The former chief scientist Sir David King is at it again. Tonight he will be making a speech that blames Europe’s ban on GM foods for Africa’s hunger:
“The problem is that the western world’s move toward organic farming – a lifestyle choice for a community with surplus food – and against agricultural technology in general and GM in particular, has been adopted across the whole of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, with devastating consequences.”
Far be it from me to argue with a former Chief Scientist, but two things spring to mind immediately:
- According to DEFRA’s statistics for this year, just 3.9% of UK agricultural land is given over to organic farming. In the US it accounts for 2.8% of all food grown. Has the Western world moved towards organic farming? Barely. “Organic products account for little more than 1% of overall food and drink sales,” according to Mintel.
- To say that organic farming has been ‘adopted’ across Africa is to suggest that it used to farm organically, and now it doesn’t. Africa has always farmed organically, and it has done so because farmers can’t afford to do otherwise. To say they’re copying the West is patronising nonsense. Sure, some farmers are growing organic produce for the UK market, but since this is exported anyway, the issue of hunger is irrelevant.
I’m not anti-technology, or necessarily anti-GM. I’m for simpler solutions, for learning to walk before you you run. Before we start introducing GM to Africa we can teach irrigation methods, introduce better seeds, share knowledge about crop rotation and nitrogen fixing plants. We can help farmers buy cheap fertilizer. We can encourage poor countries to balance crops for export with greater self-sufficiency, so that hungry populations are not at the mercy of globalized commodity prices. And we can stop the devastating subsidies that make farming in Africa, organic or not, economically unviable. Once we’ve done those things, let’s by all means introduce GM technology into African farming. Until then, please Mr King, let’s try and keep some perspective.