A Dose of Needless Medicine

img_0764.jpgA Dose of Needless Medicine. In this reflection we are looking at genetically modified cotton (GM) in the light of  the Tortoise Principle. There is a folktale about a time a Lion was sick and declared that all the animals in the kingdom should pay him a get-well-soon visit. After several animals had heeded the call it was Mr Tortoise’s turn. On arrival at the gate of Mr Lion’s home, Mr Tortoise noticed that all footprints were in one direction, all going into the house with none coming out or going in the other direction. On careful reflection on the import of this observation, Mr Tortoise turned back and decided not to go into Mr Lion’s house. Did Mr Tortoise decide to avoid Mr Lion’s house out of fear?

Our submission is that the decision not to enter a house from which no visitor emerged was not predicated on fear but on sound judgement.

Our application of this tale relates to the forced release and endorsement of genetically engineered crops and products into Nigeria without due consideration of clear failures elsewhere and with a cavalier attitude to the grave danger that these artificial crops and products portend to the health of our peoples and environment. At a recent press conference by the ministers in charge of Agriculture and Science in partnership with Bayer-Monsanto
to celebrate Monsanto’s release of genetically engineered cotton into the Nigerian market and environment, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture declared that although he was not a scientist, he saw no reason for not accepting genetically engineered crops. He went on to say that Africans are too fearful of “new things.” In other words, the minister was declaring that those who call for precaution over the release of these artificial crops into our environment are unreasonable and do so out of fear. On his part, the minister of Science repeated myths peddled by the biotech industry and their cohorts – that genetically engineered crops yield more than natural varieties and require less pesticides (because some of them are pesticides) and make farmers rich.

The positions of the ministers raise serious questions about their willingness to dispassionately consider issues related to these technologies. The position that GMOs are rejected out of fear does violence to the integrity of scientists and governments who fought hard to ensure that the Precautionary Principle is a cardinal element of the United Nation’s Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Indeed, because of the knowledge of the harms related to the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment and in food, the African Union (then known as the Organisation of African Unity) produced the African Model Law on biosafety. That model law was to provide African governments a basic scaffold on which to build sound Biosafety regulatory frameworks. The notion that it was not the job of regulators to stop GMOs, as often peddled these days, was alien to the defenders of biodiversity.

At that time, African governments knew the importance of biodiversity in securing nutritious food and building resilience of local agriculture to the vagaries of weather and pest infestations. African research institutes had scientists that were engaged in promoting crop and animal species that were suitable to the local environment and yielded products that suited the local cultures, tastes and had acceptable levels of storability. That was the focus of science and agricultural ministries at that time. The coming of Structural Adjustment Programmes of the international financial institutions in the 1980s ensured wholesale adoption of neoliberal conditionalities and policies that brought about the destruction of local agricultural support systems. They also destroyed social safety nets and made our countries dumping grounds for all sorts of products which today appear in the form of untested GMOs originating from corporate laboratories that are not in the least concerned with our interest.

Today the framework that would have protected our environment is being shredded, and Nigeria is leading the pack in this ignominious degradation. This reverse leadership is very visible at the ongoing CBD Conference of Parties (COP24) with Nigeria and South Africa as the main negotiators. The most contentious items at the negotiation include what to do with extreme genetic engineering including synthetic biology (Synbio) and gene drives organisms (GDOs). These are technologies that have dire socio-economic and ecological consequences for Africa. Reports from the COP show serious opposition to gene drives with a number of countries demanding spoke a moratorium on the technology. Opposing countries include Bolivia, El Salvador, Grenada and Egypt. Shockingly, most African countries at the COP have become advocates for gene drives probably with the hope of attracting grants and other pecuniary benefits to their governments.

Observers believe that the inexplicable enthusiasm of a group of African nations, including Nigeria, to reject a moratorium on gene drives and to promote their release may be connected to the Gates Foundation’s funding for the production and release of gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso by an organisation called Target Malaria.

Gene drives is a new gene-editing technology that makes it possible to have species-wide genetic engineering through the aggressive spreading of genetic changes through the wild. Analysts posit that gene drives have a high potential for unpredictable, and even uncontrollable, impacts on biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystems.

The products that the synthetic biology industry is bringing into market include a vanilla flavour produced using synthetically modified yeast and some special oils used in soaps and detergents derived from synthetically modified algae. The replacement of natural vanilla with a synthetic variety has implications for millions of farmers, many of them Africans, who depend on them for livelihoods. They also have social and cultural implications. In addition, scientists warn that genetically modified algae and yeast could have unpredictable health effects and ecological impacts if they escape into the environment.

To say that opponents of GMOs are fear mongers is a sad way of demonizing Africans as fearful of new technologies. If fear is a factor in the demand for strict risk assessment of new technologies, that fear must be one that rises from the fact that public officials who should protect our interests are instead being tied to the apron strings of corporate and pseudo philanthropic interests. The Tortoise principle requires that we setup platforms for the critical assessment of new technologies.

As the world edges towards unleashing unregulated technologies that have the capacity to wipe out species, and can readily be made into biological weapons, we have a duty to review how we regulate our foods and environment. A situation where the most vulnerable continent, with scant capacity to regulate and contain basic genetic engineering, cheers on the merchants of the technology spells nothing but trouble.

First published as Of Genetically Modified Cotton and The Tortoise Principle at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/23/of-genetically-modified-cotton-and-tortoise-principle/

 

Do Not Betray Africa on Extreme Genetic Engineering

24f6f9cf-069e-41e4-aa98-cdc61885d841.jpegDo Not Betray Africa on SynBio and Gene Drives

As representatives of a broad range of African civil society organisations (CSOs), we do not feel represented by the delegations of Nigeria and South Africa, speaking on behalf of African Group, in their attempt to speak on behalf of the people of Africa on the issue of synthetic biology (synbio) and gene drive organisms (GDOs).

Throughout the history of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, African delegates have championed the defence of our biodiversity, protection of our seeds, indigenous agroecological practices and culture. They have always advocated the need for a precautionary approach.

In the past, African delegates have strongly defended our ecological life-support systems from threats, such as Terminator technologies (seeds designed to be sterile).

We are now alarmed at what is going on at COP14 and how our concerns for our environment, biodiversity and communities are being betrayed and threatened by delegates from some African nations. In particular, they are not representing our concerns about gene drives and synbio.

Most countries in Africa are still grappling with the threats from basic genetic engineering and associated agro-toxics and do not even have experience or capacity for basic regulation of the risks for those first-generation genetic technologies, let alone synbio and GDOs.

Gene drives, such as those being promoted by Target Malaria, aimed at releasing gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, are a deliberately invasive technology designed to propagate genetic material across an entire population – potentially wiping out entire species. As Africans, we are forced to confront this new and serious threat to our health, land, biodiversity, rights, and food supply.

African government delegations appear to have been neutralised. They have fallen from grace on the altar of the multi-national corporations, gene giants and private foundations. The African group’s position at the CBD slavishly replicates the position of these interest groups.

As Africans, we do not wish to be lab-rats for Target Malaria’s experiments. We refuse to be guinea pigs for their misguided disruption of our food systems and ecology.

We call on the African and all other delegates to put the brakes on this exterminating technology. We reject any form of representation that is against the interest of our peoples and biodiversity. We call on the governments of Africa to call their delegates to order and avoid acquiescence to unfolding intergenerational crimes.

Signed by the following organisations:

-Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

– La Via Campesina Africa

– Friends of the Earth Africa

– Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

– CCAE Collectif Citoyen pour L’Agroecologie

– Fahamu Africa

– Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Uganda

– Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)

– Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS Africa)

– West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fisheries (ADEPA)

– Plate-forme Régionale des Organisations Paysannesd’ Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)

– Convergences Régionales Terre-eau et Autres Ressources Aturelles

– Network of West African Farmer Organizations and Agricultural Producers (ROPPA).

– Terre á Terre, Burkina Faso

– Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA)

– African Centre for Biodiversity

– Inades-Formation

– Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)

– Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE International)

– Institute de Researche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Development Afrique (IRPAD)

– The Africa CSOs’ Coalition on African Development Bank

– Health of Mother Earth Foundation

– Committee on Vital Environmental Resources, Nigeria

– The Young Environmental Network, Nigeria

– Community Empowerment Initiative (GECOME) Nigeria.

– Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative(GERI), Nigeria.

– Climate Change and Amelioration Initiative( ECCAI), Nigeria

– Pearls Care Initiative (PCI), Nigeria

– Intergrity Conscience Initiative (ICI).Nigeria

– Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association

– Rural Women’s Assembly

-Rural Alliance for Green Environment (RAGE), Nigeria

– Bio Interrity in Natural Foods Awareness Initiative, Nigeria

– Initiative for Peace, Empowerment and Tolerance, Nigeria

– Integrity Conscience Initiative (ICI), Nigeria

– Eco-Defenders Network, Nigeria

– Green Alliance Network (GAN) Nigeria

– Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED) Nigeria

I Dream Of Clean Creeks

pondering

I dream of clean creeks. Writing about the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta can be quite a struggle for me at times. Many times, I have set aside my poetry quill and declared to myself that I would no longer write poems like these. But then something happens that prompts a line, and then another one, and more.

I would rather write more poems about lush vegetations, of butterflies and beautiful gazelles. Poems inspired by love, of which I have done a few in the past. One stanza penned for my soul mate echoes in my mind often: When I see you/ I see you again/ and again and again. On reflection, those lines echo lines by the master poet, Odia Ofeimun, which he wrote about his father: I see my father’s face in every mirror, if I remember correctly.

I see the creeks of the Niger Delta in every creek and river I encounter in my pollution tours around the world. When I look into streams and rivers and see the fish swirling about, and the pebbles and white sands way beneath the surface of the water, I pause and reflect on what once was the condition of the Niger Delta. I also think of what was once the state of the lagoons of Lagos, the Challawa River of Kano as well as the Kaduna River. These creeks, streams, rivers and estuaries of the Niger Delta now wear the cloak of hydrocarbon pollution, like the proverbial mourner or penitent dressed in burlap.

It would probably take a space probe to see the bottom of even the shallowest creek or pond in the Niger Delta because of the thick layer of crude oil and related pollutants that have literally choked the daylight out of them. The only relief to the eye in these hellish seascapes is fish floating belly-up having dared to survive for a time in such a hostile environment. The Lagos Lagoon and rivers Challawa and Kaduna do not fare any better, clogged with pollutants of a different class – ranging from effluents from factories, waste oil to sundry wastes from households.

What is hardly spoken about is the huge amount of waste water that comes out of crude oil drilling. Known as produced or process water, this highly toxic water can, at times, be radio-active. On average, about five barrels of water are produced for every barrel of crude oil extracted. Some oil fields may produce higher volumes, but if Nigeria extracts 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, we can expect that there are 10 million barrels of produced water to contend with on a daily basis. How do oil companies dispose of this highly toxic wastewater?

The wastewater can be used as production fluid by pumping or reinjecting it to help recover more oil from the wells. They could also be stored in containment ponds lined with water proofing membranes and detoxified to some extent before being discharged into the environment. The question as to whether this toxic wastewater is handled in Nigeria according to the best international standards is an open one.

Between 2008 and 2010, Sign of Hope, a German charity, took 90 water samples from 76 locations in oil field communities in Thar Jath, South Sudan.  The result of the hydrogeological study was released in 2014 and showed that the ground water in the areas was heavily contaminated with salts and heavy metals. It was later confirmed, by scientific analyses of hair samples, that the people have been exposed to chronic poisoning by the heavy metals including lead and barium. The threat to the health of the people has been persistent and unrelenting. The conflict situation in the area may have served as a cover for environmental misbehaviour, but with returning peace, demands are being made for thorough health audits of the population and the provision of alternative and safe drinking water for the people.

The oil pollution in South Sudan pales compared to the situation in Nigeria. Now is the time to ask questions about how Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Agip, Total, the Nigerian Petroleum Development company and others handle their toxic produced water. Could it be that millions of barrels of toxic water are discharged into the creeks, rivers and estuaries of the Niger Delta on a daily basis without sufficient treatment? The study of the environment of Ogoni by the United Nations Environment Programme showed high levels of pollution of land, surface and ground water. The situation is the same or worse across other oil field communities elsewhere in the Niger Delta.

These questions assault our dream of clean creeks in the Niger Delta. And this is why the success of the Ogoni clean-up project is so vital for the health of our present and future generations. With the completion of the long process towards the award of the contracts that would allow the clean-up machinery to roll in, we urge the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to ensure that delays become a thing of the past. Ogoni is a living laboratory and the clean-up holds out hope for a detoxification of the entire Niger Delta, and the clean-up of the entire pipeline routes in the country as well as the refinery area in Kaduna and, of course, the Lagos zone when the mammoth refinery being built there begins to produce and to pollute.

We dream of seeing the pebbles at the bottom of the creek at Bodo, Goi, K-Dere and in other parts of Ogoni. We also have the dream that one day, as the Ogoni clean-up unfolds, the periwinkles, crabs and myriad aquatic life forms will return to the mangroves. We dream that at that time, the mangrove roots will breath again. And so will the people.

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First published on 16 November 2018 under the column The Instigator at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/16/a-dream-of-clean-creeks/

The Instigator debuts

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy weekly column, The Instigator,  commenced on Friday 9 November 2018 in The Leadership newspaper.  You can join the weekly conversation by getting the hard copies on by looking it up online. We will be sharing the pieces here after they had been published in The Friday Leadership. Enter your weekends with thoughts on socio-ecological transformations 😂

Meanwhile, here is first piece The Instigator offered: Draining the Mine Pits

This column will always seek to instigate thoughts, conversations and actions using mostly political ecological lens. Your participation through comments and questions will instigate further responses and hopefully actions. Let us begin with a look at the mine pits in Nigeria.

The abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coal mines of Enugu are grave metaphors of the ecological harm that the advent of cheap petrodollars brought to Nigeria. It is scarcely remembered that Jos and Enugu were once prized mining locations and that their products were major contributors to the colonial and post colonial economies of Nigeria.

The mines provided jobs to thousands of Nigerians and gave birth to towns or camps – such as Coal Camp at Enugu. They were also sites of horrendous exploitation of labour, with particularly obnoxious levels reached during the colonial era. It is on record that 23,000 Africans had to carry tonnes of the tin ore on their heads over a distance of 320km before a railway line was built to the mines in Jos.

With the ascendancy of oil as the prime revenue earner for Nigeria, and with a poor record of environmental management, the mines that ought to have been decommissioned and some level of environmental remediation and restoration carried out, were simply abandoned. Government after government simply followed the oil, or money.

At Jos, mine pits, some with toxic slurries, were left as open craters in the landscape. Over time, the mine pits turned into vast ponds that essentially turned into death traps for man and beasts alike.

The abandoned coal mines in Enugu did not quite become as deadly as the mine pits of Jos. One reason for this was that whereas tin was extracted through open cast mines, at Enugu, coal extraction was a subterranean affair. Nevertheless, the residents of the Coal City found that the mines could be turned into refuse dumps. And they did.

We should remind ourselves that every mine pit or oil well has a lifespan because mining is not a renewable process but a subtraction or amputation as one analyst once stated. This is so irrespective of whether the pit or well is for the mining of gold or for the extraction of crude oil. This is one reason why mining regulations require that environmental impact assessment must be carried out before any mining activity is conducted; and that there must be an environmental management plan, including plans for closure of the mine – even before its opening.

Article 61 (d) of the Solid Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, stipulates that a miner must maintain and restore, the land that is the subject of the license to a safe state from any disturbance resulting from exploration activities, including, but not limited to filling up shafts, wells, holes or trenches made by the title holder, and in compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

A cursory look at the state of mining in Nigeria today shows that miners are carrying on in any manner that seems right to them. Unregulated artisanal mining has been going on in the area now known as Zamfara State for decades. However, in August 2010 there was a catastrophic loss of about 300 children due to lead poisoning. Others suffered brain damage while women recorded high incidents of miscarriages. Such reckless mining is ongoing elsewhere.

The mining of granite for building construction in the Federal Capital is a clearly worrisome phenomenon playing out before our eyes. Everywhere you look, hills are being blown apart so that building materials merchants can do brisk business and do not have to go far for the material. Beautiful cultural and landscape place markers are being destroyed. The city is being scarified and the scars of exploitation of the rocks dot the landscape from the outskirts to the heart of the city. One would not be surprised if Zuma Rock, or even Aso Rock, get earmarked for destruction. Again, the remains of the mined rocks in Abuja communities are not in any way remediated and pose grave dangers to citizens that live near them.

Although government agencies claim that the recent earth tremors experienced in Abuja are nothing to worry about, or that the tremors are caused by indiscriminate water mining (boreholes), many of us finger the continuous blasting of rocks in the area. The fracturing of rocks above ground could have impacts on structures beneath the Earth’s surface.

Back to Jos, the sad story of the abandoned tin mines of Jos deepened with the recovery of cars in one of them. It is clear that none of the cars recovered from the deadly pond was driven by the owner into the pond. The case of the recovery of the car belonging to a retired General of the Nigerian Army is shocking, to say the least. The finding of his body somewhere else indicates that the death of the general and the burial of his car in the pond left by mining activities should demand an urgent decommissioning of the tin mines of Jos. The recovery of other cars from the yawning mine pit shows that plenty of criminal activities have been going on around the mine pits.

Now is the time to drain the mine pits of Jos and elsewhere, decommission them and fully restore the territory. It is time to carry out detailed and exhaustive forensic examination of the pits to ensure that historical and current crimes around them do not go unpunished.

https://leadership.ng/2018/11/09/draining-the-mine-pits/amp/leadershpnga/
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Follow me on Twitter at @NnimmoB

We can plant a seed

Seeds
We can plant a seed

Way back yesterday
In the glow of nighttime fires
We sat around steamy bowls
Carving up mounds of foo foo
Then dipping our hands in hot soups
Mouths long open awaited the feast
With every bite our tongues knew the source
Jolly jolly bellies, happy happy hearts
We danced our way through the night
These days we line up at the shops
Awaiting junk foods and maybe small chops
Bright coloured walls and blinding lights
We take selfies as we down deadly sodas
With loud music, we munch and munch but hear no crunch from our plastic foods

We can plant a seed
And not eat poison 

These days we go to the farm
It could also be the harvest is next to our homes
Straight bananas
Squared up squash
Cassava tubers that don’t ferment
Genetic engineers target our staple crops
Especially ones grown by women
With mythic tales they sell lies
Crops kill pests and innocent species
Like their ancestors sold beads, mirrors and whiskies
And we are to be excited eating pesticides
And wash down with water packed in plastics and served like drugs

We can plant a seed
And not eat poison 

We live in the city
Streets blocked with cars
Every piece of land thoroughly cementified
The Earth is denied rain from the sky
You want some water, toxic drains send a deluge
We want some corn?
Go to the shop
You want vegetables?
Go to the shop

“This food is safe”
That’s what they say
Made by giant conglomerates
On the back of imperial neocolonial agencies
But they cannot even say what they sell
All they yell
Is “shut up and eat
“An hungry man has no choice”
Genetically engineered
Isolated from weeds with glyphosate

We can plant a seed
And not eat poison 

All around us seeds are sprouting
Along the rivers and streams through our cities
Every city block long abandoned
Day and night we sow the seeds
Many don’t ask where magical fresh foods emerge
We labour all day to bring yet nothing to eat
Officials feed fat on our labours
Then loosen their belts
Call the bulldozers
Pull down our dreams
Level our fields
Destroy our homes
“This urban space isn’t for rats
Go back to the village unwanted migrants
Our foods are imported, packaged, some even come as aid”

We can plant a seed
And not eat poison 

The food we eat must not eat us
Mother Earth warns: we are all her children
The plants, the birds, the beasts, the worms, the bees, the butterflies
In the soil and above the soil
On the seas and beneath the seas
Trillions of our relatives call to us
“Globalize the struggle
Globalize hope!”
Globalize the people
Not transnational corporations

Resilience
Solidarity
Hope
Power
Life
are all in the seed
And if we care we can touch the soil
We can plant a seed
We can water a plant
We can nurture life
We can raise a goat
We can connect to the soil
And allow Mother Earth to feed us all

We can plant a seed
And not eat poison 

#AfricanFoodSystems
AFSA
Saly
03.11.2018