By Dr. Gilbert arap Bor: Kapseret, Kenya
In 1885, the great European powers met in Berlin to share Africa amongst themselves, launching a dark period of colonialist exploitation.
Today, European lawmakers gather in Brussels to attempt to subjugate my continent once more, this time by pressuring us to forswear the scientific innovations that have revolutionized agriculture around the world.
This new offensive comes from the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, which has prepared a draft resolution that “urges the G8 member states not to support GMO crops in Africa.” It has received surprisingly little attention in the press and it may receive a vote as early as June 6.
As a Kenyan farmer who participates in the daily struggle to grow food in a land that doesn’t produce enough of it, I have a short message for the well-fed politicians who would consider supporting this neo-colonialist measure: “Leave Africa alone.”
Your hostility to GMOs already has set us back a generation. Please don’t take a step that could impoverish us for another generation by discouraging African governments from accepting important crop technologies that farmers in so many other places take for granted.
Here in Kenya, untold numbers of people struggle with food security, unsure about how they’ll afford their next meal. I see the evidence of it everyday. With 46 million people, a high rate of population growth, and the rapid urbanization of our arable land, our challenges probably will grow worse before they get better.
GMOs can play a positive role, letting us grow more food on less land in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. Farmers like me need access to agricultural biotechnology.
Instead of ordering Africans to abandon science, Europeans should listen to what their own scientists say: The European Commission and the World Health Organization both have vouched for the safety of GMOs. So has the National Academy of Sciences, the leading scientific advisory group in the United States, which just published a comprehensive study that endorses GMOs.
If the European Parliament wants to help Africa, it should try to spread scientific knowledge among the lawmakers and citizens of less-developed economies, enabling us to become self sufficient in the production of basic commodities, notably those that improve the lot of African farmers to assure food security.
What we don’t need are lectures from Europeans whose lifestyles look luxurious to ordinary Africans. They want us to remain agricultural primitives, stuck with technologies that were antiquated even before we entered the 21st century.
Only a handful of African countries have accepted GMOs, among them Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa. Yet we could see a boom in the next few years.
Kenya is GMO-ready. We have regulatory protocols in place, coordinated by the National Biosafety Authority. The first field trials of GM maize are underway and they may start soon for cotton. We still can’t cultivate, market, or import GMOs, but we’re on the verge of lifting these restrictions. Once they’re gone, my country will enjoy a new weapon in the fight against hunger.
The last thing we need is a bunch of wealthy nations frowning upon our progress without having any understanding of our predicament.
If Africa fails to take up modern farming methods, my continent will face disaster. We’ll never realize the potential of either the Green Revolution or the Gene Revolution. Farmers will use more and more herbicides and pesticides, cutting into our incomes and endangering biodiversity. The cost of crop production will rise, which means the cost of food will rise, too. More people will go hungry.
This is the bad future that the resolution now before the European Parliament asks us to embrace.
Thankfully, the resolution is non-binding. The European Parliament cannot force a policy upon any member of the G8 and at least two of its members, Canada and the United States, are sure to reject it out of hand.
But that is not the point. Africa is in the habit of looking to Europe for political leadership and economic opportunity—and whatever the European Parliament decides, its choice will send a powerful signal.
Let’s hope it makes the right one.
Gilbert arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya. He also lectures at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus. Dr. Bor is the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Global Farmer Network.