Food shortages and higher prices are among the main issues
being discussed this week at a UN meeting in Nairobi. The Food and Agriculture
Organization is holding its 25th regional conference for Africa. UN
and African experts will address food security, improving agriculture and
better water management.
Among the groups watching developments this week
is the African Biodiversity Network. Gathuru Mburu is the general coordinator
for the group. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter
Joe De Capua about some of the main issues.
“I’m sure they are going to address a number of
things. And a lot of these are things that many of the African countries,
especially the leadership in Africa, may be wanting to embrace. And these
include the issues of agrofuels (biofuels), the issue of genetic engineering.
AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution) I know is going to come up very, very
strongly,” he says.
Mburu says expects those at the meeting to
promote chemical fertilizes and chemical sprays to boost agricultural
production. “It (AGRA) is actually formulated on the framework of the green
revolution of the 1970s that seemingly became very effective and successful in Asia,
but failed in Africa. However, the information that is streaming out of these
places, especially in Asia, indicates that even though there is a lot of food
produced, these are monocultures. They are produced with heavy chemical inputs.
This is actually having a ramification in the region because many people are
now going back looking for biodiversity that they have lost
Mburu says, however, it’s not the fertilizers
causing the limited number of crops. “The green revolution actually focused on
certain foods and especially the cereals, like rice. And we know that that
region has been producing a lot of rice. So, a lot of original biodiversity was
phased out. So these people do not have a variety of different food species
that they can utilize.”
He says the UN meeting should focus on local
knowledge and expertise to help ensure food security. “One thing that I would
actually tell these people is that for a long time we have allowed the
international experts to guide food production in the world. More so in Africa,
where we have allowed every other solution to our own local problems to come
from outside Africa. So, this time we would want to see this international
gathering empowering local communities so that they do their own production of
safe food using local biodiversity and local knowledge…. Our laws do not
actually provide an opportunity for indigenous knowledge to be harnessed for
local food production.”
Bio or agrofuel production has also been blamed
for higher food prices and shortages. Mburu says, “Everywhere in the world, we
are sort of trying to move toward the production of agrofuels. And we have
heard reports, in fact, some of them from the UN bodies, indicating that the
food production areas are shifting towards production of agrofuels. We must be
extremely careful the way we promote agrofuel production, especially in Africa.
Because if we stop producing food and embrace agrofuels, we are not going to
assist Africa. In fact, we are going to push Africa deeper in crisis.”
The recent FAO summit in Rome pledged $6.5
billion in emergency food relief for those in need.