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

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

Eco-Instigator #21

64855DF9-C8DA-4448-85FF-E7150FAEF43EWe are glad to serve you a feisty edition of your informative Eco-Instigator. In it you will find articles and reports from our projects and our continuous struggles for ecological justice.
Due to the focus of extractive industry on offshore exploration and exploitation actions, the need for fishers to step up to the challenge has never been more urgent. Fishers stand at the frontline of the struggle against deep sea mining as well as offshore pursuit of oil and gas resources.
We serve you reports from our Fish Not Oil community dialogues where fishers review the state of our water bodies, note the changes, map the culprits and chart the course of action to protect our marine ecosystems. These spaces are also used to create linkages between fishing associations and for the expansion of an emerging FishNet Alliance.
We also bring you the reports from our School of Ecology focusing on Life After Oil. We held the maiden session of this exciting school in our Oronto Douglas Board Room, Benin City 30- 31 July 2018. The second session was hosted by We The People in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 29 August 2018. Participants had two additional days during which they joined in the Right Livelihood Lecture as well as Sustainability Academy, both held at the University of Port Harcourt. Reports of these will be brought to you in our December edition. While the maiden edition was exclusively for youths, the second session extended the age bracket and admitted community persons with a bias to women. Life After Oil campaign is an offshoot of our Beyond Oil research that drove for a reimagining of development in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole.
Our fight for food sovereignty continues in an atmosphere of absolute disregard for the dangers posed by the introduction of genetically modified crops into our environment. Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), gleefully announced the release of Bt cotton into the market while our case on their permit to Monsanto was awaiting decision in court. We considered this a disregard of due process and a crass display of the arrogance of the industry and their allies. The court eventually decided against us, but on the technical grounds that the case was statute barred and that we filed the suit outside the stipulated time boundary. The struggle continues.
As usual, we bring you poems, book review and books that you should read as well as indications of our forthcoming events. We will be glad to hear from you.

Download and read the full issue Eco-Instigator #21.

Until Victory!

Systemic Betrayal of Farmers (and Consumers)

Lawyers RTSystemic betrayal of farmers. Applications for the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Nigeria started flowing literally before the ink with which the bill was signed into law had dried. Promoters of modern agricultural technology, notably the agency set up for that purpose before the law was dreamt up were ecstatic. In less than a year, the controversial biotech and chemical company, Monsanto, had collected the first three GMO permits to ever be issued in the country.

This was very significant, not because of the recipient but because they were applying to introduce a crop that had just failed spectacularly in Burkina Faso. That was the Bt cotton that had nearly ruined cotton growers in that country. The Nigerian regulatory agency, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) apparently believes that Monsanto was too big to fail and that they would do better in Nigeria. The bad news for them is that just as they were not too big to be swallowed up by Bayer, the German chemical company, they are not strangers to failure.

Trust Built, Trust Betrayed

Farmers trust government to support their efforts to feed the nation. This implicit trust was built in the days before the so-called structural adjustment programme imposed on the nation by international financial institutions decimated the ranks of extension officers and other support mechanisms. The trust was also built by public research institutes providing sound agricultural advice, seeds and roots to farmers. Government and farmers were partners in progress. Today the faith of farmers that government would always extend the best support to them is being betrayed in obnoxious ways.

The betrayal happens because farmers are being sold the idea that genetically modified crops provide the best options to ensure high yield, enrich the farmers and abolish hunger from the land. Farmers are equally not warned of the harmful impacts of agrotoxics that they must apply as they grow the genetically modified crops. Superficial roadshows advertising GMOs are falsely construed to be consultations with the public. Glossy brochures, television and radio programmes with tilted and dubious information have become the order of the day. And they equally use local and foreign movies to add to their arsenal of falsehood.

Feeding Hungry Africans on Lies

The rapid evolution of the subversion of our food system is accelerated by the opening of the gates for an influx of genetically modified grains – like maize- thus constricting the market space for local farmers. We believe that it is time that our people begin to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, no matter who is presenting the gift.

The argument that Africa needs GMOs in order to feed her population is nothing but a commercial narrative that on scrutiny holds no water. For more than two decades that GMOs have been around they have not halted the upward rise of hunger in the world. Indeed, the yield from GMOs do not surpass those of natural crops. Instead of reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides, GMOs have created super weeds and super bugs requiring stronger doses of the toxic chemicals.

Dearth of Expertise

The absence of adequate biotechnology expertise in the development and regulatory sphere makes it inescapable that the biosafety discourse is shaped to suit the preferences of the actual developers who stand to gain from the technologies. The genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603)) varieties for which Monsanto got permits were not developed in Nigeria. The Bt cotton that has been approved for placement in the market was not developed in Nigeria. The GMO cassava being field tested at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan was developed in Switzerland. All the GM maize and soybean being approved for various purposes in the country were developed elsewhere. In addition to being developed elsewhere, the required risk assessment before they are brought into Nigeria is perfunctory exercise.

Mute Food Safety Controllers

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) that should safeguard the foods on our market shelf is busy playing the ostrich while the land is flooded with the products. Indeed, NAFDAC is expected to give a bill of health to any GMO product or seed before importers can apply to bring the GMOs into the country. At present it is doubtful if NAFDAC is providing such a cover for Nigerians. We say doubtful because the agency us yet to respond to an enquiry HOMEF sent to them on 1 February 2018 seeking to know if they granted a clean bill of health to enable NBMA issue permits to WACOT Nigeria Ltd to import genetically modified maize for feed and processing. The murky process through which the permit was issued to the company raises red flags over the entire regulatory architecture demanding closer scrutiny.  WACOT’s application was based solely on the fact that certain genetically modified maize varieties had been approved for use in the European Union (EU). However, it is our position that the approval of anything in the EU does not confer automatic endorsement for entry into Nigeria. Biosafety requires case by case risk assessment in each jurisdiction that any of the artificial organisms are taken.

Counting on The Law

LawyersRoundtable4

As legal experts, the Nigerian people need your help in fashioning out means of ensuring that we are not ambushed into eating anything without knowledge of their makeup and safety. Our people require your help in ensuring that our food system is protected and that our biodiversity is protected. Our people will be happy to receive an understanding of the provisions of the law governing biosafety in Nigeria as well as if what exists is sufficient to protect them. We also hope that you will keep an eye on unfolding events in other jurisdictions where for example, Monsanto has been asked by a court to pay $289m to a citizen of the USA for cancer attributed to the use of that company’s weed killer, Roundup.

In all, Nigerians want to know the legality or otherwise of the roughshod march of the GMO train in our land.

 

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Round Table with Lawyers on Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 26 September 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria

Is There Biosafety in Nigeria?

Group work..mediaIs There Biosafety in Nigeria? At a recent HOMEF dialogue with farmers, most of the participants declared that they have never heard of anything called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  When they got to know what GMOs are, they all declared that genetically modified crops are bad for our agriculture and overall environment.

Despite huge financial outlays in modern agricultural biotechnology roadshows, the people remain unaware of these commercially and politically driven organisms that are rapidly being released into our markets and environment. Without free and clear knowledge of these artificial organisms, it can be said plainly that the right of our people to safe food and safe environment is being officially breached with crass impunity.

As we speak, the promises of the first-generation GMOs that are being promoted in Nigeria are unraveling – with persistent failures being recorded around the world. Herbicide use has increased rather than reduce – of course the toxic chemicals are made by the makers of the GMO seeds. Pesticide use has not waned even though Bt crops (crops inserted with gene from the organism, Bacterium thuringiensis) are essentially engineered to act as pesticides themselves. Farmers are trapped in debt in the cotton fields of India because of the seeds-chemicals trap traceable to GMO Shylocks. GMO infested South American countries are reeling from chemical poisons on farmworkers and in farm-fence communities. In the United States of America, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m in damages to Dewayne Johnson after a jury found that the company’s Roundup weed-killer caused him cancer. There are over 4000 similar cases in the USA. The safety of GMOs and the claim that GMOs yield higher than normal crops have not been proven.

The old GMOs are now being joined by more extreme variants known as Gene Drives. That target whole populations, involve gene editing and do not involve cross-species gene transfers. They pose special and unique dangers to Nigeria and Africa. The first danger is that our regulators are gullible and tend to be remotely controlled by forces that promote untested technologies. The second danger is that even the dangers and risks are known, they are happy to allow experimentation and expose our people, communities and environment to be used as guinea pigs.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

Two cases to buttress this assertion relate to biotechnology experimentation in Burkina Faso. Firstly, was the failure of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in that country that led to the phase out of the GMO from Burkina Faso. The same GMO cotton that failed is now to be released in Nigeria, the second testing ground for an unnecessary and failed product. Of course, the local experts serving as midwives or middle men of the technology in Nigeria are celebrating that they can release the varieties into our environment without check, without questions.

Secondly, modern biotechnology entrepreneurs like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding Target Malaria to release 10,000 gene drive mosquitoes, in a village in Burkina Faso without our relatives there being truly aware of the what would be biting them. The gene drive mosquitoes are designed to crash the population of female anopheles mosquito species that transmit malaria parasite. Risks of this untested technology include the fact that they could have unexpected ecological problems, could be used as a weapon of war and is deployed without real prior informed consent of the poor villagers. This is another technofix to tackle a problem that has roots in poor sanitation and socio-economic inequities, among others.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

We need to interrogate not just the technology but also the regulation of the technologies. We need to ask why an application from a company like WACOT Ltd was approved when the only backing document, as published on NBMA’s website was a sheet of paper showing varieties of genetically modified maize approved by some European countries. This application was approved although there has been no risks assessment in Nigeria and even though approval in the EU does not in any way confer automatic acceptance of those things in countries outside of the jurisdiction within which they were approved. The application did not state that about half of EU countries do not allow these varieties of maize into their countries. For Nigeria, anything goes because everything is safe for Nigerians no matter how toxic they may be to others.

A grave problem with this approval of genetically modified maize for production of feed by WACOT Ltd is that the company sought and obtained the approval after being adjudged to have imported the GM maize without due approval and had been asked to repatriate the maize to Argentina from where it was imported. A further issue that cannot be ignored is that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had been notified of the impounding of the illegal and unauthorized transboundary movement of the genetically modified maize into Nigeria. According to reports, the FEC was also informed that the offending company had been asked to send back the illegal shipment. Yet, the same illegally imported grains were approved for release and use by the company. The repatriation order proved to be a mere smokescreen. The company was further licensed to import the supposedly EU approved GM maize over a period of three years.

Media trainingAs you all know, Health of Mother Earth Foundation along with 16 other civil society groups filed a suit challenging the granting of permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd for the confined field trial of genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603)) as well as commercial release of Bt cotton earlier mentioned. We challenged the permit based on strong scientific, sociology-economic, environment and administrative concerns. We also drew attention of the court to the fact that the approvals were granted on Sunday 1 May 2016 a mere one working day after the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) acknowledged that they had received our copious objections and promised to consider them. They obviously did not consider the views expressed in our objections. The judge eventually struck out the case based on the technicality of the case being statute barred. In other words, the case was struck out because we filed the suit more than three months after the permits were granted. The GMO promoters of all shades, both local and international, have crowed that the decision of the court equals an open door for any sort of GMOs to be brought into the country. That is an absolutely specious understanding of the court’s decision. The judge clearly stated that case was not struck out for lack of cause but because the particular action was statute barred. No time for celebration, Monsanto chiefs!

We will go into more details concerning the reasons Nigerians have to worry about the state of biosafety in the country. There is certainly time for that. Although we may no longer waste our time and resources sending objections to a regulator that disdains public opinion, we will not shirk our responsibility to demand safe and suitable foods for our peoples.


Welcome words  at a Media Training on Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 25 September 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria

Small-scale Farmers Feed the World

IMG_1866Small-scale or family farmers feed the world. This is an incontrovertible fact. This fact is unfortunately often overlooked. The willful rejection of the truth that small-scale farmers feed the world has persisted because accepting the truth would compel policy makers to refocus attention where it matters rather than pumping resources into industrial farming that create ecological and socioeconomic problems, and is vastly inefficient when outputs are compared to inputs. Small scale farmers use less than 30% of arable land and resources and feed 70% of the population while the  reverse is the case with industrial farming.

Scare tactics of ever-growing population has been used as an excuse to force the diversion of public funds into private industrial agriculture as well as the introduction of genetically engineered crops into Africa and other parts of the world. Again, the fact that the world currently produces enough food to feed almost double the current population is ignored in the conversations. For Nigeria, our country, we are told that we will have the third largest population by 2050, surpassing the United States of America (USA) among others. In fact, the United Nations projects that the population growth rate in Africa will “at least double” by 2050. Lineal population growth may be possible if African countries deepen socioeconomic disparities and do not improve on social indices and if disease, poverty and illiteracy persist. It is time to re-examine the statistical basis of Nigeria’s population otherwise the shame will be on us when we become the most populous nation on earth and the people cannot be found!

Concerned medical doctors and religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Another fact that begs for acceptance is that people are not hungry because there is no food in the world. About 30 percent of food goes to waste. In addition, industrial farming thrives on monocultures and is the major supplier of feed stock, as expected, for industrial processes. The assertion that people are not hungry due to lack of food in the market is also buttressed that most of the people that go to bed hungry are actually farmers. This happens because farmers have to sell their produce so as to meet family needs – such as housing, medicals, transportation and school needs of their children.

Farmer to farmer exchanges are vital for the sharing of ideas, farming practices and ways for preserving seeds and our overall biodiversity. Meeting to have dialogues between farmers provides a platform to diagnose the challenges facing small holder farmers as they struggle to meet the food requirements of the population.

Dialogue spaces also provide platforms for examining the quality of seeds available to farmers and the special threats posed by opening of the flood gates to genetically engineered crops into Nigeria.

We continue to demand for a radical revision of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 and the installation of a neutral Biosafety Regulatory Agency that is totally different from the extremely pro-GMO one currently in place. In fact, today it is hard to distinguish NBMA from National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) – an agency expressly set up to promote GMOs even before any biosafety law was in place in the country. We are experts at putting the truck ahead of the truck pusher and once on the wrong path we stubbornly refuse to step back, except in rare cases like that of our Nigeria Air.

Today, respectable research institutions have bought into the GMO train making it difficult for farmers to know when they are being sold genetically modified cassava, beans or maize. Even if farmers were to know that they are being sold suspect seeds, once the seeds get into the food market, consumers have no way of knowing what is being sold to them. There is no way anyone will label akara, moi moi, ogi, eba or similar foods made from genetically modified seeds. In other words, Nigerians are on the wrong bus already.

Concerned medical doctors, religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

We will proceed to dissect, debate and consider the risks to our health and biodiversity, not just for our sake but for the sake of generations yet unborn. We are concerned that unproven assertions are presented as truths by GMO promoting agencies in total disregard of the globally increasing call for ban of cancer-causing herbicides that are already in our markets and will be more extensively used in the cultivation of crops genetically modified to withstand them.

Today we assure our farmers that you have strong allies in the GMO-Free Nigeria alliance and that we will stand with you in the struggle to ensure that technofixes are not presented as cure-all in our agricultural sector. We will stand with you and demand justice for us all. Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

Farmers do matter and must be listened to.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Farmers’ Dialogue – Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 21 September 2018 at Ugbiyoko, Benin City, Nigeria