MEPs speak out against GMOs in ‘New Alliance’ food strategy for Africa

Trials of GMO cotton in Burkina Faso brought disappointing results. [Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr]

European lawmakers have urged the EU not to support the introduction of GMOs in Africa, in a resolution criticising the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. EURACTIV France reports.

The programme for African agricultural development, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN), does not serve the interests of family farmers, MEPs warned in a resolution.

A large majority in the European Parliament’s Development committee adopted a resolution on Wednesday (20 April), calling on the EU to “tackle all the weaknesses of the NAFSN, […] in order to ensure that [its] actions are compatible with the development policy objectives”.

In its draft version, the text even directly advised European countries to “withdraw its support to NAFSN as long as the deficiencies outlined […] are not duly addressed”.

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Numerous criticisms

This warning from the Parliament is the latest in a long list of criticisms aimed at the strategy since its launch in 2012.

Its objective was to develop public-private partnerships in Africa, in order to increase the continent’s agricultural production. To achieve this, the New Alliance mainly favoured private investment, which is too rare in certain countries, like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.

But the NAFSN, which holds up intensive agriculture as a solution to Africa’s food security challenges, has been of greater benefit to the big seed companies than to family farmers, which make up the fabric of African farming.

According to the NAFSN’s 2014-2015 progress report, public donors have already released $3.2 billion of the $6.2 billion they promised in 2012. But the story is very different for private investors, who have so far only released $684 million, from a total of $10.2 billion pledged.

“The big multinationals like Monsanto, Cargill and Unilever are very focussed on making a profit. It is hard to see how this kind of aid to multinationals through the New Alliance could be of benefit to local populations in terms of sustainable development. Especially when we know that family farms are largely excluded from the decision-making process linked to this initiative,” said Maria Heubuch, a German Green MEP and the Parliament’s rapporteur on the issue.

Hybrid seeds encouraged

In fact, the African states involved in the partnership have also committed to changing their legislation to facilitate the arrival of private investors.

“One of NAFSN’s main aims is to achieve the political reforms that have to be put in place in the Africain partner countries on subjects like access to farmland, the use of certified seeds (hybrid, GMOs) and taxation,” said Jean-Cyril Dagorn, a food security advocacy officer for Oxfam.

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But these legislative changes generally do not benefit small scale farmers. “This heightens the risk of land grabbing and the privatisation of seeds,” Dagorn explained.

The partnership foresees that developing countries will back “the distribution, adoption and consumption of biofortified crop varieties”. A target that aims to improve the nutritional quality of food in order to fight malnutrition, and which leaves the door wide open to the cultivation of GMOs.

Evolution of legislation

“Some New Alliance members such as Nigeria are already in the process of altering their legislation to permit GMO seeds,” according to a report by CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Oxfam France and Action Contre la Faim, entitled Hunger, just another business.

Burkina Faso, conversely, is abandoning GMO cotton for economic reasons, after ten years of cultivation the crop. The disappointing quality of GMO cotton drove down the price of Burkina Faso’s one time flagship export, and the government decided to go back to traditional seed varieties.

Following the same logic, MEPs urged “the G8 member states not to support GMO crops in Africa” in their resolution.

“The ball is now in the court of the European Union and the six member states that put taxpayers’ money into the New Alliance. This organisation is supposed to help small-scale farmers and small African businesses, not just the big multinationals that already benefit from unfair competitive advantages,” said Isabelle Brachet, from ActionAid UE.

Launched in 2012, the New Alliance is an agricultural development programme financed by the G8 countries and the European Union. Its objective is to take 50 million people out of poverty in ten partner countries in Africa by targeting investment in intensive farming businesses.

Family farms produce around 80% of the world's food and represent 60% of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa.

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