Fur flies at GMO round table

Biotechnology may hold the key to sustainable crop production in the face of global warming, Prof Melané Vivier from the University of Stellenbosch’s Institute of Wine Biotechnology told delegates at a recent Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) round table in Cape Town.
Issue date : 18 July 2008

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Biotechnology may hold the key to sustainable crop production in the face of global warming, Prof Melané Vivier from the University of Stellenbosch’s Institute of Wine Biotechnology told delegates at a recent Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) round table in Cape Town. She said GMO research leads to a fundamentally better understanding of crops and could also hold solutions for more environmentally friendly production methods. Dr Viresh Ramburan, also from the Institute of Wine Biotechnology, agreed.

“For South Africa to remain competitive we need to keep up with the latest technology, even if we don’t have commercial applications now.” He added that internationally there are different views on GMO’s, ranging from the more permissive US’s view, “not bad until proven so”, to the conservative EU approach that argues all GMO’s are inherently risky. He ascribed the EU’s stance to consumer perceptions that are not always based on scientific fact.

But Leslie Liddell, the director of Biowatch, said her organisation would like to see broader public participation based on published results. She criticised the highly technical language used in published articles, stating that the general public don’t understand them and so are unable to form opinions on the situation.

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Liddell said Biowatch is not against biotechnology in general, only against GMOs used in agriculture as little independent research has been done on the effects agricultural have on humans, animals and the environment. She added that food production is increasingly controlled by multinational companies, as seed saving is not possible with crops. Chantal Arendse of the biosafety directorate at the of Agriculture told delegates that the department must evaluate and regulate the industry to best serve the interests of the environment, animals and human health.

 “There was an increase of 12% in the volume of crops planted worldwide last year, indicating the technology is here to stay,” said Arendse. A ccording to her, a total of 1,8 million hectares of maize, cotton and soya were planted in SA last year. To manage the issue, SA signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2003, and relies on the Genetically Modified Organisms Act 23 of 2006. The issue surrounding labelling resides with the Department of Health, told delegates. of Health was invited, but didn’t attend the meeting. – Wouter Kriel

G8 called on to suspend biofuel production

The International anti-poverty organisation ActionAid has launched an anti-biofuel campaign with its report titled: Cereal Offenders: how the G8 has contributed to the global food crisis and what they can do to stop it. he report details how and why hunger is rising dramatically and calls for the G8 to take urgent action to stop the global food crisis escalating out of control.

 “The amount of corn used in biofuel to fill one SUV with ethanol is enough to feed a person for a year,” said Ilana Solomon, the report’s author and ActionAid’s Food Rights Policy associate.“ The G8 must take urgent action to stop biofuel production and use food to feed people, not cars. “Biofuels have been blamed for as much as 30% of the recent increase in food prices, forcing up to 30 million people into chronic hunger and making 260 million more food-insecure.”

ActionAid is calling on leaders to support a five-year moratorium on biofuel expansion, to prevent farmland being converted for biofuel production and to end subsidies and targets aimed at increasing the use of ethanol and biodiesel in the US and EU. They also demand that the scale up alternative renewable energy sources instead of subsidising biofuel. report criticised the G8’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reported that the emissions are playing havoc with agriculture in developing countries. “In some African countries, yield from rain-fed agriculture is likely to drop by 50% by 2020 due to climate change,” said Anne Jellema, ActionAid’s international director of policy. “G8 nations are the world’s dirtiest emitters. They must clean up their act.” – Staff reporter

A computer campaign of farming skills

The agribusiness Syngenta has partnered with the Department of Science and Technology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to help the farming community bridge the digital technology gap in areas of training and support. The agricultural leg of the general Digital Doorway initiative was launched in June in the Alrapark community in Nigel, Gauteng. It will provide access to computer facilities and encourage self-learning, computer literacy and information navigation in children and adults.

As part of the initiative, farmers will host the Digital Doorway facilities on their farms in buildings of at least 9m2. “It’s best situated close to community dwellings or farm schools where children and adults can access relevant information as determined by the CSIR on agriculture or for school projects,” said human resources manager Kate Tucker.

“It will train local communities in best agriculture practice, and develop relationships between subsistence or small, disadvantaged farmers and larger commercial producers.” ntonie Delport, managing director of Syngenta SA, said, “With this partnership we strive to open the digital doorway and make everybody a part of the exciting journey of making and especially the agriculture sector, a leader in knowledge technology and sustainable food production in Africa. – David Steynberg Farmers or companies interested in getting involved or sponsoring a facility should contact Kate Tucker on (011) 541 4060.

Senwes expands its BEE base

Treacle Private Equity’s purchase of a further 5,8% of issued shares confirms the company’s trust in the future of agriculture in SA and in in particular, said Steven Alberts, Senwes director of finance. Treacle now owns 17,1% of shares. The deal follows the acquisition of 27,1% shares in Senwes by Treacle and Royal Bafokeng Holdings in 2006.

“The shares were purchased for cash, one of the few such transactions as far as BEE in business is concerned,” said “The recent deal with Treacle was also concluded on a cash basis. “The deal is a further step in positioning Senwes as a leading and top-performing company in the sector. This acquisition makes Senwes Limited one of the most empowered agricultural companies with shareholders holding 34,7% of the issued shares.

Treacle partner Jacob Mashike said Senwes had made great strides in implementing a strategy of maximising value for all the shareholders. “This acquisition shows our confidence in the company,” he confirmed. S enwes is also making substantial progress in other areas of the scorecard in terms of AgriBEE. Alberts said that being BEE-compliant makes good business sense. “is fully committed to over and above its shareholder base,” added Alberts.

 “We are developing our future customer base by actively supporting and facilitating the successful settlement of emerging farmers. “has launched various projects in partnership with Royal Bafokeng Holdings in the North West province, and is also facilitating a number of projects near the Vaalharts and Vereeniging districts.” – Annelie Coleman

Kiwi government also shuns its farmers

New Zealand’s economy lives or dies on the success of its rural industry, yet it’s seeing its farmers flee the country for friendlier shores as environmentalists, egged on by the city-centric Labour government, chase farming investment out of the country. Federated Farmers’ chairperson Charlie Pedersen said New Zealand is losing intellectual and financial capital because of land regulations and anti-farmer campaigns. He told the group’s annual conference that the “smart money” is moving to South America, North Australia and even Africa because of draconian measures introduced by the Resource Management Act (RMA), which regulates environmental standards for land, air and water use.

“Food producers are on the brink of feeling unloved and unwanted in this country,” said Pedersen. “The cruelty of the RMA will soon convince many farmers that the future of their food production businesses is not in New Zealand.” Pedersen cited the case of Lake Taupo dairy farmers Robbie and Mary Dymock, whose North Island property value is estimated to have dropped from NZ$3,5 million (R20,4 million) to 1,2 million (R7,03 million) because of the arbitrary regulations. e said the RMA allows the confiscation of private property without compensation. Early drafts included compensation, but the was passed without a compensatory clause because it was not envisaged it would be implemented so aggressively.

The has a requirement to take environmental, social and economic effects into account, but most councils choose to ignore the economic effects or use their own staff to undertake such work at a very low level. Pedersen said it’s wrong for consumers living in environmentally unsustainable cities to demand that only producers accept responsibility for the environmental effects of food production. “Folks in the city need us more than they know,” said Pedersen.

“Three times a day they sit down for a meal; every New Zealander should say ‘thank God for producers’.” Pedersen said people should also thank for exporters, “because without them this proud little nation would be the largest third-world country in the South Pacific and the standard of living would reflect that. “New Zealanders eat a hell of a lot of food. If they used the same set of values used for driving they would be cutting back on food to save the planet, even perhaps encouraging ‘foodless’ days for the really righteous environmentalists.

 But no, they eat too much, exercise too little and abuse and blame the producer. No wonder we feel under siege.” Pedersen suggested a better approach would be a “green tax” on all food at retail level with the proceeds put aside to help producers buy carbon credits and compensate for property loss under the act. – Alan Harman