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DFID’s Agricultural Research Strategy Heading Down a Blind Alley A three point policy turn is needed urgently, says new report

Immediate release (20 Jul 2009)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065 or 0845 217 8992

A new report from GM Freeze [1] published today says that DFID’s agriculture research strategy is heading down a blind alley. GM Freeze say DFID is “obsessed with GM crops” as a technical fix to hunger and challenge ministers to adopt policies to build a strong research capability in agroecological farming in the UK [2].

This month’s DFID White Paper [3] specifically mentioned projects involving GM technology as “best bets” (for drought tolerance and vitamin enhancement) and pledges £140 million in support.

The report, Blind Alley, analyses how DFID has allocated agricultural research and development funding since 2000.

It finds a lack of transparency in how research institutions in receipt of UK grants spend the money. Many institutions, which are part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) [4], are given core funding to spend as they wish, without the need to account for how it is spent or to demonstrate tangible results from the research which improve the lives of poor farmers.

The CGIAR network of research institutes [4] has benefited hugely from DFID funding since 2000. Many of its members are actively engaged in GM research. Earlier this year, Hilary Benn told a Select Committee that £11.3m were allocated to GM crop-related research in the UK by the BBSRC[5].

The new report also points to DFID’s failure to make any changes to their agricultural R&D programs in response to the key findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) published in 2008 [6]. This week’s DFID White Paper fails to mention the report. The IAASTD report recommended that agroecological research should get greater priority, in particular to deal with the impacts of climate change and to enhance the production of food, fuel and fibre while still providing ecosystems services (eg, clean water) and protecting natural resources and biodiversity.

DFID’s failure could contribute to further food insecurity and land degradation, instead of enabling real and sustainable solutions.

The GM Freeze report goes on to look at two projects in particular which seek to increase the intensity of farming in Africa using fossil-fuels based fertilizers and pesticides and hybrid/GM seeds [7]. Both projects involve partnerships with biotech and agro-chemical corporations, including Monsanto and Bayer. The impacts of intensive farming on Africa’s fragile environment and public health have not been adequately assessed by DFID, says the report. It also points out that the rising costs of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and other farm inputs make them unaffordable for many small farmers.

Commenting on their findings Pete Riley, Campaign Director of GM Freeze, said:

Finding out how taxpayer’s money is being spent on agricultural research for the Global South is not easy. However, there is a clear direction in DFID’s policy that leads to the same large scale, intensive commercial production models that have so damaged the environment and biodiversity in the North.

What is more, DFID is funding public private partnerships involving the likes of Monsanto and Bayer. Ministers have become obsessed with GM crops as a major part of the solution to hunger based on the thinnest of possible evidence.

Imposing an intensive farming model on Africa including GM would be a disaster. Intensive farming has massive environmental and human costs. Agroecological approaches using local resources and knowledge of male and female farmers is the way forward.

So far, DFID ministers have barely acknowledged the existence for the International Assessment’s (IAASTD) findings, let alone starting to implement them. Agroecological solutions are working in small scale projects around the world, and DFID needs to do a three point policy turn and support such workable and affordable solutions with funding for more research and farmer training and participation.

Hannah Erlichman, Food Justice International Programmes Officer of War on Want [7] commented:

War on Want is concerned at any suggestion that genetically modified organisms hold the key to development or food security. We have first-hand evidence from our partners in the South of the damaging effects of genetically modified crops on farming communities. War on Want urges DFID to support research and development that is led by farmers in the South and promotes sustainable food production.

Petra Kjell Environment Policy and Advocacy Officer for the development group Progressio [8] commented:

Blind Alley shows how DFID’s funding priorities on agricultural research are increasingly moving towards intensive farming and biotechnology. This goes against the grain of both the UK backed IAASTD’s recommendations of more locally grounded and sustainable agroecological approaches, as well as evidence from Progressio’s partners in the Global South. It is time for DFID to review its spending priorities towards a more pro-poor focus, recognising the multifunctionality of agriculture and the important role of small-scale farmers, in line with the findings of the IAASTD.


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065 or 0845 217 8992.

[1] Blind Alley: Is DFID’s policy on agriculture in danger of failing to deliver food and environmental security? Report available as download here. Please phone for a printed copy.

[2] Agroecology is defined as the use of ecological concepts and principles to study, design, and manage agricultural systems. The five main principles are: recycling of nutrients, building of soil organic matter; minimising losses from the system; maximising biodiversity and genetic diversity; and enhancing biological interactions.

[3] See Eliminating Poverty: Building Our Common Future page 36

[4] The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) comprises of 15 research institutions which had a budget of $495 million in 2007 – 7% of which came from DFID.

[5] “In answer to the second, BBSRC, so it is Government funding, is funding £11.3 million of research that uses GM crops or is of direct relevance to new crops.” Evidence by Secretary of State Hilary Benn to the Environemn4t Food and Rural Affairs Committee 7 May 2009. See . BBSRC – Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

[6] IAASTD reports were published in April 2008 (see

[7] Farm Inputs Promotions Africa project partners include Monsanto, Bayer and Pioneer Hybrid and the African Agricultural technology Foundation’s include MONSANTO, BASF, Dow Agro. Bioner/DuPont and Syngenta.

[8] See

[9] See