How to feed Africa

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and aren't fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.

--Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
If it wasn't such a serious topic, it'd almost be funny: George W. Bush blames the European Union's ban on genetically modified foods for starvation in Africa. But critics believe his hyperbolic point of view, proffered at the EU summit this week, reveals a focus not on the horror of African hunger, but on a global biotech market that will grow to $2 trillion by 2010--a market that the US controls by a margin of two to one. "He can only have been informed by the multinationals, the Monsantos of this world, to make a statement that displays as much ignorance as that," said Patrick Holden of the environmental group Soil Association."It is nonsense. Even serious experts on GM crops will concede there is no evidence that GM foodstuff can make any greater contribution to feeding the world than existing agricultural science." One such expert, Aaron deGrassi of the University of Sussex, UK, conducted a study called, "Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence." Tracking GM sweet potatoes and maize in Kenya and GM cotton in South Africa, the study concluded that Holden is correct. One news report summarizes the conclusions, "The answer to Africa's poverty and food shortage problems does not lie in biotechnology," adding:
The findings reveal that GM crops do not offer any answers to soil fertility, resistance to genes by pests among other problems faced by the farmers of the three crops. It also clear that biotechnology is not the answer to corruption, declining commodity prices, inequality in land distribution and ownership, income disparities, and armed conflicts which are some of the major cause of poverty/hunger in Africa.
According to Diet for a Small Planetauthor Frances Moore Lappe, the question isn't whether the world has enough food, it's why the food doesn't get to those who need it. Consider: "For every human being on the planet, the world produces two pounds of grain per day--roughly 3,000 calories, and that's without even counting all the beans, potatoes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables we eat, too. This is clearly enough for all of us to thrive; yet nearly one in six of us still goes hungry."

While the majority of Americans don't want genetically modified foods (according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, 55% of Americans--and a European high 89% of the French--believe GM fruits and vegetables are bad), it turns out neither do people in Africa: during a food shortage in Zambia last year, the country refused thousands of tons of genetically modified maize and opted to wait for a shipment of non-GM goods instead. "We are not going to accept GM food until there is world consensus on its safety for human consumption," said Zambia's Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister Dipak Patel. Offering evidence that hunger in African can be solved without GM solutions, Zambia's president announced last week that this year the country expects to nearly double last year's 600,000 tons of grain production.

While around half the world's population--some 35 countries including Japan, China, Australia, and Saudi Arabia--prohibit genetically modified foods, the Bush administration has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization seeking to force the European Union to drop their ban on genetically modified foods. As Amadou Kanoute of the African office of Consumers International said on Tuesday, "How can one country decide for another country without taking into account the opinion of the other country's people?"

Download a copy of "Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence," published by Third World Network-Africa, here.

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