African Agricultural Technology Foundation

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The Nairobi, Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) was formed in July 2002 under the direction of Eugene Terry, its Implementing Director. In April 2004 Mpoko Bokanga was appointed AATF's first Executive Director with Eugene Terry, who was previously an agricultural advisor with the World Bank in Washington DC, continuing as Implementing Director.

According to its website (in 2003), 'The AATF is a new and unique public-private partnership designed to remove many of the barriers that have prevented smallholder farmers in Africa from gaining access to existing agricultural technologies that could help relieve food insecurity and alleviate poverty.'

The rice industry website Oryza.com explained the purpose of AATF in straightforward terms, 'The goal of the AATF will be to work with governments, companies, non-governmental organizations, and research centers to negotiate the sales rights of genetically modified crops and bring new agricultural technologies to the African market.' And unlike AATF's website which only lists as donors USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development , Oryza.com also lists the following biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Agro Sciences and Syngenta.(Africa: Group to Promote GMO Sales, Oryza.com )

In some ways AATF appears to be modelled on the longer-standing International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which although originating in the US, has an office in Nairobi. Both ISAAA and AATF also have very similar backers and both work on GM 'technology transfer' to Africa, but AATF has been given a more African facade. Its website states, 'The AATF will be based in Africa and will be led, managed and directed by Africans.'

AATF's board is chaired by Jennifer Thomson, a scientist and fervent GM supporter who came to prominence as part of South Africa's regulatory body SAGENE, originally established under South Africa's apartheid regime. Interestingly, Thompson is also on the board of ISAAA as well as the biotech-industry backed South African lobby group AfricaBio.

The selection of a permanent Board of Directors for AATF was made with the assistance of its Design Advisory Committee (DAC) which was created to play 'a critical advisory role, guiding the formation of AATF' and to provide 'guidance on key operational issues'. This included 'guidance on the business plan, selection of board members, selection of the African headquarters, and the development of criteria for the selection of pilot projects.' The Committee included the former Monsanto-trained scientist and lobbyist Florence Wambugu, who then headed ISAAA's AfriCenter, as well as a number of biotech industry employees, including Monsanto's Gerard Barry. Barry is quoted as saying that getting involved with AATF 'has been fantastic for us [ie Monsanto].'

In June 2004 Mpoko Bokanga of AATF and J.B. Penn, U.S. under secretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services, signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of the U.S. and AATF in which they agreed to work together to 'share and disseminate agricultural technologies that can help improve food production, increase food security, reduce poverty and expand agricultural trade', according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The signing took place at an ceremony in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on the first day of a three-day ministerial conference on agricultural biotechnology sponsored by the USDA, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (US Department of State PRESS RELEASE, June 21, 2004)

AATF's Executive Director Mpoko Bokanga told the launch audience that the organisation is working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Syngenta Foundation to introduce a variety of GM maize resistant to the stem borer. According to a report by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, the Syngenta Foundation's activities, such as the GM maize project being trialled by KARI, have more to do with PR than with delivering real benefits to poor farmers.

Other AATF projects are said to include a vitamin A maize and an initiative to increase cowpea productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. Aaron deGrassi's overall conclusion on GM projects is that 'while genetic modification may constitute a novel tool, in Africa it is a relatively ineffective and expensive one. Cash-strapped scientists working with poor farmers in Africa might well regard genetic modification as a waste of time and money.'

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