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GM crops, food security and Overseas Aid debate grows

African farmers make full use of GM crops to boost yieldsHow to help African farmers utilise GM crops to boost yields

The Observer/Guardian, a popular British newspaper recently reported on the warning from leading African scientist Dr Felix M'mboyi of the Kenya-based African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum. M’mboyi is clear that Europe's opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops is robbing the developing world of a chance to feed itself and could threaten food security (Europe's opposition to GM crops is arrogant hypocrisy, Kenyan scientist warns).

Addressing the CropWorld Global conference in London, organised by UBM and supported by BCPC (the British Crop Production Council), M'mboyi called on development bodies within Europe to help African farmers make full use of GM crops to boost yields. This will be vital to help feed a world population which is expected to reach seven billion this month. And, as will be emphasised by Professor Sir John Beddington CMG FRS, Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government, in his closing address at the conference, the challenge will be to provide 40 per cent more food in 20 years time for this growing population.

Aid money lost

Meanwhile the recent lead letter in The Times (How to avoid the corrupt use of overseas aid), highlights the report of the Public Accounts Committee, that millions of pounds of aid money are lost to fraud and corruption. The letter suggested a return to the system used by the Overseas Development Agency (ODA). The ODA (a predecessor of DFID) gave aid in the form of projects, rather than a cheque to the recipient country government which can be misappropriated.

This reinforces a proposal made by BCPC’s Chairman, Dr Colin Ruscoe, last August (Foreign aid could fund UK-based research into GM crops that can grow in drought-ridden Africa) to help reduce the impact of cuts in Government spending on agricultural research. This is to divert some of our growing overseas aid payments into UK-based research on crops resistant to drought, heat, pests and diseases. This would ensure that the aid money was not misused, but would provide sustainable solutions for famine-prone parts of the world.

The rest of the EU continues to stall on GM technology, and BCPC suggests that the UK should exploit this competitive advantage “Originally, the UK led the way in GM research ­– particularly in agricultural biotechnology – and it still has important centres of excellence in crop genetics, at the John Innes Centre, NIAB, Rothamsted Research and Newcastle University. ·So, whilst the rest of the EU remains paralysed, we should support research into stress-tolerant crops – using GM and other plant breeding technologies,” says Dr Ruscoe. ·“Such traits are already being evaluated in the field in the USA, and with sufficient funding, and the formation of public-private partnerships, new varieties could be developed by UK institutes and become available to growers in Africa, where they are most needed”.