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September 14, 2008

Hunger in Africa blamed on western rejection of GM food

The rise of organic farming and rejection of GM crops in Britain and other developed countries is largely to blame for the impoverishment of Africa, according to the UK government's former chief scientist.

Sir David King, who left the job at the end of last year, says anti-scientific attitudes towards modern agriculture are being exported to Africa and holding back a green revolution that could dramatically improve the continent's food supply.

King, giving the presidential address at the British Association's Festival of Science in Liverpool, criticised non-governmental organisations and the UN in his speech for backing traditional farming techniques, which he says cannot provide enough food for the continent's growing population. "The problem is that the western world's move toward organic farming - a lifestyle choice for a community with surplus food - and against agricultural technology in general and GM in particular, has been adopted across the whole of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, with devastating consequences."

King, who is now director of the Smith school of enterprise and the environment at Oxford University, said genetically modified crops could help Africa mirror the substantial increases in crop production seen in India and China. "What was demonstrated [there] was that modern agricultural technologies can multiply crop production per hectare by factors of seven to 10." But traditional techniques could "not deliver the food for the burgeoning population of Africa."

King said a recent report chaired by Professor Robert Watson, the government's chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was shortsighted. The report concluded that GM crops had only a minor part to play in eradicating world hunger. The research, based on the findings of 400 scientists, noted that food was cheaper and diets better than 40 years ago, but that while enough food was produced to feed the global population, still 800 million people went hungry.

"You cannot argue that Africa has hunger because it doesn't have GM today," said Watson. "We have more food today than ever before but it isn't getting to the right people. It's not a food production problem, it's a rural development problem."

King will also call for a shift in research towards tackling climate change. More effort, he says, is needed on solar power, which could provide enough energy for the world 10,000 times over.

The Guardian

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