations. The intention of this paper is to place information and new knowledge in the public domain.
White men meet in London to plot ways of profiting off Africa’s seed systems
A meeting is to be held in London on 23 March by predominantly white men with a sprinkling of Africans, some of whom represent private seed companies, to discuss how to make a killing off Africa?s seed systems.
Farmers and civil society organisations have not been invited to the meeting, which will be attended only by private seed companies, donors, representatives from Africa?s regional economic communities, research centres and multinational development organisations.
The meeting will discuss a study produced by Monitor-Deloitte, commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and USAID. BMGF is a big sponsor of the commercialisation of agriculture in Africa, including through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Working with USAID, this commercial agenda extends US foreign policy into Africa and threatens the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers who rely on recycling seed for their livelihoods.
The goal of the Deloitte study is to develop models for commercialisation of seed production in Africa, especially on early generation seed (EGS), and to identify ways in which the African public sector could facilitate private involvement in African seed systems. The
A highly successful health food company in the United States, Silver Plate Inc, is seeking to cash in on the health benefits of sorghum. More particularly, it has begun to commercialize foods rich in sorghum anthocyanins, natural “antioxidant” chemicals found in some strongly coloured plant foods that are believed to have heart and other health benefits.
Unlike many major cereal crops, high antioxidant genetic traits are readily available to sorghum breeders. This is because of the work of generations of African farmers, who selected and bred coloured sorghums for various purposes, including dyes for fabric, making food crops resistant to depredation by birds and disease resistance.
The owners of Silver Palate have a successful track record in the health foods sector. In 2007, they sold one of their companies, which makes fat-free imitation butter, for US $490 million.1 Now, these same entrepreneurs are interested in sorghum. They have entered into agreements with major US supermarket chains to sell sorghum products, including breakfast cereals, baking mixes and crackers.
Silver Palate is negotiating to gain rights to sorghum varieties held by Texas Agricultural & Mechanical University (Texas A&M), from its enormous collection belonging to African farmers. Although it is a public
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.
17 June 2010
The hunt for agrofuel and drought tolerant crops has propelled a huge commercial interest in sorghum, including a spate of patent claims over different components of the sorghum genome.
Patent claims have been lodged by US companies, Ceres and Edenspace as well as the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University (Texas A&M) and Rutgers University. Key sought after traits include sorghum flowering, plant growth (biomass), sugar content and cold and salt tolerance. Patent claims are designed to control a set of promoter genes and other genetic components of sorghum to create sorghum cultivars. According to author, Edward Hammond “This move is the contemporary biotech equivalent of an 18th century European explorer planting his flag on a little understood foreign land and claiming it for himself or his sovereign, as if by divine right subordinating all other interests in the territory.”
Author: Edward Hammond
About the briefing: The interlocking problems of climate change, emissions from fossil fuels, and limited oil reserves have stimulated interest worldwide in the use of plant crops to produce fuel. Agrofuels are not a new idea. Brazil, for instance, has used them on a large scale for many years. The potential scale of production and use of agrofuels in the coming decades, however, is unprecedented.
Presently, most of the world’s agrofuels are produced from common crops including maize and sugarcane (for ethanol) and soya and rapeseed (for biodiesel). But dozens of companies and public sector plant breeding institutions, funded by private and government investment, are furiously researching other crops that could be optimized for agrofuels. This is in part due to the criticism that has been levelled at production of agrofuels from edible grains, particularly maize, and its effect on food prices.
Sorghum, native to Africa and grown world-wide, is fast emerging as a leader among the “energy crops” and may play a major role in the international agrofuels industry. Seed companies are showing new interest in African farmers’ varieties of sorghum, which may have characteristics useful for industrial agrofuel production. Companies and government plant
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.
AFRICAN HERITAGE CROPS THREATENED BY SOUTH AFRICA GMO DECISION
Friday, 12 September 2008
Johannesburg An Appeal Board established by the Minister of Land Affairs and Agriculture has overturned a landmark decision by a South African GMO authority on 15 June 2006, to refuse the experimentation of sorghum, a prized African heritage crop. The Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR), has now been given the go ahead to proceed with the development of ?Super Sorghum? in a containment level three facility. The research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation‘s African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project. The Gates Foundation is also heavily funding the ?New Green Revolution for Africa?, aimed at industrialising African agriculture.
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) who has objected to the initial application by the CSIR, has condemned the decision, stating that experimentation with GM sorghum will inevitably result in the contamination of Africa‘s prized sorghum heritage. Haidee Swanby of the African Centre for Biosafety said ?sorghum is a key staple crop for over 500 million people on the continent. The risks posed by GM sorghum to wild and weedy relatives cannot be tolerated at all and the granting of permit