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Biofuels will worsen global food crisis,Expert

By AKOMA CHINWEOKE

Dr. Olanrewaju Oginni, vice-president, Consumer Protection Organization of Nigeria, holds a Ph.D. in consumer economic/social communications. He is also the executive director, All-Nigeria Consumer Movements Union   and a very active member of Consumers International .In this interview, he speaks on how green revolution, based on an industrial model, might worsen the condition of Africa’s small farmers, and other consumer related issues.

The World Bank reported recently that biofuels have caused food prices to rise by 75 percent. Do you agree?

Oginni...Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75 percent

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75 percent – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally – respected economist at the global financial body. The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than three percent to food-price rises.

A new report for the British government has cast fresh doubt on using fuels from crops in the fight against climate change. Britain and Europe will be forced to fundamentally rethink a central part of their environment strategy after reading this report which found that the rush to develop biofuels has played a significant role in dramatic rise in global food process, which  has left 100 million more people without enough to eat.

The study marks a dramatic reversal in the role of biofuels in the fight against global warming. As recently as last year, corn ethanol and biodiesel derived from vegetable oil were widely seen as important weapons in that fight – and a central plank of Gordon Brown’s green strategy. Now, even their environmental benefits are in question.

As a consultant on trade, infrastructure, utilities and regulation network, what is your view on   the renewed campaign for a new green revolution to attract private agricultural investment in Africa?
In 2006, the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a joint $150 million alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to save Africa from hunger. AGRA is actually the philanthropic flagship of a large network of chemical-seed, fertilizer companies and green revolution institutions seeking to industrialize African agriculture.

Its high-profile campaign for a new green revolution is designed to attract private investment, enroll African governments, and convince African farmers to buy new seeds and fertilizers AGRA is preparing researchers, institutions, and African farmers for the introduction of GMO crops – not only for rice, wheat and maize, but also for cassava, plantain and other African food crops.

The first green revolution, introduced by Ford and Rockefeller foundations in 1960-90, deepened the divide between rich and poor farmers and degraded tropical agro-ecosystems, exposing already vulnerable farmers to increased environmental risk.

It led to loss of farmers varieties and agro-biodiversity, the basis for smallholder livelihood security and regional environmental sustain-ability. While production per capita increased in Asia and Latin America, the percentage of hungry people increased even more. Because it responds to corporate interests rather than the needs of African farmers, the new green revolution, based on an industrial model, is likely to worsen and not improve the condition of Africa’s small farmers.
The AGRA-led green revolution not only threatens the richness of African traditional agriculture, it ignores (and is attempting to co-opt} the many successful African alternatives in organic agriculture, sustainable agriculture, agro-forestry, pastoralism, integrated pest management, farmer – led plant breeding sustainable watershed management and many other agro-ecological approaches.

Because AGRA is but one-highly visible component of a wide industrial push, we need to decide where to put our energies, and be prepared for the divisive nature of involvement with it.

All African led organizations should engage in a fight to protect African agriculture against this industrial system that is being imposed on us. AGRA is corrupting all the international institutions to engage with this corporation led alliance. Let’s work on a campaign to promote African agro-ecological alternatives to AGRA
How does increased utilization of GMO’s drive up food prices and contribute to climate change?
Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs’l are part of a “Green Revolution” package for Africa where technical and economic solutions are proffered for African agriculture.

These solutions, designed by transnational agribusiness, are heavily dependent on inputs such as inorganic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and corporate owned seeds. This system is highly energy dependent, directly in the form of fuel for transport and machinery, and indirectly in the production of fertilizers and other inputs.

Around 500 million kilograms of pesticides are applied annually in agricultural mono-cultures to deal with insects, pests, diseases and weeds globally. Such a system of continuous and increasing utilization of an energy intensive agricultural paradigm not only drives up the cost of food production but also contributes to climate change.

In spite of this, the agendas of these powerful transnational corporations (TNCs) continue to shape African agricultural- related policies, institutions and service providers in service of their bottom line.
What other likely problems are related to GM crops?

Apart from other problems, related to GM crops, researchers say GM needs manufacturing companies – prohibit farmers from saving their on-farm produced seeds for the next season and from sharing them with their neighbors, relatives and friends.  This is imposed through elaborate contracts agreements and conditions which are imposed by the multinational GM seed companies.

There’s a study that says that more than 80 percent of the small-scale farmers in Africa today save their on-farm seeds for the next season.

Farmers do this because they don’t have enough money to buy new seeds and sometimes because they value their own seeds.

Also, seed sharing is a crucial norm in many African communities. The fear is that the introduction of GM seeds will jeopardize these traditional and vital practices.

It should be noted that free-exchange of seeds among farmers has been the basis of biodiversity and food – security for millennia as it gives them the diversity of plants that provides the nutrition. But, by 1990, biotechnology became more profitable than chemical weapons.

Again, it is noted that seed saving gives farmers life, makes free resource available on farm, a commodity to which farmers are forced to buy, every year.

This is a shift from biodiversity to mono culture in agriculture and mono culture increases the risk of crop failure. This is an assault on our culture, our human dignity and our very nature. It should therefore rejected.


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