2018. Biosafety. Biosecurity. Food Safety.

NBMA promotes GMOs

Screenshot: NBMA website 31.12.2017

2018. Biosafety. Biosecurity. Food Safety. Do Nigerians know what the safety level of foods on their dining tables would be in 2018? That is a trillion Naira question. The short answer is no. We give two quick reasons for this. A reading of the body language of the permitting National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) reveals that, besides approving virtually every application that comes before it, the agency appears to be concerned with having those that had illegally imported those materials to simply formalise their stocks by registering with the agency. Unfortunately, in 2018 when GMO beans are unleashed on Nigerians, the roadside akara seller would not know that she is selling akara made from genetically engineered beans. The roasted corn seller would not know that what is being roasted is genetically modified corn imported or smuggled into the country. In sum, our major staple crops – maize, cassava, beans, rice, sorghum are at risk.

One of the cases with grave implications for biosafety administration in Nigeria is the one that hit headline news in October 2017 that unauthorised genetically modified maize worth about $9.8 million had been impounded at Lagos sea ports. Nigerians were elated by the vigilance of the regulatory agency and officers of the Nigerian Customs Service to intercept the illegal imports by WACOT Ltd – a firm that is best known for dealing in cotton and rice. Another company implicated in the illegal importation of the GM maize is the Olam Group, a conglomerate that deals mostly in rice, including the widely sold Mama’s Pride brand.

To underscore the seriousness of the biosafety infringement, the Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), stated at a press conference held in Abuja on September 13, 2017 that the Agency got notice of the importation through an intelligence report and had set in motion necessary machineries to track the importers and bring them to book.

According to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015, “Any person, institution or body who wishes to import, export, transit or otherwise carry out a contained field trial, multi-locational trial or commercial release of genetically modified organism shall apply to the Director General of the Agency not less than 270 days to the date of import, export, transit or the commencement of such activity.” (Our emphasis)

An air of seriousness that our food systems could be protected was further raised when the Federal Executive Council was notified of the decision to repatriate the illegal genetically modified maize to Argentina, its country of origin and also when the National Assembly held a public hearing on the illegal importation.

However, hopes that biosafety is important to the government may have been dashed because the noise over the impounding of the illegal GM Maize may have been nothing other than mere noise. Why do we say this?

Barely a week after the NBMA announced that together with the Nigerian Customs Service they would ensure the repatriation of the illegal GM maize, the same NBMA issued a public advertisement announcing the application for importation of GM maize by WACOT Ltd.

The announcement stated: “In accordance with the National Biosafety Management Agency Act, 2015, requiring public display of any Biosafety application, for permit to intentionally release genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for comments from interested members of the public, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) hereby announces a twenty- one (21) day display of an application dossier submitted by WACOT Ltd for the importation of genetically modified maize for feed processing. The display is with effect from 22th November to 12th of December 2017 to enable the public to make input that would facilitate informed decision on the application.”

Information from credible sources suggest that the application has since been approved by NBMA and the applicant may have received the green light to take delivery of the impounded illegal import and to further import genetically modified maize at will into Nigeria over the next three years. At the time of this writing, the permit is neither on the website of NBMA, nor on that of the United Nations Biosafety Clearing House. We need to know if the NBMA has permitted the release of the maize that the Federal Executive Council and Nigerians at large had been told were to be repatriated. We need to know if the application was made 270 days before the importation as required by law. If the maize has been repatriated, we need to know.

Some of us have on many occasions called for a radical review of the NBMA Act 2015. We have also made a clause-by-clause analysis of the Act and suggested needed changes.  The composition of the NBMA Governing Board has inbuilt conflict of interest and the fact that members may not sit on issues where their interests are concerned is banal. We also note that the National Biosafety Committee that determines which GM applications to approve is set up on an ad-hoc basis and at the whims of the Director General of the NBMA without any higher authority providing oversight.

A situation where we cannot trust a board made up of representatives (not below the rank of Directors) from the ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Trade and Investment and Health to protect our biodiversity, environment and health is deeply worrisome. Others on the board include representatives of the Nigerian Customs Service and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Here we are in 2018 and the prospect of genetically modified crops and food products flooding our markets is real. If the situation arises that GMOs imported illegally can be retroactively certified and released provided the importers pay prescribed fees, that will spell a death knell to our biosecurity. This is a good time for the Federal Government to make it clear to NBMA that it was not set up to promote GMOs contrary to what they (NBMA) proclaim on the streaming photo on their website where it states “NBMA – Promoting modern biotechnology activities and GMOs.”

The task of promoting modern biotechnology and GMOs is that of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

In a post on its website on 18 December 2017 NMBA “warned those involved in and/or intend to be involved in the handling, importation or transfer of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to seek clarification and authorization from the Agency before doing so. They cited NBMA Act, Part VII which states that “no person, institution or body shall import, export, transit or commercialize any genetically modified organism or a product intended for direct use as food or feed, or for processing unless with the approval of the Agency.”
“The NBMA is by this Act empowered to sanction any erring party for importing or releasing unauthorized genetically modified products, be it grain or any kind of seed as the case may be.”

He noted that the Act made it clear that any person, institution or body who wishes to import, export, transit or otherwise carry out contained activities, confined field trial, multi-locational trial or commercial release of a GMO shall apply to the Director General of NBMA prior to such activity.”

Nigerians need to be assured that in 2018 the Federal Government will be concerned about our biosafety. Nigeria needs to put a halt to the circus of publishing applications, calling for comments, ignoring comments from the public and approving whatever application is thrown at regulating agency. Let there be CHANGE in 2018. Let there be HOPE!

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed a desire that besides becoming food sufficient, Nigeria should regain her place as a food exporting country. The president noted that productivity was on the rise for crops like beans and rice. We note that Nigeria is planning to release genetically modified beans into the market from 2018. Where would the GM beans be exported to? Certainly not the USA or the EU. The dream of being a food exporter will definitely be dimmed by our needless GMO gambits.

President Buhari is a farmer, but we have not heard him express views on what the rabid promotion of GMOs in Nigeria could mean to our food and health.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is a farmer. He vigorously pressed the Ugandan parliament to pass their Biosafety Bill designed to pave the way for the introduction of GMOs in that country. After the parliament passed the bill and sent it to him to append is signature and turn it into law, the president balked.

In his December 21 letter to Speaker of Parliament the president outlined why he was returning the bill to the parliament. He reportedly raised issues with the title of the bill, patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals. He queried why the bill was called a “Biosafety Bill” rather than a “Genetic Engineering Bill.”. He argued that although genetic engineering may make it possible to add additional qualities – such as drought resistance, quick maturity, disease resistance, but, “this law apparently talks of giving monopoly of patent rights to its holder and forgets about the communities that developed the original material.” He saw this as patently wrong as it ignored the roles of the local farmers who had preserved the original seeds over the years.

The president was quoted as saying that he had been informed that there are, “some crops and livestock with unique genetic configuration like millet, sorghum, beans, Ankole cattle, Ugandan chicken, enkoromoijo cattle, which have a specific genetic makeup which our people have developed for millennia through selection (kutorana for seeds), kubikira (selecting good bulls), enimi or empaya (he-goats).”

Raising concerns over the safety of GMOs, President Museveni cautioned that “to be on the safe side, GMO seeds should never be randomly mixed with our indigenous seeds just in case they turn out to have a problem.”

What President Museveni has done must be applauded. It takes boldness for him to question a thing that he had so loudly promoted. His action underscores the need for leaders to hear both sides of the debate. African nations cannot simply throw their doors open to technologies that pose extreme risks to our environment, biodiversity, health and trade. It is time for President Buhari to take a look at the National Biosafety Management Act and the biosafety management architecture in our country before it is too late.

 

 

 

 

The Road to Food Sovereignty

land and agricThe Road to Food Sovereignty. Peasant Farming, Not Industrial Food Production.
Industrial agriculture isn’t the efficient beast it’s made out to be. Peasant farming, not industrial food production, is the way to feed the world, argue Pat Mooney and Nnimmo Bassey.
Time is running out if the world is going to slash greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep us below a 1.5°c temperature rise by 2100, an aspiration set by the Paris climate accords.
Two conferences this autumn tackled different ends of the problem, in splendid isolation from each other. The UN Committee on World Food Security held its annual meeting in Rome in mid-October, alarmed that the number of hungry people on the planet has suddenly climbed by 40 million in the past year – much of it due to the direct and indirect effects of climate change – and fearful that an unpredictable climate will cut global food production still more sharply in the decades ahead.
Meanwhile, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) met in Bonn and high on its agenda was the need to cut agriculture’s GHG emissions which experts say account for anywhere from one third to more than half of global warming. So, what for Rome delegates is a problem of food security is for Bonn delegates a problem of climate security.
The solution for both climate and food sovereignty is to dismantle the global industrial agri-food system (which we call the ‘industrial food chain’) and for governments to give more space to the already growing and resilient ‘peasant food web’ – the interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world.
Global land use and food production: industrial agriculture and peasant farming compared
Global land use and food production: industrial agriculture and peasant farming compared. Picture: New Internationalist. Data: ETC Group, Who Will Feed Us? Report
In our report delivered to policymakers in both Rome and Bonn, Who Will Feed Us?, ETC Group (the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) provides original data about the importance of peasant food systems and the real economic, environmental and social cost of industrial agriculture.
The industrial food chain is using at least 75 per cent of the world’s agricultural land and most of agriculture’s fossil fuel and freshwater resources to feed barely 30 per cent of the world’s population. Conversely, more than 500 million peasant farms around the world are using less than 25 per cent of the land – and almost no fossil fuels or chemicals – to feed 70 per cent of humanity.
Aside from burning vast quantities of fossil carbon, industry is also wasting money that could be directed to supporting equitable agroecological production while still lowering food prices for the world’s marginalized consumers.
The statistics are staggering. Consumers pay $7.5 trillion each year for industrially produced food. But between a third and half of this production is wasted along the way to the consumer or at the table: spoiled in the field or in transport, rejected from grocers because of blemishes, or left on the plate because of over-serving.
Conversely, households in OECD countries consume about a quarter more food than is needed – leading to obesity and related health problems.
The total food overproduced each year is worth $3.8 trillion – a combination of $2.49 trillion worth of food waste and $1.26 trillion of over-consumption (see footnote 191 of the report). Burgeoning waists worldwide also have both human and economic costs.
When the wider environmental damages – including contaminated soils and water, greenhouse gas emissions – are added to the health and social impacts, the harm done by the industrial food chain is almost $5 trillion (see footnote 193). For every dollar consumers spent in supermarkets, health and environmental damages cost two dollars more.
Added to the amount spent by consumers, this makes the real cost of industrial food $12.4 trillion annually.
Policymakers negotiating the future of food and climate may wonder if it is possible to make such a dramatic change in our food production. Peasants may feed 70 per cent of the world’s population now but can they adapt quickly enough to climate change to feed us in 2100? Which system, the industrial food chain or the peasant food web, has the track record, innovative capacity, speed and flexibility needed to get us through the unparalleled threat of an unpredictable climate?
The answer is clear. Take experience: over the last century, the industrial food chain has not introduced a single new crop or livestock species to production but has cut the genetic diversity of our crops by 75 per cent, reduced the number of species by about one third, and reduced the nutritional value of our crops by up to 40 per cent. The peasant web has introduced 2.1 million new plant varieties where industrial agriculture has only introduced 100,000 over the same time frame.
The industrial food chain works with only 137 crop species and five main livestock species. Stunningly, 45 per cent of the industry’s research and development targets just one crop: maize. By contrast, the peasant web is breeding and growing 7,000 different crop species and 34 livestock species – like the alpaca, ñandu, and guinea pig.
Peasants also have the track record of dealing with new conditions quickly and effectively. Recent history is replete with evidence that peasant producers – before there were telegraphs or telephones or railways – have adapted new food species (through selective breeding) to an extraordinary range of different climatic conditions within the span of only a few human generations.
This process of seed and knowledge sharing from farmer to farmer is how maize spread across most of the regions of Africa and how sweet potatoes were planted everywhere in Papua New Guinea from mangrove swamps to mountain tops – all in less than a century – and how immigrants brought seeds from Europe that were growing across the Western Hemisphere within a generation.
When we compare the track record of the industrial food chain to the peasant food web we must conclude that our century-long experience with the chain shows that it is just too expensive, and it can’t scale up. Meanwhile, with almost no support from governments, the peasant food web is already feeding 70 per cent of us (see page 12) – and could do much more, while producing drastically less greenhouse gas emissions than industrial methods.
To be clear, ‘peasant farming as usual’ is not an option. Climate change will mean our over 10,000 years of agriculture has to deal with growing conditions that the world hasn’t seen for three million years.
There is no reason to be sanguine about the problems ahead.
Peasants can scale up if the industrial chain gets off their backs. Governments must recognize peasants’ rights to their land and seeds and support fair, peasant-led rural development and trade policies. We need to cut waste and shift our financial resources to strengthening the peasant food web and both tackling climate change and ensuring food sovereignty.
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This article was first published in the New Internationalist
The ETC Group’s publication, Who Will Feed Us? which compared peasant farming and industrial agriculture, can be downloaded in English and Spanish from ETC’s website.