GM Crops Debate

Today, in the pages of the Independent, is the beginning of a nice row on GM seeds.  Apparently, according to the articles, the Action Aid people in Uganda have been telling the world that GM is bad for you!  This message is accompanied by the picture of a rat with a, GM related, tumour.  It was a local person on the team that included this information in their literature.  Their office in London made them take it down quickly.  London is the main funder of the work they undertake in Uganda and they did not want to back what is patently a lie.  The World Health Organisation has clearly said that there is no danger whatsoever to humans from the consumption of GM food.  However, the lack of knowledge in the press, and in many voluntary organisations (NGO's), means that they have been discussing the issue in vague terms without addressing the real problems.

Problem one is that GM seeds are costly; the companies search and search and eventually manage to get a patent for the seeds.  The seeds are neuter, which means that they do not reproduce, and the farmer has to buy them year after year.  In the past the farmer would keep a bit back every year for the next years season - you can't do that with GM seeds.  You also need good fungicides and pesticides.  To be able to acquire all of those, you need a certain amount of capital.  That is fine where the financial markets work well, here s an efficient micro-financing system and where the farmers are not pushed into banckruptancy.  Therefore, if the farmer starts to get into GM, she needs to be fully aware of the consequences.

Problem two is that there is an enormous amount of fake seeds, fake fertilisers and the like in circulation.  The Chinese goverment has tried to reign in some of the worst excesses of the counterfeiters, but not entirely suceeded.  A few African governments have a network of inspectors to check that farmers are not being conned.  

Problem three is that GM tools need to be used properly; this is not always easy when you are not literate and have no idea of what it says on the pack.

GRASSROOTS AFRICA is conscious of all these (and other issues). We want the farmer to know how to improve their productivity with the tools at their disposal, Which essentially means being more efficient in the way they work.  As we grow, as an organisation, we want to make sure that the services we will offer link up with responsible farmers, merchants, microfinance institutions and agro-dealers. We hope that this will lead them to improve what they produce and not push them into despair after a harvest failure.  This is very much the essence of our work.