Saturday, November 9, 2013

International: Food Security. Africa: Monopolizing Maize

Africa: Monopolizing Maize
AfricaFocus Bulletin
November 9, 2013 (131109)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Editor's Note
According to a new report from the African Centre for Biosafety, in
South Africa, "Monsanto's Bt maize, MON810, has failed hopelessly
in South Africa as a result of massive insect resistance, after
only 15 years of its introduction into commercial agriculture." Yet
the same variety is being promoted in other African countries by
projects supported by Monsanto. And South Africa's supply of maize,
a staple food, is dominated by a few large companies and consists
almost entirely of GM crop varieties.
For a version of this Bulletin in html format, more suitable for
printing, go to,
and click on "format for print or mobile."
While scientific and public opinion world-wide is fiercely divided
about the safety of genetically-modified crops, South Africa, like
the United States, is a country where the dominance of large-scale
commercial agriculture linked to global seed supply companies has
meant an open door for this controversial technology. Even if one
refrains from judgment on the safety for consumers of the
technology, the threat from the oligopoly of large corporate
interests to control of smallholder farmers' control of their seeds
is undeniable.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release and excerpts
from a new report from the African Centre for Biosafety, one of the
leading civil society research and advocacy organizations on this
issue. The new threat, they stress, is that the South African model
and the sway of South African and global agribusiness will be
further extended in the rest of the continent, including through
the dominance of corporate interests and thinking in philanthropic
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on food and agriculture issues,
See, in particular, "Underdeveloping African Agriculture"
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
GM Maize Cartels Gorge Profits on SA's Poor, Eye African Markets
05 November 2013
African Centre for Biosafey
Contact: Gareth Jones 081 493 4323;
Mariam Mayet 083 269 4309
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released its new
research report titled 'GM Maize: Lessons For Africa-Cartels,
Collusion And Control Of South Africa's Staple Food' showing how a
select group of companies, including Tiger Brands, Pioneer and
Premier Foods who have previously fixed the price of bread and
maize meal, commandeer the entire maize value chain and continue to
squeeze the poorest South Africans. The ACB has recently shown that
the entire maize meal market is saturated with GM maize. [ACB
(2013), "Food Fascism in South Africa: Tiger Brands, Pioneer and
Premier Force Feeding the Nation Risky GM Maize."]
The report shows that the South African government, through the
Public Investment Corporation (PIC) is the largest investor in
Tiger Brands, and that over 50% of the company's shares are held
outside South Africa. Pioneer Foods' largest shareholder is Zeder,
the agribusiness investment arm of PSG Konsult Group, a private
financial services company. Premier Foods is 80% owned by private
equity firm Braite, listed on the Euro MTF market in Luxemburg but
domiciled in Malta, both jurisdictions being notorious tax havens.
'These ownership patterns have increased the distance between food
producers and consumers, and are lucrative avenues for capital
accumulation by actors far removed from these firms' locales.' Said
Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.
According to Gareth Jones, researcher at the ACB, 'It appears as if
South Africa's major millers and retailers are making healthy
profits from our staple food and certainly not passing falling
maize prices onto consumers.' The report shows that from April 2007
to April 2013, the average cost of a 5 kg bag of maize meal
increased by 43.7% in rural areas, and 51.8% in urban areas. 'These
sharp price increases aggravate the already appalling conditions
that millions of South Africans live under. This is particularly
significant for the poor, who spend 41% of their income on an
average "food basket" said Jones.
Further findings of the report include:
* Two companies Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred control the maize seed
* Maize handling and storage is dominated by three companies
Senwes, NWK and Afgri, all former co-ops;
* Louis Dreyfus and Cargill, international grain traders, dominate
the maize trade on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange;
* A highly concentrated value chain feeds into an equally
concentrated food retail sector, with four major retailers:
Shoprite/Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths dominating the
Rest of Continent at risk
According to the report, Premier and Pioneer have all expanded
their operations on the continent. Tiger Brands already operates in
22 countries on the continent and is a key player in establishing
maize value chains in Southern Africa. 'Having already gorged their
profit margins on the poorest of the poor in South Africa, these
corporate giants are now glancing covetously to the vast African
market north of the Limpopo. Experiences from South Africa should
serve as stark warnings' said Mayet.
Urgent Change Needed
The ACB report calls for an urgent reversal of this economic
concentration and for mechanisms to be put in place to develop
small players throughout the maize value chain, from farmers to
millers and retailers. This should include the promotion of agro-
ecological production methods, decentralised value chains and
public maize breeding programmes that provide access to seed that
can be freely shared and exchanged.
Africa bullied to grow defective Bt Maize: The failure of
Monsanto's MON810 maize in South Africa
[The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is a non-profit
organisation, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was
established to protect Africa's biodiversity, traditional
knowledge, food production systems, culture and diversity, from the
threats posed by genetic engineering in food and agriculture. It
has in addition to its work in the field of genetic engineering,
also opposed biopiracy, agrofuels and the Green Revolution push in
Africa, as it strongly supports social justice, equity and
ecological sustainability.]
Key Findings
1. Monsanto's Bt maize, MON810, has failed hopelessly in South
Africa as a result of massive insect resistance, after only 15
years of its introduction into commercial agriculture. In an effort
to deal with the pest infestation, Monsanto has compensated South
African farmers who experienced more than 10% damage on their
genetically modified (GM) insect resistant crops – some farmers
experienced as high as 50% insect infestation. MON810 is now
obsolete in SA and has been replaced with Monsanto's GM stacked
variety, MON8903, which expresses two different cry proteins,
Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab.
2. Bt technology was approved in SA before regulatory authorities
were capacitated to regulate it properly. MON810 was not fit for
commercial release and should never have been granted commercial
approval. The necessary monitoring of insect resistance was not
carried out and regulators did not ensure that farmers were
carrying out the required insect resistance management(IRM)
strategies, i.e. planting refuges.
3. In any event, IRM strategies were based on the false assumption
that the inheritance of resistance to MON810 was a recessive, not
dominant trait. In terms of this false assumption, current IRM
strategies require farmers to plant a 5% non-Bt maize 'refuge'
which may not be sprayed, or a 20% refuge which may be sprayed.
However, recent research has shown that the inheritance of
resistance is a dominant trait and that in order to stem rapid and
large-scale resistance, farmers will need to plant more than 50%
non-Bt maize as a refuge where non-resistant individuals can breed.
This requirement is not viable for farmers, highlighting the
unsustainability of the technology.
4. In Kenya, an attempt to commercialise publically developed Bt
technology in open-pollinated seed (which can produce a viable crop
year after year) by a charitable project called Insect Resistant
Maize for Africa (IRMA), funded by the Syngenta Foundation, failed
after 10 years of work. IRMA was unable to find Bt genes in the
public domain that were effective against the African stem borer.
It also came to realise that Bt technology cannot be used in open-
pollinated varieties because reusing seed that has been engineered
with Bt genes would expedite the development of insect resistance,
rendering the technology useless within a couple of seasons. The
IRMA project also found the cost of biotech seeds prohibitive for
typical African farmers. Hence IRMA abandoned their attempt to
bring Bt technology to resource poor farmers.
5. Another charitable project, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa
(WEMA) project which for the best part of five years only focused
on drought tolerant maize varieties in South Africa, Tanzania,
Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda is now incorporating MON810 into their
drought tolerant varieties. Monsanto has donated MON810 to the
project, royalty free. Unlike IRMA, WEMA's values are not
underpinned by a desire to bring GM crops that are appropriate for
African farmers onto the market. Although WEMA's products are said
to be 'royalty free'to small-holder farmers, the seed will be sold
to seed companies under strict licensing conditions. Under the
auspices of the WEMA project, trials of MON810 are already taking
place in Kenya and Uganda. WEMA is thus a convenient vehicle for
Monsanto to gain regulatory approval in Africa for the commercial
cultivation of MON810.
6. In Egypt, MON810 has been genetically engineered into a local
Egyptian maize variety called Ajeeb. This Egyptian variety has now
been patented by Monsanto. The introduction of GM technology on a
large scale in Egypt has largely failed to date, due to corruption
and difficulties in passing its Biosafety law. ...
Genetic engineering (GE) is undoubtedly one of the most
controversial technologies to emerge in the 20th century; the
advent of modern biotechnology has 'triggered major scientific,
social and political controversies' since its introduction in the
1970's. The story of one of the first genetically modified (GM)
products to come onto the market, Monsanto's MON810 maize, which
contains Monsanto's patented Bt gene Cry1Ab, embodies much of the
controversy about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Bt trait, which is toxic to certain agricultural pests, is
derived from a soil microorganism called Bacillus thuringienis
(Bt). MON810 is the 'event' name for the Bt maize variety owned by
Monsanto which expresses the Cry1ab Bt toxin, sold commercially in
South Africa as 'Yieldgard' maize. The Bt toxin expressed in the
crop is meant to render the use of pesticides to control insect
pests unnecessary. MON 810 is one of the oldest GM events on the
market and is approved for human consumption in more than a dozen
countries worldwide, including South Africa. It is also the only GM
variety cultivated in some parts of the European Union, mostly in
Spain. It is, however, banned in eight European countries on
environmental grounds. According to the United States, these bans
are not about safety concerns, but rather political in nature and
constitute unfair 'trade barriers' to American produce.
Unfortunately, Africa has become one of the battle grounds of the
GMO trade war between the US and Europe, and the adoption or
rejection of GMOs in Africa will mean a victory for one side or the
other. The story of MON810 in Egypt is a rich illustration of
Africa's awkward position in this trade war.
South Africa was an extremely early adopter of GM technology, not
just in Africa, which is yet to commercialise GM food crops on a
large scale, but even globally. The South African government issued
a permit for the commercial release of MON810 in 1997 – even before
GMO legislation was in place. This decision opened the door for
Monsanto to colonise the production of our staple food through
aggressive acquisitions in the South African seed industry and
patent laws protecting Monsanto's GM technology. The majority of
maize production in South Africa is carried out by large-scale
commercial farmers, who eagerly adopted the technology for ease of
pest management, savings on pesticides and reduced loss of yield
through pest damage.
However, South Africa is the first place in the world where insect
pest resistance has developed on a large scale. It is now
recognised by the scientific community and South African regulators
that this resistance cannot be managed or remediated; MON810 has
decisively failed. The product has been withdrawn in South Africa
from the 2013 planting season and has been replaced by Monsanto's
MON89034 in an attempt to deal with the insect resistance
problem10. A recent peer-reviewed study has revealed that the
African maize stem borer (Busseola Fusca) hasan inherently low
susceptibility to Bt toxin. Long held assumptions that the
inheritance of resistance to Bt is recessive have been shattered.
Although MON810 will no longer be cultivated in South Africa, the
Department of Agriculture's GM permit lists indicate that Monsanto
is exporting MON810 seeds to Kenya and Uganda for field trials.
This, despite the fact that the most damaging pest that needs to be
controlled in sub-Saharan Africa is the very Busseola Fusca that
has proven to be impervious to MON810 in South Africa. One of the
major vehicles pushing MON810 onto African countries is the
public/private partnership (PPP) spearheaded by the Gates
Foundation and Monsanto, called Water Efficient Maize for Africa
(WEMA). The aim of WEMA is to develop drought resistant crops,
through both conventional breeding and genetic engineering.
However, since 2011, with little fanfare, it has become evident
that MON810 will also be engineered into these new drought tolerant
GM varieties. The veneer of the 'charitable' orientation of the
project provides an excellent opportunity for Monsanto to gain
regulatory approval for a stacked GM event that is said to be both
drought tolerant and resistant to stem borers.
Another PPP, funded by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable
Agriculture (SFSA) project, called Insect Resistant Maize for
Africa (IRMA), spent many years attempting to develop Bt maize
varieties appropriate for African conditions. While the
projectsucceeded in developing scientific capacity in GM
technology, it ultimately failed to find an effective gene to
control the African maize stem borer. This, along with massive
obstacles created by intellectual property rights on the
technology, led the IRMA project to abandon the GM side of its
project in 2006. IRMA will now share its wealth of technical know-
how with the WEMA project, as well as assisting with implementation
of biosafety legislation and procedures (such as risk assessment
and experimental protocols) in Kenya, to pave the way for the
introduction of the very technology that has failed in South Africa
– MON810. It is anticipated that the first GM drought resistant and
insect resistant varieties will be released in Uganda and Kenya in
GM Maize – hi-tech, high cost crop
The biotech industry aggressively sells their product on the basis
that it is a key contributor in the global fight against hunger.
However, there are only four GM crops available on the market
(soya, maize, cotton and canola) and these crops are not primarily
valued for their contribution to global food security. This
expensive technology is being deployed in lucrative commodity crops
for the sake of profit.
Maize is the world's tenth most valuable agricultural commodity,
and the second most profitable grain, after wheat. It is the most
important crop in the United States, valued at US$76.5 billion in
2011, representing over 53% of global maize exports. In 2012, 90%
of maize production in the United States was genetically modified
(GM). While many of us in South Africa know maize as a staple food
for many millions of Africans in several countries on the
continent, maize as a staple is not common outside of Africa,
except in Mexico and some parts of the Andean region.
Maize – South Africa's staple food compromised
South Africa has eagerly followed GM developments in the United
States, however, an important difference between South Africa and
the world's largest producer of maize, is that maize is the staple
food in South Africa. About 60% of South Africa's maize production
is white maize, used primarily for human consumption, and 40% is
yellow maize, used primarily for animal feed. Maize is eaten
several times daily in a relatively unprocessed form, for example,
milled and boiled into porridge. It is commonly used as a first
food for babies, to wean them off the breast. In 2000, the ultra-
poor spent over 50% of their income on food, of which up to 20% was
spent on maize meal alone. In general, the 'typical' maize meal
consumer refers to a low-income individual residing in an urban and
rural area.
South Africa is unique in the world in that it has allowed the
genetic modification of its staple food. As GM varieties now
comprise close to 90% of the country's maize production, and no
segregation of GM and non-GM exists, consumers have no access
whatsoever to non- GM maize. Recent tests carried out by the ACB on
a range of popular maize brands in South Africa revealed that the
country's staple food is completely saturated with GM content ...
Civil society has petitioned the South African parliament to
seriously look into the matter, claiming that this situation is a
contravention of human rights. Having no choice but to eat a highly
controversial staple food, which is severely restricted in many
countries around the world, has been labelled 'food fascism' by
local social movements. They have also called for a review of
government's risk assessment procedures, to include, amongst other
things, long-term safety studies on human health. Currently, South
African regulatory authorities rely solely on safety data generated
by the producers of GMOs and long-term feeding trials to determine
safety are not required. This safety data is neither peer-reviewed
nor available to the South African public in its entirety, being
protected under laws that allow for the exclusion of information
considered to be 'confidential business information' (cbi).
Corporate takeover of South Africa's maize
As noted earlier, in 1997 Monsanto's GM 'insect resistant' (IR)
maize variety MON810 was approved for environmental release,
meaning that GM maize could be grown on a commercial scale. The
first commercial plantings took place in 1998. During the 2004/05
cropping season, when the South African National Seed Organisation
(SANSOR) began publishing such information, GM maize seed accounted
for 20% of maize seed sales. By
The adoption rate of GM maize seed in the intervening period has
been astounding: in 2012, 86% of all maize grown in South Africa
was GM. Up until 2003, when Syngenta's Bt11 was commercially
released in South Africa, all Bt maize hybrids involved MON810. By
2008 three new GM maize events had been approved for cultivation in
South Africa, but MON810 remained the most popular event – over 80%
of all GM maize seed imported into South Africa that year was
As demonstrated above, the uptake of MON810 and subsequent GM
varieties in South Africa was extremely rapid, and Monsanto soon
dominated South Africa's maize seed market. In 1999 and 2000
Monsanto acquired two of South Africa's largest seed companies,
Sensako and Carnia, giving them a dominant share in the maize seed
market. By 2009, Monsanto controlled 50% of the maize seed market
The greatest beneficiary in the end is the developer or the owner
of the technology, like Monsanto, who has: captured charitable
projects as a way to introduce its product onto the market;
undermined good biosafety policy and gained access to public
germplasm and patented these. At the same time, classical breeding
programmes continue to develop new varieties that are performing
very well in African conditions, and this is done quicker, cheaper
and without the dangers of patents or the need for excessive
regulatory requirements.
It is now time for African governments to take cognisance of the
recommendations of many international reports that support
agroecological farming methods and distance themselves from
privately owned industrial agriculture. Agroecology is the key to
our future food security, social and environmental well-being.
Policies need to be shaped, not to hand over our food systems to
transnational agribusiness, but to support smallholder farmers
using the resources they have available to cultivate diverse food
systems for local consumption.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
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