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Bt Cotton: Why do so Many Smart People Get it so Wrong?



Africa - Food Security
Swazi Observer, August 6, 2008

One of the most critical problems facing Africa and the world today is food security.

The major topics for the Mulungushi smart partnership dialogue when understood and taken together provide an integrative, comprehensive approach to this and other critical issues.

Vision - A crisis situation requires some sort of transformation as a means of resolving the crisis and moving forward. Short term problem solving and crisis response is often by necessity, attacked with already existing capabilities.

But any fundamental transformation for both short and long term transformative solutions requires a vision as to where one is going, where one wants to go and how one is going to get there. The current food crisis reflects some basic problems that will require both national and global visions.

Infrastructure including transportation -The food crisis in Africa is clearly multidimensional in its causes and for its solutions.

Lack of infrastructure is at the very root of the food problem. Transportation costs have so dramatically raised the price of fertilizer - sometimes increasing it as much as 4 to 6 times - for so many African farmers causing them to use far less than they should - at less than 10 kilos per hectare per average compared, for example, to India at over 100 kilos per hectare, China at circa 200 kilos per hectare (the average for Asia is about 150 kilos per hectare) and as high as 400 or more kilos per hectare in parts of Europe. <cut>

Even if one denies the human factor in global warming, there is certainly a moral obligation to help those in need. However one apportions blame and responsibility, the fact is that there is a critical need for food and other crops that are more drought tolerant. Like it or not, the most promising work in developing more drought resistant crops is using transgenics - i.e. genetically modified crops. No biotechnology scientist claims that biotechnology is the only way to proceed or that it should get all of the funding but there is broad agreement in the scientific community - far more scientific consensus on biotechnology than on global warming - that bioengineering plants will be an essential component of any plant breeding strategy.

Bioengineering is also producing crops with larger yields that require less pesticide use, food crops that are more nutritious, and crops that allow for no tillage agriculture which saves on fuel, soil loss, biodiversity, and water loss etc. - factors important for advances in African agriculture. Biotechnology is also needed to address the emergence of new fungal (or bacterial or viral or pest) threats to agriculture such as Ug99 for wheat, striga for maize and black sigatoka for bananas.

Overall there is a consensus that there needs to be far more resources dedicated to agricultural research at all levels globally, regionally, nationally and at the local level. The mantra of carbon footprint causing global warming has given rise to Green advocacy of buying food locally (in extreme form called 'localvores') and the use of the slogan of 'food miles' to oppose the importation of food from Africa and other areas of the South. In Africa, this puts in jeopardy close to 2 million jobs and threatens one of the few successes in African agriculture.

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