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Market power

Public-private cooperation in the agricultural sector

by Lucien Silga

In brief

Genetically modified black-eyed peas will soon be cultivated in Burkina Faso.

Genetically modified black-eyed peas will soon be cultivated in Burkina Faso.

Many different actors are advocating for the dissemination of so-called improved seeds in Burkina Faso. They include the state, international donor agencies, research institutions, charitable foundations, seed companies and civil-society organisations. Together they wield an enormous amount of financial power.

In most cases, these actors are interconnected, and multinational seed corporations are driving many projects. There is a huge number of public-private partnerships in which private-sector companies cooperate with governments to advance their own economic interests.

One example is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). It presents itself as an African initiative, but it is primarily financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US development agency USAID. AGRA works closely with Grow Africa, a consortium of over 200 companies whose goal it is to increase private-sector investments in and profits from agriculture in Africa.

In this context, it is important to note that the seed industry has declared Burkina Faso a target country for the introduction of genetically modified varieties. Despite the spectacular flop of genetically modified cotton, which was supposed to be resistant to a particular kind of caterpillar, the government wants to bring genetically modified black-eyed peas to the market in the near future.

Furthermore, experiments are currently under way in Burkina Faso, relying on advanced methods of biotech­nology. Gene-drive technology, for example, can change the genetic make-up of entire populations of species. It is being used to make mosquitos sterile in order to reduce the mosquito population and thereby slow the spread of malaria. Civil-society organisations oppose this approach, pointing out that the experiments are being carried out without the prior consent of the local people and against national and international biosecurity agreements. (ls)

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