Elevate Difference

Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa

As a mom who does what I can to buy organic food for my family, I completely understand the general distaste most of us have for genetically modified (GM) foods. The very thought of vegetables altered by scientists in labs seems creepy and somehow inherently wrong, doesn’t it? But when I read Starved for Science, I quickly realized that such a romanticized and emotional standpoint in such a critical debate as starvation is not only uninformed, it is just plain irresponsible. I also realized that, whether we like it or not, most of us are already eating GM foods on a daily basis.

In plain language and with plentiful sources to back up his positions, Paarlberg describes how in first world countries, where food is plentiful and obesity more of a problem than starvation, people can afford to pine for the days of small neighborhood farms - and can turn up their noses at the agribusiness and subsequent science that has allowed us to take for granted having not only enough to eat, but a wide choice in what and where we get our food. In Europe, the negative public opinion toward genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) has led to labeling and bans on imports suspected to be “contaminated” by genetically altered seeds. Greenpeace and many NGO’s are working actively to keep African farmers on small plots of land using techniques that date back thousands of years, but to the detriment and hardship of those very farmers.

Paarlberg describes how rich countries have come to fear and dislike GMO’s, stopping funding and support easily where food is in no shortage, and yet when it is convenient, still continue to fund their use in the pharmaceutical industry where a longevity benefit can be gained. And governments in African countries situated in urban areas that are highly influenced by European bias, both in cultural influence and monetary flow, follow suit. Therefore, they are not developing their own programs to find strains of seeds that could resist drought, and it isn’t worth enough money to anyone else to do so for them.

The majority of small farms in Africa are currently run by women, as men often leave to find other jobs in mines or more urban areas to supplement family incomes. Children stay out of school to help with the farming, and they do it all with wooden tools and poorly fed animal labor. Green movements in China and India have brought these countries to a position where starvation in no longer such a pressing issue; however, in Africa the problem is worse than ever.

Paarlberg admits to having kept his research a bit under wraps until now, knowing the reaction he would get from his own circle of friends and colleagues. It could be said that being ‘socially conscious’ has taken on certain assumptions (and presumptions) among the wealthier strata of our urban world with a borg-like uniformity, and in the case of poverty in Africa, maintaining a position of being purely organic could easily be likened to saying “let them eat cake.”

Written by: Jen Wilson Lloyd, June 13th 2008

There are quite a few gaps in that positive review. For example, why is an American professor better suited to know what's good for Africans than "governments in African countries"? Because they are "situated in urban areas that are highly influenced by European bias"? Come on. That sort of paternalism ruins the whole argument. And how are we to suppose the poor women running "The majority of small farms in Africa", "all with wooden tools and poorly fed animal labor", to be able to pay for the high royalties that Monsanto and the other agribusness giants charge for their "miracle" seeds? Critics of GM agriculture, including numerous farmer activists from developing countries, contend that small farmers in poor countries do need technology, but they need accessible technology, technology that is adapted to their local conditions and to their farming methods (unlike the "one size fits all" approach of industrialized US agriculture) and that they can afford. The agribusiness giants will not invest in that kind of technology, simply because there is no profit to be made from it. As long as advocates of Paarlberg's "biotechnology will save the poor" stance refuse to honestly engage with that critical argument, their credibility remains dubious.Btw you may want to check out this view from the South:A disaster in search of success - Bt cotton in global southhttp://www.new-ag.info/07/06/books.php#289

One important word is missing in the previous comment, first sentence: "NON":"...other reasons that the powerful NON use of GMOs..." :-)

Africa is tarving for a lot of other reasons that the powerful use of GMOs, e.g. migration movements. The case of India is a very good one to evaluate how women are in very bad situation with GMOs, which are not cultivated to improve a sovereign power of people to feed themselves, but that are cultivated to ensure the kind of development rich countries want for themselves (e.g. biocarburant are not cultivated for those people). The Paarlberg's book lacks a general critical view about the world situation and therefore lacks comparision points!See Vandana Shiva's books to get a larger perspective!