Ag visions collide in Africa

Pierre Petelle, president of CropLife Canada, said Africa has been a biotechnology war zone for years. | File photo

Africa has become the battleground for two competing visions of agriculture.

Gregg Doud, chief agricultural trade negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, recently outlined those conflicting visions in a speech he delivered at an event organized by the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City.

He said the European Union has adopted a new strategy that is “abandoning” the use of technology in agriculture.

“They have the Farm to Fork thing, which I call the Farm to Empty Fork because that’s what it’s going to be,” said Doud.

He said there is only one way that farmers will be able to feed nine billion people by 2050.

“The answer to that is we are going to use technology. We are going to use all the technology we can get our hands on,” said Doud.

“And we are never going to apologize for it.”

He indicated that Africa is going to be a key battleground for the two competing visions of agriculture.

“We are not going to let the EU send a message to Africa, or for that matter anywhere else in the world, that this is the direction to head,” said Doud.

Pierre Petelle, president of CropLife Canada, said Africa has been a biotechnology war zone for years.

He recalled an event in the early 2000s where several African countries rejected U.S. food aid shipments for containing genetically modified corn.

“Their citizens were starving and here this food was sitting in warehouses not being distributed.”

What he found particularly infuriating was when the U.S. asked the EU to send a signal to those African countries that it was all right to accept the food aid and the EU refused.

The EU has much stronger ties to Africa than the U.S. and has been promoting its anti-GMO agenda there for decades.

Petelle said that is a shame when pests like armyworm are ravaging crops in many African nations.

“That is easily solved with Bt corn, easily solved with a technology that is readily available,” he said.

But he is encouraged that a number of African countries, including Kenya, are now growing GM crops and many others are conducting research and field trials.

“I’m actually quite enthusiastic about where Africa is going,” said Petelle.

Tim Wise, senior adviser with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, an organization promoting fair and sustainable food systems, thinks there is another reason the war is being waged in Africa and it has to do with money.

“It’s a battleground because Africa is projected, in the long-run, to be one of the massively growing markets for food and agriculture,” he said.

Wise said the market for U.S. GM crops has plateaued with the EU shutting them out and Asia moving toward more restrictions. Africa is one of the few regions remaining where there is opportunity to expand.

The U.S. began negotiating a free trade agreement with Kenya this summer. It would be its first free trade agreement in the African continent.

Doud believes it will take a while to work out the details, including provisions surrounding the use of technology.

The U.S. wants to make sure it gets the Kenya agreement right because it will serve as a template for negotiations with other African nations.

“Then we can expand on that throughout the rest of the continent and that sends a really strong signal with regard to the use of technology in agriculture,” said Doud.

Wise said most African countries are closed to GM crops. The U.S. wants trade agreements that will make it illegal to keep them out.

“It’s essentially a way of trade agreements overriding domestic policy decisions,” he said.

Wise said many African countries are upset with Kenya’s government for starting negotiations with the U.S. because the provisions of that agreement will undermine those contained in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

He said it is convenient for Doud to characterize the EU’s new agriculture strategy as anti-technology but that is not the case.

“Europe isn’t in any way anti-technology. It is closed to GMOs and it follows the precautionary principle,” said Wise.

There are still lots of chemicals and fertilizers approved under that principle, he said.

However, two stated objectives of the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy are to reduce pesticide use by 50 percent and fertilizers by 20 percent by 2030.

Doud said it is incumbent on the U.S. to convince people around the world that the way forward is to embrace technology rather than rejecting it.

That includes converting Europeans who seem to believe that the path to sustainability means rejecting genetically modified crops, pesticides and fertilizers.

“It won’t work and I don’t understand for the life of me why they think this is the future for agriculture in the world. It just isn’t,” said Doud.

Petelle said the EU has made it clear in the Farm to Fork strategy that it plans to evangelize its approach to agriculture.

“It’s right there in their agenda to try to export their way of thinking to other parts of the world,” he said.

That is why Canada needs to be vigilant in upholding its science-based regulations and enabling continued innovation in agriculture.

“We’ve got to continue advancing agriculture and not let Europe set agricultural policy for all of us,” said Petelle.

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