Friday, 10 October 2008

How biotechnology is being kept out of Africa

In Starved for Science, Paarlsberg's prose is as hard-hitting as the title suggests. His argument is essentially this: science can save Africa's smallholder farmers, so chemical fertilisers and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be welcomed with open arms, and the necessary research funding provided without delay.

It is no surprise that chemical fertiliser tops Paarlberg's shopping list for Africa's poor farmers. But there is no mention of how to cope with skyrocketing prices - driven by global oil price surges - which threaten to lock farmers into a system of fertiliser-dependency at a time when it is fast becoming unaffordable.
Paarlberg makes constant reference to the much-famed Green Revolution in Asia as a showpiece for the power of science in agricultural reform. But again, critics will claim that it is not an easily-replicable model and may be unsustainable in the longer term. In Africa itself, Bt cotton has been one of the most widely-documented GMO catastrophes on record. Surely it is no wonder governments are sceptical.

Starved for Science adds to the growing body of work on the biotechnology debate, summarising clearly and fervently the arguments in favour of a more "scientific" approach.
Robert Paarlberg is the Betty F. Johnson Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College

Published by Harvard University Press. Foreword by Norman Borlaug and Jimmy Carter.