Call for shake-up of aid to Africa

Clive Cookson | 09 Sep 2008
Financial Times
The only hope for alleviating Africa's "dire situation" of poverty and malnutrition is for aid agencies to forget about supporting traditional farming and make full use of "modern agricultural technology" including genetically modified crops, Sir David King, former government chief scientist, will say on Monday.

Sir David will use his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Liverpool to call for a radical overhaul of aid to Africa, particularly in the farm sector.

"The problem is that the western world's move toward organic farming - a lifestyle choice for a community with surplus food - and against agricultural technology in general and GM in particular, has been adopted across the whole of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, with devastating consequences," he will say.

At a press conference ahead of the speech, Sir David said the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development undervalued technology in its report released earlier this year. IAASTD was chaired by Robert Watson, chief scientist at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

"I hesitate to criticise Bob Watson," said Sir David, who left Whitehall at the beginning of the year and now runs Oxford University's new Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. "But a big part has been played in the impoverishment of Africa by the focus on techniques that pertain to the history of that continent."

Sir David, who grew up in South Africa, said the traditional markets of Africa looked colourful: "If you go, for example, to the market place in Livingstone, Zambia, you will see hundreds of people with little piles of their crops on sale." But they reflected a very inefficient way of growing food.

"Land use needs to be better regulated so that some areas can be heavily cultivated using modern technologies to provide the food we need now, and will need in the future, while other areas can be set aside to protect our biodiverse systems," he said. "In the attempt to continue with traditional farming practices in Africa, around 700,000 fatalities a year are attributed to malnutrition and unhygienic food and water."

Looking more generally at aid for Africa, Sir David said the continent needed to move from its current "aid dependency" to build up a more sustainable infrastructure. That meant simplifying the aid process, in which large numbers of agencies work with individual countries.

"For example half of the Tanzanian government's funds come from 130 aid agencies abroad," he said. "It paralyses the Tanzanian civil service to deal with so many external agencies."

The Department for International Development channels more than £1.2bn a year UK government aid to Africa. Sir David gave DfID credit for working with other agencies to build a basket of aid for each African country, with decisions made locally about how to spend it.

Meanwhile, development partners - developing and donor countries, emerging economies, UN and multilateral institutions, global funds and civil society organizations - met for 3 days in Accra, Ghana, at the 3rd High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to draft the Accra Agenda for Action available at,,menuPK:64861886~pagePK:4705384~piPK:4705403~theSitePK:4700791,00.html