by Brewster Kneen
Ram’s Horn #234: November-December 2005

I have long been somewhat puzzled by the very aggressive role played by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the promotion of biotechnology and genetically engineered crops around the world, particularly in Africa. The most obvious explanation: the US Government is simply exercising its neo-liberal function of promoting and financing corporate welfare. But this has never felt to me like an entirely adequate explanation.

Then, like a bolt of lightening, a thought struck me as I was reading an article by Philip Agee on “How United States Intervention Against Venezuela Works.” Agee is a former CIA operative who left the agency in 1967 after becoming disillusioned by the CIA’s role in Latin America.

In this article, Agee describes and documents how the US has carried out covert operations in various countries to try to keep them in line with US foreign policy and receptive to US business interests. He uses an analysis of US covert operations in Nicaragua as a template for his documented analysis of what the US has been and continues doing in Venezuela to bring down President Hugo Chavez.

What struck me was the thought that the aggressive US promotion of biotechnology worldwide, and particularly in Africa, might actually be a cover for even more evil intentions, namely, the nurturing of quasi-democratic governments in Africa that would not threaten the commercial and strategic interests of the US and its corporations. Perhaps Monsanto and Syngenta, along with USAID and ‘NGOs’ such as the Rockefeller/industry-funded ISAAA, are actually pursuing a more despicable agenda than simply the spread of biotech crops for control of the global food system and corporate profit.

All the biotech ‘research’ centres, educational programs, capacity building workshops etc. and all the contacts and networks established through these programs – with their salaries and gratuities (pay-offs) – may well be the vehicles of subversion to ensure that African governments are compliant with US government-corporate interests in mineral resources and OIL.

In How United States Intervention Against Venezuela Works, Philip Agee says this about the US actions in Venezuela:

“It is no secret that the government of the United States is carrying out a program of operations in favor of the Venezuelan political opposition to remove President Hugo Chavez Frias and the coalition of parties that supports him from power. The budget for this program, initiated by the administration of Bill Clinton and intensified under George W. Bush, has risen from some $2 million in 2001 to $9 million in 2005, and it disguises itself as activities to “promote democracy,” “resolve conflicts,” and “strengthen civic life.” It consists of providing money, training, counsel and direction to an extensive network of political parties, NGO’s, mass media, unions, and businessmen, all determined to end the bolivarian revolutionary process. . . The program of political intervention in Venezuela is one more of various in the world principally directed by the Department of State (DS), the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Na
tional Endowment for Democracy (NED) along with its four associated foundations. . .

“From the beginning of covert actions, the CIA was plagued by the perennial difficulty faced by their beneficiaries to justify or conceal the funds the Agency gave them. To resolve this problem in part, the CIA established relations with cooperating U.S. foundations through which it channelled funds to foreign recipients. It also created a network of its own foundations that sometimes were nothing more than paper entities managed by lawyers on contract with the Agency. . . These foundations supported political parties and other organizations abroad that shared their political persuasions. . . The NED and its associated foundations were conceived as a mechanism to channel funds toward political parties and other foreign civil society institutions that favoured US interests, above all the neo-liberal agenda of privatization, deregulation, control of unions, reduction of social services, elimination of tariffs, and free access to markets. The entire mechanism was, and is, nothin
g more than an instrument of US government foreign policy. . . . Since the adoption of Project Democracy in 1983, the US has attempted to establish and strengthen, in various countries around the world, pro-US ‘democracies’ controlled by elites who identify with the US political class and who can take advantage of the ‘bought democracy’ that the US seeks to impose. In this way the US aims to eliminate the danger that a truly democratic government of working people would represent to its interests.” – Znet, September 09, 2005

One could be forgiven for thinking that the network of agencies, departments, committees and projects put in place all over Africa for the promotion of genetically engineered crops and the deliberate creation of dependency through the dismemberment of local and traditional agriculture would be bad enough, without also providing the infrastructure open to utilization and manipulation by agents working not only to promote US corporate interests, but also US foreign policy objectives. Think of the biotech infrastructure financed by the US as a comprehensive network of ‘lite’ military establishments or foreign bases of operations. The number of names and acronyms to be found even in the brief items below is impressive – and so are the lies so easily told about the benefits of biotechnology!!

EXAMPLES: The following reports are verbatim, though severely edited for length.

“The USAID country mission through PBS is assisting Ghana to build that capacity for the safe handling of Genetically Modified Organisms and for export as necessary.” The group has a three-year lifespan to correspond with the project with funding of about $750,000 from USAID and includes USAID on its advisory board.

– Ghana News Agency 2/11/05

The Nigeria Agricultural Biotechnology Project (NABP) awareness workshop noted that research has proved that biotechnology can be used to improve the insect and pest resistance of our crops and livestock which will reduce cost of production and improve income of farmers. Workshop collaborators were the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture(IITA), the national Biotechnology Agency and the United States Agency for International Development ( USAID )

– Business Day, Nigeria, 6 /6/05

Ghana’s Programme for Bio-safety Systems (PBS) is a three-year USAID supported project as part of their collaborative agricultural biotechnology initiative. It is to empower partner countries for science-based bio-safety decision making while strengthening capacity to implement it through an innovative system. Bio-safety is also a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from modern bio-technology and its products. – Ghana News Agency, 29/6/05

A number of journalists from Anglophone West African countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, have had frank discussions with African scientists on biotechnology and related issues at a two-day workshop in Accra in June at the end of which they agreed that there is the urgent need for African scientists to employ biotechnology to help address food security and health matters on the continent. The workshop was organised by the Forum in Agricultural Research for Africa, FARA, with funding from USAID , to expose media persons to the reality of biotechnology in order to properly position them to engage in positive debates on the subject. – Accra Mail, Ghana, 22/6/05

NABP Director General Professor Omaliko said that NABP resulted from an agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the United States Agency for International Development ( USAID ) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). He said The project, which was launched with the sum $2.1 million has the purpose of laying the foundation for Nigeria to take advantage of biotechnology and its applications to improve agriculture. It will be implemented over a three-year period and will address the following specific mandates:
– To improved biotechnology capacity for Nigerian scientists and institutions;
– To enhanced public awareness on biotechnology and
– To support the implementation of biosafety policies.
The NABP is structured into advocacy, capacity building and research component for the purposes of implementation. . . NABDA is the Nigerian Government’s Institutional framework with a clear mandate to promote, coordinate and regulate biotechnology in the country. – This Day, Nigeria, 6/6/05

The United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced several initiatives that will be implemented in Africa to strengthen biotechnology research and development. Veneman said a US private and public sector team of cotton experts will travel to West Africa to look into the cotton industry. The team will recommend how best West African cotton industries can become more efficient and competitive. This will serve as a model for cooperation in other parts of Africa. A second activity will be a follow-up conference later this year in Mali to be hosted by West African countries that attended the Burkina Faso Ministerial. In addition, the US will help West Africa achieve its goal of creating a regional African Center of Excellence for Biotechnology. A variety of technical assistance, training, and cooperative research, exchange, and development programs will be provided to facilitate and accelerate the transfer and adaptation of biotechnology to the region. Gui
dance on establishing appropriate biotechnology standards and regulatory systems will be provided as well. – CropBiotech Update, 24/9/04

A US expert on biotechnology, Dr. Vernon Gracen from Cornell University, is visiting Tanzania to discuss with Tanzanian agriculture stakeholders the application of advances in biotechnology in the agricultural sector. According to a statement from the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the workshops will be a good opportunity for stakeholders and policy makers to share experiences on biotechnology, especially at this time when the government of Tanzania is debating on biotechnology policy and application of GMOs. US Embassy’s Spokesperson John Haynes, said the Embassy decided to invite Dr. Gracen to the country because biotechnology has great potential for protecting Tanzania against food scarcity, and increasing productivity by developing insect, drought, and virus resistant crops. Haynes noted that commercially available foods and crops using biotechnology have been subjected to more testing and regulation than any other agricultural products and have been found safe. Dr. Gracen
is also involved with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSPII) as an advisor on the development of product commercialization packages. – United States Department of State / U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, 1/4/05

Memo from an NGO observer at the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Ministerial Meeting, June 2005 to

. . . a disturbing trend is gathering pace across Africa. While policymakers rightly call for Biosafety laws to be put into place, this is more and more being seen as a preliminary to GM acceptance, rather than an actual means to regulate GM crops and prevent risks. Of course with many countries getting their Biosafety advice and funding from USAID , this is hardly surprising.

We also continue to see a blurring of the lines between “biotechnology” and “genetic engineering”. Promoters of GMOs can appear reasonable by talking about a variety of biotechnology techniques, and pointing out that genetic engineering is only one of those techniques – whilst really channelling the majority of their funding and effort towards GM. By referring to brewing of beers, bread and yogurt as biotechnology, they are able to claim that biotechnology has been around for hundreds of years and is nothing new. This, obviously, distracts from the fact that the moving of genes between species in a laboratory environment and patenting the crop, is a very new development that has barely been tested.

Biotechnology is also increasingly being seen as such an incredible technology with all the answers, that ECOWAS discussions have led to the recommendation that countries prioritize biotechnology research in their budgets. GM will therefore be getting the lion’s share of funding, at the expense of sustainable, ecological and socially responsible solutions. USAID must be happy.

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