Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last month, the World Bank announced plans to launch a three-year international assessment of the "risks and opportunities of using agricultural science to reduce hunger and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world." The study will examine a range of agricultural technologies including genetic engineering (GE). What the World Bank failed to mention, however, is that it has been quietly forging ahead with financing transgenic crops in developing countries such as India and Kenya.
According to an internal World Bank technical briefing note dated January 7, 2002, Bank lending for agricultural biotechnology is already underway in a number of countries. For example, the Bank is providing US$20 million to India for GE work on transgenic rice and cotton. Dr. RS Paroda, director of the Indian Centre for Agricultural Research (ICAR), stated that one of the principal aims of the Bank-financed "National Agricultural Technology Project" (NATP) is to use biotechnology to develop new crop varieties that would be high-yielding and resistant to pests.
In Kenya, the Bank is financing transgenic sweet potatoes through the "National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) Phase II." The Bank's technical briefing note includes a photograph of field trials of the genetically modified potato, already underway in Kenya. According to PAN East Africa, the first phase of this project began as a collaborative effort between Monsanto and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and focused on research and development of GE crops. The second phase, financed in part with money from the World Bank, includes field-testing of the transgenic sweet potato.
The World Bank technical briefing also refers to current Bank financing for biotech research and capacity building in Ethiopia, Brazil, Indonesia and Peru.
"The World Bank is not even waiting for the results of its three year study before jumping on the GE bandwagon," observed Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). PANNA is calling on the Bank to immediately withdraw its support for ongoing and planned GE projects and redirect those funds to programs that are proven, low-cost, and ecologically based, such as soil fertility and integrated pest management.
The World Bank has recently come under intense international criticism from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for promoting agricultural biotechnology at a time when the environmental and health risks remain largely unknown and when Southern borrower countries risk losing crucial export markets to countries whose consumers have rejected GE (e.g. Europe, Japan, Korea).
"The World Bank should heed the voices of tens of thousands of farmers who do not want GE," urged Elizabeth Bravo of Accion Ecologica, a group based in Ecuador. "We are asking the Bank to do the right thing and adopt a precautionary approach to this risky technology."
But the power and influence of transnational pesticide/biotech companies appears to have outweighed the voices of small farmers. In the India case, the World Bank project includes partnerships with Monsanto, Aventis and Syngenta. An Indian NGO, the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), withdrew from the pest management component of the project after being informed that they would have to work with the pesticide/biotech giant, Syngenta. CWS reported that the Bank's partners on the GE component of the project include Monsanto and Aventis.
In a July 2002 meeting of the Bank's Board of Directors, European directors joined together in calling on Bank management to include a precautionary approach to GE in its newly drafted "rural development strategy." The Bank's European Board members are joined by a growing number of scientists and experts in agricultural development who question the capacity of transgenic crops to meet the needs of the rural poor. Dr. Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley, explained, "Transgenic crops are not the solution to hunger and poverty. On the contrary, they exacerbate the inequality that perpetuates poverty. Small farmers and indigenous people around the developing world are showing us that many less expensive, low-tech and ecologically sustainable alternatives already exist to attain food security, and at the same time preserve the natural resource base."
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.