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Expert Lashes Poor's New Enemy

The Herald Sun (Australia)
July 9, 2000

WESTERN anti-biotechnology activists represent a "new imperialism" that would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair, a leading authority on Third World agriculture said in Melbourne this week.

Professor Channapatna Prakash, director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Alabama, told guests at a lecture sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs that biotechnology was essential to solving problems of poor health, inadequate nutrition, food security and poverty in developing nations.

An adviser to the United Nations and the aid agency USAID, Prof. Prakash said anti-gene technology activists were trying to vilify the achievements of the Green Revolution in the 1970s and '80s.

"Before the Green Revolution, India grew only 10 million tonnes of wheat. This year it produced 80 million tonnes," he said.

"Food production increased from 50 to 205 million tonnes. Without the higher yields of Green Revolution crops, we would have needed four times more land to produce that much with traditional varieties -- where would we find that land, when just about every piece of usable land in India is already being farmed?"

Claims that farmers in developing nations did not want transgenic crops, and should shun the new agricultural revolution in favor of supposedly sustainable organic farming systems, were "absurd", he said.

Eighty per cent of farmers in India already practised organic farming, and the situation was similar in Bangladesh, Pakistan and poor African nations.

"The anti-GM activists claim that organic farming is sustainable, but the only thing it is sustaining in India and Africa is hunger, misery and poverty," he said. "They want to escape from their situation, and they know biotechnology can help them.

"Organic farming will only worsen their problems, so it's a dangerous message to send. They don't want authoritarian activists in wealthy industrialised nations preaching to them, they need technology and a modern knowledge base.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those who have embraced modern agriculture are more prosperous, healthier and not starving. It's the reason the Western world is self-sufficient in food production."

Prof. Prakash said it was hypocritical to keep Third World farmers in poverty with romantic notions about a form of agriculture that had been largely abandoned by the West.

"There is nothing more insulting than romanticising the poor," he said.

"What I see is extremist groups opposed to biotechnology, using arguments about food safety and environmental impact to frighten Western consumers and to deprive the Third World of new technology that it desperately needs.

"They have a broader agenda -- they want to control the production and distribution of food, on their terms. But I would rather see it done by multinational companies with enormous skills, resources and investment, which are all badly needed in the Third World."