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Three-quarters of GM farmers live in developing countries, but Africa is missing out

26 September 2006, Africa Harvest

Johannesburg: Of all the globe's farmers who plant biotech seeds, three-quarters live in the

developing world. Yet none live in Africa, except for South Africa where the planting of biotech crops is rapidly approaching North American levels, Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, told the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) in Calgary, Canada, this week.

"There's a danger that biotechnology will by-pass Africa," Dr. Wambugu told a

public forum at the University of Calgary on Sunday, held to launch this week's


If that happens, the continent's hopes of feeding its 200 million undernourished

in-habitants will be handcuffed, said Wambugu.

Africa Harvest projects are funded by many donors, among them, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, CropLife International, USAID and DuPont.

Sometimes labeled by its critics as a tool best suited for wealthy, technologically advanced farmers in the developed world, Wambugu defends biotechnology as an ideal solution for Africa, where the farmer and the consumer is one and the same.

"The sorghum that our people eat is sorghum that they grow," Wambugu said.

"They know how to use seed, so let's put the technology where they can use it."

Africa's farmers are ready, Wambugu said. Recent polls show biotechnology has high support among farmers and industry. The stumbling block is that African governments fear they will be embargoed by Europe if they allow biotech crops.

Actual trade figures show this to be myth as most African countries trade among themselves and the alleged trade embargo would have minimal effect.

Europe's biotech resistance is also curbing adoption of the technology in developing countries, said Dr. Channapatna Prakash, global expert in developing world biotechnology use, based at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Even now, 30,000 people die every day of malnutrition and starvation, Prakash said. Yet 50 per cent of all fruits and vegetables, and 30 per cent of all grains grown in developing countries are never eaten, because they either rot because of the lack of refrigeration, or they fall victim to insects and diseases.

Biotechnology could alleviate those losses, and it could also increase consistent yields. Without yield increases, he said, the world will need to somehow find another 1.6 billion hectares of land to farm by 2050, when the U.N. predicts the global population will hit 9 billion.

"The Green Revolution lifted a billion people out of poverty," Prakash said. Today's challenge, he said, is even greater.

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