Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

24 October 2011

Tanzania: Is Debate On GMOS Tech Beneficial to Tanzania?

IN Iowa, one of the largest agricultural states in the United States, farmers have managed to increase their yields of corn and soybeans ten fold from 2.5 to over 10 tons per acre thanks to genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.

The technology which is widely used in the US by farmers, is a product of big multinational corporations which have invested millions of dollars in developing high yield, pests and weed resistant GMO seeds.

"It's good technology because it has enabled us to use less herbicides on the farm and increased yields but it's also expensive," said Kenneth Lund, a medium size Iowa farmer who took over from his 80-year old father, Elvin Lund who managed the 2,800 acres farm.

Mr Lund who is by Tanzanian standards a large scale modern farmer with giant John Deere combined harvesters, farming tractors and modern silos to stock his harvests, has no bad experience with growing GMOs over the past ten years although the price of the regularly changing technology is his main concern.

But experts argue that GMOs which are a subject of debate not only in Tanzania today but also in the US where a good number of people are worried of the technology's unknown dangers to human health and the environment, are a solution to the problem of regular food shortages facing Tanzania and the entire African continent.

Dismissing critics of the technology as lacking concrete arguments against Frankenstein crops, Harvard Director of Science, Technology and Globalization, Kenyan Professor Calestous Juma said countries like Tanzania should adopt the technology and stop making excuses because of European Union pressure.

"So I am asking myself, why is Africa listening to the Europeans who are not doing what they are telling African leaders to do?" Prof Juma who formerly served as Executive Director of United Nations Biological Diversity, argued at a World Food Prize award pre-presentation dinner held in Des Moines, Iowa last week.

Professor Juma argued that GMOs are a solution to the continent's low agriculture yields, unreliable rainfall and numerous pesticides which attack crops. On average, a Tanzanian smallholder farmer harvests 1.5 to two metric tons of maize per acre (two hectares) compared to 10.5 tons which Lund harvests in Iowa which Juma argues that helps earn the American farmer more to improve his life, ensure food security for the US and enable him to buy more GMO seeds from giants such as Monsanto, Du Pont and Syngenta which are the world's largest Frankenstein seed producers in the world.

While Monsanto and Du Pont are American corporations, Syngenta is Swiss but has huge presence in the US market. Despite the high price of GE seeds which many American farmers can afford thanks to heavy subsidies paid by their government which grosses 60 billion US dollars per annum, critics point to such hiked costs as not easily affordable by many local farmers.

An American philanthropist and World Food Programme Hunger Ambassador, Howard Buffett, told a World Food Prize plenary attended by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda last week in Iowa that Africa is not a place for multinational GMO manufacturing corporations to make money.

"Let's learn from our past mistakes in the 30 years and accept that this American approach of one size fits all is not going to work in Africa," Mr Buffett argued while presenting findings of his Howard G. Buffett Foundation's eight years of experience of working on the continent. Buffett's Foundation has projects in Ghana, Liberia and South Africa which has assisted farmers with modern hybrid seeds including GMOs, training in good crop husbandry practices and entrepreneurship skills benefiting thousands.

"My years of work in Africa convince me that we need a different approach to solve the continent's agriculture production problems and not the current American approach," the eloquent American philanthropist who is son of billionaire mogul, Warren Buffet argued in front of an audience of over 500 people which included senior executives from Du Pont and Monsanto, two of the US' major Frankenstein giants seeking to exploit the African market.

"While on my visit to Liberia, I found a woman who had cultivated GMO maize the previous year and kept stock of seeds and replanted the following year but the yield was very poor and I asked her why, she couldn't answer me," Buffett pointed out.

GMO seeds should be purchased every season because their productivity drops by up to 40 per cent if replanted which Buffet argued with hiked prices of up to 240 US dollars (approx. 410,000/-) per 50kg bag, it's out of reach by many local farmers.

Proposing that the continent's food shortage problem can better be solved by governments and charity foundations working closely with farmers and not corporations which seeks to cash on poor farmers, Buffet said there is need to address infrastructure needs on the continent, train farmers in good crop husbandry practices and increase numbers of extension workers before modern GE technology can be introduced.

But the US government through Feed the Future initiative which President Barack Obama hatched in 2009 to assist developing countries including Tanzania to address the problem of poor agriculture yields and food insecurity, Washington wants all modern technologies made available to local farmers who should be allowed to make a choice.

Assistant US Secretary of State, Jose Fernandez said under Feed the Future initiative, the US wants farmers to be allowed to choose which technology to use on their farms and not government blocking them from making such choices.

Pledging that Washington will work with African governments willing to utilize GE technology to tame hunger and poverty, Mr Fernandez said he believed that GE provides a solution to global hunger and poverty. "As many of you know, the challenges of feeding the world are big.

Agricultural production systems are under pressure as never before and this pressure will not decrease in the coming decades," Fernandez argued. Under the 3.5 billion US dollars Feed the Future initiative, Tanzania and Ghana have been singled out as having major advances in government policy to tame hunger and poverty in line with United Nations Millennium Development Goal which seeks to reduce the number of hungry people globally by a half by 2015.

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