Washington, 22 Jun 2004
By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Correspondent
The presidents of four West African countries have voiced support for agricultural biotechnology and for science in general, saying science-based technologies can help end famine on their continent, says Pamela Bridgewater, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
In a June 21 interview the first day of an agricultural science and technology ministerial conference in Burkina Faso, Bridgewater said that the presidents of Mali, Niger, Ghana and Burkina Faso underlined to U.S. officials the importance they attach to the conference and to its focus on food security, water resource management and the uses of biotechnology to improve the overall health and well-being of their populations.
Burkina Faso is co-hosting the June 21-23 meeting with the U.S. departments of Agriculture (USDA) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The conference drew more than 200 participants -- primarily government officials and agricultural researchers -- from Africa, North America and Europe.
The four West African leaders believe biotechnology has the potential to increase agricultural production and improve the environment, thus improving the standard of living in their countries, Bridgewater said.
At the same time, the leaders indicated that they and their citizens want to learn more about biosecurity in order to feel confident about the safety of genetically improved crops, she said.
The presidents realize that agriculture -- the largest part of Africa's economy -- is essential to economic and human development throughout the continent, Bridgewater said.
Developing human resources is also linked to strengthening national security, Bridgewater added. Children who have no hope of a stable economic future could be more vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist and criminal groups, she said.
Discussing the role of women in development, Bridgewater said, "I have spent a lot of time in villages in Africa and have seen women eke the land for income for their families' survival." Biotechnology is one of the tools that can help them increase production and their household incomes while requiring less labor, she said.
Bridgewater said conference participants hope the meeting will launch a series of follow-up events to share information about new agricultural technologies.
"We have a real opportunity now to educate more people about the real nature of biotech crops and seeds," she said.