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Hans Herren responds to the Washington Post

To the editor of the Washington Post:

In your article Tanzania becomes a battleground in fight over genetically modified crops (October 7th 2013) alternative solutions presented by Africans were blatantly missing in a discussion of the yet to be proven potential benefits of GMOs for African smallholders.

With 27 years experience in Africa as Director General of ICIPE and Director of the Plant Health Division at IITA , I can attest that local R&D has developed and disseminated successful sustainable technologies that have not only increased the yields by 200 to 300 percent (dwarfing the expected 25 percent) - as proven in the case of maize using the Push-Pull, or SRI for rice technologies in Eastern Africa, or permanently controlled pest such as the cassava mealybug with natural methods across the continent - but also continuously adapted them to new local challenges, including climate change. Public agricultural research continues to be stifled by low funding. This is especially dramatic in Tanzania, where funding is so low that there is little hope of any impact on rural development and poverty reduction (ASTI IFPRI Report 2012). Given that "80 percent of the people live by subsistence agriculture", this assessment is damning. Combined with the proven high cost-benefit ratios of public agricultural investments, effective solutions need to build upon and strengthen farmers' local knowledge and capabilities. GM crops fail to do that: a common fallacy when drawing from the apparent success in the US to African smallholders. It is in this context that combining indigenous seeds - or even including currently field-tested non-GM varieties from CIMMYT (http://dtma.cimmyt.org/) - with increased diversification, organic manure and sustainable crop management represent proven knowledge- and labor-intensive strategies that can reach the poorest of farmers with lasting social, environmnetal and economic benefits. Attempting to move above the fray of the US and EU battles and polemics, we would be well advised to strengthen support for African solutions, and respect their sovereignty in decision-making.

Hans R. Herren
Right Livelihood Award Laureate 2013, World Food Prize Laureate 1995
President of Biovision Foundation and the Millennium Institute

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