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West African Leaders Embrace U.S. Biotechnology

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, June 22, 2004 (ENS) - The United States is encouraged by the commitment of African leaders at an agriculture conference to regional cooperation on policy, reform, economic growth and increased investment in agriculture, says Dr. J.B. Penn, U.S. under secretary for agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services.

Penn spoke in Ouagadougou Monday at the opening session of the Ministerial Conference on Harnessing Science and Technology to Increase Agricultural Productivity in Africa: West African Perspectives. Penn led the U.S. delegation to the conference.

The first day of the three-day meeting focused on making the most of scarce water resources. Today, delegates will hear presentations on genetically modified crops. center

Woman with a load of produce pauses before the Ouagadougou Conference Center. (Photo courtesy USDA)
Penn said more research should be directed to African staple crops such as cassava, cowpeas, sweet potato, millet, sorghum and value-added foods.

He also said there are more products, including products derived from biotechnology, coming from research in the developed world for use by producers in the developing world.

Penn said the conference supports current U.S. initiatives in Africa to end hunger, build trade capacity and provide access to adequate supplies of clean water to poor people.

In a video message to the ministers, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman reminded them that efforts engaging them at this conference were begun last year in Sacramento, California, at the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology.

"At that historic conference," Veneman said, "we explored ways to use science and technology to boost agricultural productivity in an environmentally sustainable way to reduce global hunger and poverty."

“One of the most powerful presentations at the Sacramento Ministerial was made by Dr. Norman Borlaug, often called the Father of the Green Revolution," Veneman said. "He talked about how increased agricultural productivity supports economic development, income growth, and political stability, and how technology will make the difference between feeding growing populations, and continued hunger and poverty."

"He challenged African ministers directly," Veneman reminded them, "and his comments really hit home when he said: 'You missed the Green Revolution. You cannot afford to miss the gene revolution.'"

sorghum

The African staple grain sorghum in a Burkina Faso field (Photo by J. Van Acker courtesy FAO)
She announced that several African researchers, policymakers, and university faculty will be funded for study under the new Norman Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program. "They will work with U.S. universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, international research centers, and other U.S. government agencies, nonprofit institutions, and private companies," Veneman said.

Penn told delegates that eight African countries, including five from West Africa, were selected to be the first to submit proposals for supplemental aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

"Agriculture should be an important component in these proposals," Penn said.

"By cultivating and applying our knowledge and by working together, we believe that the power of technology can be harvested to unleash the productive and economic potential here in Africa," he said.

Unlike countries in Southern Africa that have rejected U.S. genetically modified food aid, the four West African presidents who spoke on opening day said they welcome more research into new agricultural technologies, including biotechnology.

Compaore

President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré (Photo courtesy UN)
President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré said he welcomed the parts of the conference that would focus on agricultural biotechnology. Compaoré said, "The third millennium will be the millennium of biotechnology."

Participants at the opening session heard from Amandou Toumani Touré, President of Mali; Mamadou Tandjá, President of Niger and chairman of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and John Kufuor, President of Ghana and chairman of the Economic Community of West African States.

More science should be directed to Africa's problems such as water resource management, soil degradation, deforestation and hunger in a population that is growing much faster than the continent's agricultural productivity, they said.

Officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation Monday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to share and disseminate agricultural technologies to improve African production systems, increase food security, reduce poverty, expand agricultural trade and commerce on a sustainable basis, and provide new opportunities for African farmers. The agreement is expected to involve a variety of USDA agencies as specific technological needs are identified.



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