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May 08, 2008

Africa must safeguard its biodiversity, resist biofuels production

by Sifelani Tsiko

AfricaA must safeguard its economic and social interest at the forthcoming ninth Conference of Parties to the Convention of Biological Bio-diversity and ensure that industrialised countries in the North do not sideline its concerns on agriculture, food security and agricultural bio-diversity conservation.

Participants to a three-day regional consultative workshop on preparations for the COP9-CBD scheduled to be held in Bonn, Germany (May 19 - 30) said African negotiators must take a firm stand particularly on issues related to the global agro-fuels production push, biosafety, farmers rights, emerging technologies and climate change.

These issues, the participants said, have serious implications on food security, agricultural bio-diversity conservation and sustainable use of the continent's biological resources.

The regional workshop was organised to discuss critical issues affecting the continent's agro-bio-diversity and make recommendations to state parties and civil society going to COP9/MOP4 of the CBD.

"The main objective of this workshop is to deliberate and formulate positions on some of the critical issues that will be coming up for discussion during the COP9 such as agro-fuels production, biosafety, farmers rights, climate change, emerging technologies and access to and benefit sharing mechanism of genetic resources," said Mr Andrew Mushita, an agronomist.

"We hope this workshop will enable us to critically analyse and make recommendations into issues affecting agro-bio-diversity within the country and also contribute to Zimbabwe and indeed other African member-states position at COP9/MOP4."

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of all components of bio-diversity including plant genetic resources and species. Governments from different parts of the world first signed the agreement at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The CBD is made up of 188 national governments and one regional economic bloc.

The main objective of the CBD is the conservation of bio-diversity, the sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

COP7 was held in Kualar Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004 while COP8 was held in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006.

"We need to influence our delegates to take the right positions. We should know the delegates before hand and influence them to take our concerns on board to the negotiations," said Mr Patrick Kasasa, an agronomist and Africa region programme co-ordinator of the Community Bio-diversity Development and Conservation Africa.

Prof Carol Thompson, a visiting political economist from the University of Arizona in the US, said African countries should reject the growing push for agro-fuels production arguing that it will lead to loss of land, food security and sovereignty and perpetuate a model of industrial agriculture that is not environmentally sustainable.

"The science behind agro-fuels is as controversial as the science behind genetically modified organisms. They (industrial North) have started calling Africa the "Green Opec of Africa," she said. "Agro-fuels pose a huge threat to smallholder farmers. Land use in Africa will be firmly under foreign control and this will be for foreign consumption and not for Africa. This is something that needs serious discussion."

She said the push by the industrial North for agro-fuels would lead to the extensive growing of food crops for fuel leading to food insecurity, poverty and hunger. "The impact of agro-fuels will be huge, the practice of monoculture will destroy bio-diversity, the growing of agro-fuel crops will open the way for the bulldozing of GM crops and trade agreements will be used as weapons of control. Labour will be subordinate to the whims of large and powerful conglomerates," Prof Thompson said.

She added that: "It's not about market issues, but profit. The single goal is profit, not sustainable and efficient use of resources. It is certainly not about people. Africa should not give land back to foreign control."

The Herald

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