I met Luiz last week in Des Moines while participating in the events surrounding the 2006 World Food Prize Celebration and Symposium. We were part of a day-long, farmer-to-farmer roundtable–about two dozen of us from 17 different countries gathered to discuss our common challenges and a shared vision for the future of agriculture.

It was a unique opportunity. By their very nature, farmers tend to be private people. Sometimes were happiest when were left alone to mind our own business.

Yet theres a fine line between minding your own business and sticking your head in the ground, ostrich-like. In our era of global economics, we need to grapple with the world around us as we never have before.

At the farmer-to-farmer roundtable, for instance, I learned that I share something in common with Diasso Dramane of Burkina Faso: We both want access to biotechnology for our staple crops.

On first glance, you wouldnt think that Diasso and I are much alike. Hes a cotton grower from West Africa; Im a wheat farmer from North Dakota. He lives in one of the poorest countries in the world; I live in the very richest. He wears brightly colored dashiki garments and speaks French; I wear blue jeans and talk like a cast member of the movie Fargo (at least thats what people tell me). And Ill guarantee you that Diasso has no concept of a North Dakota winter.

So we arent exactly peas in a pod. But we both have observed the amazing benefits of GM crops and wish we could take advantage of them in our daily work. The hurdles we face arent scientific–biotech cotton is widely available right now and biotech wheat could be commercialized in a short amount of time–but rather political.

For reasons that continue to mystify me, anti-biotech activists want to deny us both a tool thats improving agriculture all over the planet. Im jealous of corn and soybean farmers who can plant biotech crops every season. Theyre lucky to have been early adopters: Their foes didnt have time to organize before these crops were in wide use accepted because they were safe and made economic sense.

I cant help but conclude that biotechs foes are like those opponents of fox hunting: They arent for farmers at all. How on earth could you lobby against the desire of Diasso, living in a country where the life expectancy is less than 50 years, to have access to technology thats used routinely in the United States and other nations? Unless Burkina Faso is permitted to enter the 21st century, it will remain hopelessly poor.

The source of many problems for Diasso is anti-technology pessimists, especially in Europe, who have planted the seeds of fear about biotechnology all over Africa. As a result, many nations have refused to take up the technology that can offer them so much. They worry that if Europeans close their markets to biotech products grown in Africa, their situation will turn worse than it already is.

Many European farmers are even more frustrated than Diasso. I talked to several of them at the farmer-to-farmer roundtable and theyre deeply concerned about their ability to compete with growers who can make use of what biotechnology offers. Paradoxically, Europe is on the forefront of scientific research. Just last week, a team of Germans announced the possibility of a biotech fix to the problem of tomato allergies. Wouldnt it be ironic if EU farmers couldnt take advantage of this home-grown ingenuity?

Yet the problem extends far beyond Europe. Last week, Mexico delayed approval on seven applications for field tests of biotech corn. This is a de facto extension of a moratorium thats been in place for eight years. Although it was supposedly lifted last year, the government–which is perhaps trying to placate an opposition movement that very nearly was elected into power this summer–has done absolutely nothing to help farmers who would like to make use of biotechnology.

We farmers may be at the mercy of the weather–thats another thing that we like to talk about–but we dont have to be at the mercy of governments that could care less about our prosperity. If we recognize our common challenges, we may be able to band together and solve them.

Terry Wanzek grows corn, soybeans, and wheat on his family farm in North Dakota.
A former ND state legislator, Mr. Wanzek serves as a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)