Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Big Benn - UK, Africa, and GM

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) launched its agriculture policy paper last week. In the accompanying press release, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, was quoted as declaring agricultural progress as the fundamental prerequisite for economic progress and improvement in welfare. Part of the policy paper is concerned with the need to realise the benefits of technological innovation in agriculture and to improve public access to privately-developed new technologies. According to the paper, this includes a pledge to increase financial support for public research into agricultural science and technology. However, in a report by John Vidal, Environment editor for The Guardian, it is suggested that the policy paper demonstrates a commitment to promote patented products, including seeds, by GM firms.

Vidal's report states that the government will direct a substantial part of its GM research funding through the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), based in Kenya. The AATF is committed to improving access to proprietary agricultural technologies in Africa, including the use of royalty free transfers. AATF advocates the negotiation of contractual agreements with existing institutions, such as private and national research institutes, to manage the use of the relevant technologies. Suspicion from some groups may be motivated in part by the role of major GM companies in setting up the AATF in 2003. In other words, while a the preservation of biological and genetic diversity is a priority, this may distract policy-makers from other fundamental problems with a perceived lack of "public" diversity in the innovation process itself.

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