ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
10 September 2002


AgBioIndia Mailing List
10 September 2002

Subject: GM crops: FAO's tool for survival

Biotechnology, we are invariably told by the international organisations, is a tool for agricultural development. It is a tool for integrated pest management, for instance, and is being promoted as part of the IPM package. All biotechnology, we are also told, is not bad and debatable. There is tissue culture, which has been accepted as a useful technology so the greens should talk of genetic engineering when they raise hackles over biotechnology.
If biotechnology is a tool how come it receives bulk of the funding and support for promotion whereas we don't even get to hear of the so-called package that it is considered to be part of?  If we need to differentiate between biotechnology and genetic engineering how come the FAO and the World Bank very conveniently use the term biotechnology to cover genetic engineering? These are just a couple of questions that lays bare the double talk of the FAO/World Bank and CGIAR, which continue to make a determined effort to push biotechnology.
Biotechnology has also become an easy parlour for rehabilitating retired scientists/economists. If you are nearing retirement and desperately need rehabilitation, be more vocal about the virtues of biotechnology and you will get a research project or a UN job or a UN assignment as a consultant for capacity building in developing countries. Three Indian top functionaries, who are looking for a post-retirement retreat, have recently managed, courtesy the FAO, to set up an Asia-Pacific Consortium on Biotechnology. There was no need of yet another body to promote biotechnology. But then who cares? All that these scientist-bureaucrats need is a tax-free salary and that too in the name of hungry and malnourished!
We bring you below a brief compilation of how the FAO is promoting biotechnology, and that primarily includes genetic engineering, essentially for the benefit of the rich and the powerful. Not only the UNDP, FAO too is competing aggressively for donning the robe of a pied piper for corporate biotechnology, using its diplomatic status very effectively and powerfully.


GM Crops: FAO's tool for survival

[An AgBioIndia occasional newsletter]

The Summary Report of the FAO study "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030" has just been released. It presents the latest FAO assessment of long-term developments in world food, nutrition and agriculture, including the forestry and fisheries sectors. FAO issued similar studies on global agriculture in 1995, 1988, 1981 and 1970. The projections cover about 140 countries and 32 crop and livestock commodities. And as expected, the role of the biotechnology overshadows everything else.
The summary report states that: "Modern biotechnology offers promise as a means to improving food security. If the environmental threats from biotechnology are addressed, and if the technology is affordable by and geared towards the needs of the poor and undernourished, genetically modified crop varieties could help to sustain farming in marginal areas and to restore degraded lands to production. To address the concerns of consumers FAO called for improved testing and safety protocols for genetically modified organisms". Also notice the timing of the release of this summary report: just before the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at Johannesburg whereas the complete report is to come by the end of the year. Why then the urgency to bring in the summary report? Isn't the FAO being more loyal than the King?

UNECA - biotechnology policy research report

Also timed with the WSSD was the release of a research report entitled Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development' by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The key messages of this 167-page document are that "If effectively harnessed, new and emerging technologies can help catalyze Africa's transition to sustainable development by lowering the incidence of disease, reducing food insecurity, and decreasing vulnerability to environmental damage by allowing more flexible crop management systems. However, the expected benefits of both medical (red) and agricultural (green) biotechnology can only be realized if a number of key challenges are addressed, including the extent to which the technologies are relevant to Africa, are pro-poor and mitigate biosafety and related risks. Biotechnology should be viewed as one part of a comprehensive, sustainable poverty reduction strategy, and not as a technological "quick fix" for Africa's hunger and poverty problems".

The UNECA needs to tell us as to what it means by saying "biotechnology should be viewed as one part of comprehensive, sustainable poverty reduction strategy". Where is this 'comprehensive package' that is talked about? How much is the funding for research and development on the 'comprehensive package' vis-à-vis biotechnology? In reality, isn't biotechnology the 'main strategy', and rest everything a part of this 'comprehensive package'?
FAO Director-General - GM food aid

Mericifully, the African countries did not listen to the advice of Dr. Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of FAO, who addressed a press conference at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, saying that "Countries in Southern Africa whose populations are facing a devastating drought should carefully consider current scientific knowledge before rejecting food aid containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)".

We are aware that the position of the director general of the FAO is at the mercy of the US government. But we did not expect Dr Diouf to openly become a mouth piece for the American biotechnology industry. We are also aware that the FAO has run out of options on improving agricultural productivity. We are also aware that FAO is faced with terrible resource crunch. The entire relevance of FAO is therefore at a stake. If the FAO is to do what the biotechnology industry is doing, why have the FAO? Isn't it time the developing country and the civil society question the need for member countries to support FAO?
FAO and biotechnology information

There are several other developments that are simultaneously being pushed and promoted for the cause of biotechnology. Whether it is food safety assessment of GM foods, defining priority areas for inter-disciplinary actions (PAIAs) on biotechnology and bisecurity, FAO priority areas for inter-disciplinary action, and unabashed promotion of biotechnology industry's products and technologies, FAO has taken the lead. And to ensure that the information is disseminated widely, it has set up an information systems for biotechnology (ISB) which comes out with regular reports on the great strides being taken. The Sept 2002 ISB news report, for instance describes the three major roles that FAO carries out to assist its members (currently there are 183 FAO member countries plus one member organisation, the European Community) and their institutions in making decisions on biotechnology and related issues. One wishes that FAO adorned a major role to promote sustainable agriculture -- a world without chemical fertilisers, pesticides and of course corporate biotechnology!
And if you have missed out on biotechnology developments and initiatives being taken by partner organisation and institutes, don't feel disheartened. You can join the mailing list launched by FAO-Biotech News. After all, FAO must tell you about the developments taking place for sharpening the 'tool' of the 'comprehensive package' that it talks about. What happens to the 'comprehensive package' in the process is not its headache. It never was.
Did you ever hear of a information campaign by FAO on integrated pest management, integrated soil nutrient management, crop diversification, improving irrigation efficiency, biodiversity conservation and eco-agriculture, integrated animal farming etc?

World Bank's mock drill
Meanwhile, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, a new international consultative process on the risks and opportunities of using agricultural science to reduce hunger and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world was launched. The initiative is expected to last until mid-2003 and is being undertaken by the World Bank and its partners (and that includes FAO). The five co-chairs of the consultative process are Robert Watson (World Bank, former head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Louise Fresco (Assistant Director General, Agriculture Department of FAO), Seyfu Ketema (Executive Secretary of ASARECA), Rita Sharma (Ministry of Agriculture, India) and Claudia Martinez Zuleta (former Deputy Minister of Environment, Colombia). It will look at the risks and opportunities of a broad range of issues, including biotechnology.
In reality, this panel will justify the desperate need and urgency to bring in biotechnology. We are aware that the panel comprises some of the hot favourites of the World Bank -- bureaucrats and policy makers -- who have helped their respective governments take on big loans from the Bank for projects and programmes that have faded away with the passage of time. The outcome of this panel is therefore a foregone conclusion. Why conduct a mock drill with public money? How long you think you can fool everyone at all the times?
We strongly oppose the formation of a pliable panel for the so-called consultative process.

World Food Prize
And before we end this newsletter, we must apprise you of the fact that not only retirement benefits, being an ambassador for the biotechnology industry also bring you other rewards. While you can be rest assured of a place on the advisory board of the US Department of Agriculture (if you know how to blow the trumpet the loudest!), or be an advisor to the European Union and OECD, besides other CGIAR boards, and also win the once coveted World Food Prize, which was hailed equivalent to the Nobel prize at one time. Some believe that the last two winners of the World Food Prize have brought disrepute to the earlier distinguished winners. We leave that to your own judgement. All we can do is to predict one of the next winners: an Indian scientist working for a non-descript black school in America. His achievement: a coloured person justifying the risky and environment-unfriendly technology for the coloured population of the majority world.

The AgBioIndia mailing list is an effort by the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security to bridge the yawning gap in our understanding of the politics of food. We believe this mailing list will create wider awareness and understanding of the compexities of the crisis facing Indian agriculture and food security. This list will keep you posted on the intricacies and games being enacted in the name of eradicating hunger.

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