Monday, August 28, 2006

Biotechnology Rather Than Aid Can Alleviate Poverty

Author: James Wachai

G8 leaders have agreed to boost aid to Africa by $25 billion by 2010. The G8 countries include USA, Canada, Britain, France, Japan, Russia, Germany and Italy. As expected, Africa is in celebration mood. To many, this announcement heralds the demise of poverty in Africa. No more hunger, no more deaths by easily preventable diseases. Africa will be saved from all manners of miseries. The doubling of aid would emancipate this desolate continent from the yokes of destituteness and hopelessness. These expectations are expected in a continent where more than 75 per cent of the population live on less than a dollar a day.

The million dollar question, however, is, will doubling of aid, to Africa, alone, enhance sustainable development? The answer is no. Africa has, in the past, refused to embrace poverty alleviation initiatives introduced by the very countries that it is begging aid from. Take the case of biotechnology. G8 countries continue to mint billions of dollars from genetically modified food. The latest report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Business Applications (ISAAA) forecasts the 2005 global market value for biotech crops to be US$ 5 billion. Unfortunately, Africa will derive negligible benefits from the sale of biotech products. The continent is still dilly-dallying on whether to embrace biotechnology. While other countries are scrambling to increase acreage of GM crops, Africa is still procrastinating - worrying about environmental and health impact of GM crops, which science has already clarified.

Isn't time for rich countries to demand that Africa expresses willingness to embrace modern farming technologies so as to reduce its reliance on foreign aid? There is, certainly, no other way to be self-sufficient in food production than to swim by the waves!

The US and Canada, for instance, are reaping huge economic benefits from genetically modified crops. And they happen to be more sympathetic to the African cause. It is ironical that Africa expects them to be more generous with the money accrued from a technology it despises. Africa cannot eat its cake and have it. If it cannot borrow a leaf from these biotech giants, then, it makes no sense to beg for aid from them!

Biotech has already boosted the economies of India, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Romania, Mexico, Philippines, Australia and Spain. What's Africa waiting for? Africa, the Green Revolution by-passed you. India and Pakistan embraced the Green Revolution. It revolutionized their economies. They are now basking in glory, with plenty to eat and export. These, and other Asian countries, no longer rely on relief food. It is time for Africa to follow suit.

South Africa, to its credit, is the only African country growing genetically modified crops for commercial purposes. Already, the country has 0.5 million hectares of land under GM cultivation. This, however, is a drop in the ocean considering that global area of approved biotech crops, currently, stands at 81 million hectares. But it is a step towards the right direction. South Africa no longer experience food deficits. In fact, it is a major food provider to famine-stricken countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique, all of which are yet to embrace biotechnology.

This is the path the rest of Africa should follow. Instead of begging the West for aid, Africa should strive to share the spoils of such technologies as biotechnology. This is the only and surest way of alleviating poverty.

About the author: James Wachai is a communication specialist who uses his expertise to increase public understanding of science and technology, specifically biotechnology. Read more from James at http://www.gmoafrica.org.

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