Is 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.
As 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 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.
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
The Federal High Court of Justice, sitting in Abuja on the 15th August, struck out the Plaintiffs suit the GMO case with suit No: FHC/ABJ/C5/846/2017 due to technicalities. The Judge in delivering his judgment said that it was his opinion that although the plaintiffs have a Cause of Action in this matter, the court’s hands were tied due to one of the objections raised by the defendants – that the suit was statute barred. The suit was brought a year after the permits had been issued. According to the Judge it is a contravention of the provisions of the Public Officers Act, which states that any action instituted against a public officer as regards his/her discharge of duties must be instituted within three months, after the said breach occurred. The case was struck out not for lack of merit or lack cause of action (the court did establish a Cause of Action) but because of technicalities.
Reacting to this, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), in a statement made available to newsmen expressed great displeasure as they consider this a fall back on efforts to preserve the nation’s food system from being overturned by the agricultural biotech industry.
The case was struck out not for lack of merit or lack cause of action (the court did establish a Cause of Action) but because of technicalities.
The registered Trustees of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and sixteen other Civil Society Organisations in September 2017 filed the lawsuit against the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the Hon. Minister of Environment, Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Hon. Minister of Agriculture, the Attorney General of the Federation and National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) over permits granted.
In the summons which was taken out by Ifeanyi Nwankwere of Basilea Juris Associates, the plaintiffs insisted that 1st defendant did not comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act in granting the permits to the 3rd and 4th defendants. The CSOs asserted that the procedure and issuance of the permits flouts and threatens the fundamental human rights of the people as enshrined in section 33, 34, 36 and 39 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended in 2011.
Other issues which the plaintiffs brought forward were that NABDA, which by the way are part of the governing Board of NBMA, in their application did not state adequate measures put in place to prevent cross pollination with natural varieties during field trials and that NBMA granted the permits without any public hearing regardless of the consequential issues raised in objections sent in by the Plaintiffs.
HOMEF maintains that agricultural biotechnology along with its current advances come with specific risks both immediate and long-term and require thorough safety assessments.
Recently, the Jury in San Francisco, USA after deliberating for days found that Monsanto’s glyphosate based weed killer caused cancer for a man named DeWayne Johnson, who used the weed killer for his job as groundskeeper in a school. Monsanto was ordered by the Jury to pay a fine of $289 million to the man for failure to warn him and other citizens about risks posed by its weed-killing products.
These same products accompany the cultivation of the seeds our regulatory agency is bent on flooding the Nigerian environment with. GMOs are accompanied with heavy doses of herbicides, most of which have with glyphosate, which in addition to the health risks degrade soils.
According to Nnimmo Bassey, environmental activist and Director at HOMEF, “Nigeria’s present regulatory architecture cannot ensure food and environmental safety as shown by the manner in which the National Biosafety Management Agency handles GMO applications. One troubling example is the case of genetically modified maize varieties which were illegally shipped into country by WACOT Nig. Ltd. in September 2017. The agency after announcing that together with the Nigerian customs service they would ensure that the illegal seeds were repatriated approved an application by this company to import these products over a period of 3 years, barely a month after its announcement that illegal maize should be repatriated. This action contradicts the biosafety law which requires 270 days’ notice before imports to allow for adequate safety assessments.”
Bassey emphasized that “the only essence of genetically modified crops is for the economic benefit of the biotechnology corporations and their counterparts and not the interest of Nigeria. With the release of these products into the environment, damage will be irreversible and the current economic strength of Nigeria cannot afford that damage.”
The activist added further in the statement that this ruling by the court encourages the administrative rascality and constant disregard for public interest and due process.
It is instructive to note that while the case awaited judgment, the defendants, NBMA, Monsanto and NABDA on 26th July went ahead to register and release the Bt cotton varieties (MRC 7377 BG11 and MRC 7361 BG11) along with other GM product into the Nigerian environment. These cotton varieties refer to the same cotton MON 15985 in the suit as evident on the website of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- Biotech Applications (ISAAA). This shows a stark disregard for judicial processes and a violation of law and order.
“The health and economic welfare of all Nigerians, which constitutes our fundamental rights, are at risk if GMOs are allowed in the country. Nigerians must be aware that we are neither respected nor protected,” he warned.
Also reacting to the court ruling, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Lawyer and Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said in the statement that it would have been in the interest of justice to grant the reliefs set out on the face of the summons as this case represented not just consumers safety but the survival of millions of small scale farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by the corporate takeover of food systems in the guise of agricultural biotechnology. “We hope that when the impacts of GMOs sets in, the government of Nigeria will not say ‘we were not informed or warned about the impacts of GMOs.’ ”
It is regrettable that Federal High Court’s decision came at a time when the Chemical Company Monsanto has only been recently found guilty of knowingly causing grievous harm to one its consumers. This is not the first time Monsanto has been dragged to court. It is on record that Monsanto spends enormous amounts on legal defence to fend off the cases brought by the victims of its activities. Monsanto has a history of impunity, abuses and crimes. They manufacture highly toxic products that have contaminated the environment and permanently sickened or killed thousands of people around the world. They have destroyed life, plant and human health alike.
In April 2017, The Monsanto Tribunal of international judges presented in The Hague their legal opinion after 6 months of analysing the testimonies of more than 30 witnesses, lawyers and experts. Their conclusions are that Monsanto’s practices undermine basic human rights and the right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, it calls for better protective regulations for victims of multinational corporations and concludes that International law should clearly assert the protection of the environment and recognise ‘ecocide’ as a crime. Monsanto was found guilty!
Earlier in 2015, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization had reported that glyphosate, a major component of weed killers used worldwide was a potential carcinogen (cancer causing agent).
The civil society coalition is of strong conviction that this is a cause worth fighting and would continue to seek redress. The organizations pledge not to relent in pushing the case for food safety and food sovereignty in Nigeria.They pledged to continue to resist attempts by Monsanto, its international and local partners to control our food, land, life and democracy.
Thinking about re-connecting to Mother Earth brings up one of my fondest memories of my late father. Those were moments moments when we stood at the back of our home and gazed at the verdant valley rolling off our garden and on to the sculpted hills that fade off as far as our eyes could see. Those were the moments he told me stories of life. The stories close to his heart. And each time we stood there he told me the same stories. Although I grew weary of hearing the same tales over and over again, I always looked forward to those precious, private moments. Today, older and hopefully wiser, I understand the power of looking across valleys and over hills.
Memories. Life. Hope.
There was a time when I got really agitated and angry if anyone responded with the phrase “no problem” when asked “everything okay?” The phrase, “no problem”, indicated to me that the respondent was not attentive to the objective realities around him/her. My emotions have been so moderated that I can stomach that response these days. I would only extend it: “no problem that cannot be overcome.”
Some of the problems confronting humankind today have been constructed by our greed, naivety and indifference. Humankind has arisen as a unique species when it comes to exploitation without responsibility and appropriation of the gifts of Nature without appreciation. Commodification of Nature has not ended in the transformation of the physical elements around us to the marketing of intangibles and things only grasped by imagination. Think of the fact that our major medium of exchange is the imaginary promissory material called money, for which individuals compete, kill and destroy. Is it not surprising that many people measure their worth by this weightless imaginary means of exchange?
The assault on Mother Earth has tested her patience. She was here before humans arrived. She will be here after we have left. How shameful that we could imagine that we own Mother Earth or a piece of her!
Market Environmentalism and Loss of Memory
The commodification of Nature has been built on the false notion that Nature can only be protected or defended if it has a monetary value. This extremely contentious idea has become mainstream in neoliberal thinking and drives policy discussions in official bilateral and multilateral spaces. Not surprisingly, serious harm has resulted from the market environmentalism and the loss of sense of the intrinsic value of Nature. These harms have not only arisen from the unrestrained exploitation of Nature without thought being given to the repercussions, it has permitted the crimes of ecocide and even genocide as tolerable inevitabilities.
It is this thinking that made a Chief Economist of the World Bank to write that Africa is under polluted and that it made economic sense to ramp up pollution on the continent. In his words,
“…I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted.”
We see in this position that the market dogma can permit the twisting of logic and the willful poisoning of whole populations without compunction. In this statement, Africa is not only presented as nothing but a waste dump, she is also presented in a narrative that permits abuse. Here we refer to the notion of some African countries being under-populated. Although most African countries are actually under-populated, the popular narrative, and one that permits aggressive birth control proposals for the continent, is that Africa is overpopulated and is plagued by a threatening youth population bulge.
The logic of being under-polluted gives a good explanation of why international oil companies operating in the communities of the Niger Delta, Nigeria, can maintain an uninterrupted oil spilling and gas flaring for sixty years. As we speak, there are ongoing oil spills and unquenched gas furnaces raging in the communities. Raised as totems of development, the activities of oil companies have rendered the environment hostile to human survival. Oil activities have not only instituted militarization of the region and the attendant human rights abuses, the installation and transportation of extractive facilities have led to severe habitat loss and fragmentation occasioning the decline in biodiversity as well as threat to sustainable livelihoods of rural communities according to Prof. J. Ekpere in a foreword to HOMEF’s Report. Fragmentation of habitats in some communities come through the laying of oil and gas pipelines. In coastal communities, fresh water systems have been experiencing salinization due to canals constructed to allow movement of equipment inland. The result of turning fresh water brackish is a severe loss of biodiversity as well as loss of access to potable Water.
With water, soil and air assaulted with toxic elements, it is no surprise that human life expectancy has dropped precipitously to a mere 41 years in the region.
On the other hand, the idea that Africa is over populated is hinged on to encourage manipulation of plant genetic material in ways that are harmful to human health as well as the environment. Products of agricultural biotechnology are accompanied with heavy doses of toxic chemicals which degrade soils and run off to pollute water sources. This technology which is portrayed as the silver bullet to agricultural challenges puts livelihoods of millions of small scale farmers at risk while it favours a large-scale farming system that is driven by the profit motive and thrives on market monopoly.
Meanings and Actions
In a foreword to a report by Health of Mother Earth Foundation(HOMEF), Beyond Oil – Re-imagining Development in the Niger Delta, Alberto Acosta reminds us that, “serious environmental damage caused in the name of ‘modernity’, development and progress, the bastardization of concepts such as “sustainable development”, the persistence of false solutions such as the “green economy”, make it necessary to look no longer at alternative developments, but rather at “alternatives to development” and indeed alternatives to capitalist society. Such limitations should not lead to catastrophic conclusions. In various parts of the world, and in the Niger Delta itself, there are communities that re-imagine their lives over and over again.
“They have understood that they cannot follow the mantra of development and progress imposed by colonial and neocolonial invasions, whether military or conceptual. And from these readings many communities give concrete answers honed from their own daily life in response to their demands of life. Breaking with the false promises of oil, people’s alternatives emerge in this region of Africa, such as training, learning and re-learning programs; breeding poultry and chickens; integrated sustainable farms; community microcredit schemes; economic diversification programs; banana plantations without chemicals or transgenics; fish farms; own telecommunication and transport systems; communal farms to produce rice; use of renewable resources …”
Latching on the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu, Acosta points out that the needed alternatives are practical and hold the promise of “a decent life for many communities but, in addition, they are projected into the future, because they possess a strategic horizon of action. These alternatives are based on an ethical position: an assumption that a human being must not only take care of him or herself, but others as well. A person is understood to become a person by looking through the eyes of others; thus, human beings have to act with the consciousness of being interconnected with the rest of humanity and other living beings. Such a way of life involves caring directly for the environment and working for life in harmony with Mother Earth.”
It is dangerous to assume that simply because we speak to one another we have a common understanding of the terms and concepts that we use. It is rather the interrogation of terms such as modernity, development, progress, sustainable development and green economy that reveals whether we are on the same track or if indeed we are heading in divergent directions.
Things labeled modern are superficially seen as superior to things that are labeled primitive. Can this position be routinely correct? It cannot be assumed that simply because weapons of mass destruction are modern then they are superior to weapons of war that date back to thousands of years. Neither can we say that the fossil fuel dependent automobile is superior to a bicycle, outside the concept of speed. Even then, is moving faster an ideal if one is headed in the wrong direction?
Green is a Colour
Concepts such as carbon trading, green economy and even clean coal so readily capture attention. An oil company like Shell publishes an annual Sustainability Report. How sustainable is the extremely polluting extraction of oil and gas? Consider that other mining companies and governments project ideas of sustainable mining. How can extraction be sustainable. Extraction by definition is subtraction, a taking away, a hacking away at Mother Earth. In the same vein, sustainable development as a concept is an oxymoron. It is only when there is an agreed definition of development, including a base line that shows what is developed, underdeveloped or developing, that we can say if what is so defined is realistic in a finite world and if the conditions that led to that state of affairs can be replicated.
Green economy evokes an image of life, but in reality it places life on the chopping block. Built on the concept of commodifying Nature or keeping tabs of natural capital, it places value on so-called environmental services, including the job done by rivers and even the value of pollination by bees. It is doubtful that anyone can gauge the true value of the gifts of Nature in a way that would produce an equal ecological exchange.
By creative or selective accounting, efforts to internalize environmental costs in the price of commodities has not gained traction. This willful amnesia ensures that vulnerable workers, communities, territories and nations bear the hidden costs of extraction and production while the oligarchs smile to the bank with their bounties.
There is a global rejection of subsidies doled out to fossil fuel industries. We applaud the need the remove those subsidies, but that is not going far enough. When shall relief come to the communities/territories that are subsidizing the cost of extraction by bearing the brunt of environmental costs? When will Mother Earth enjoy a relief from these unending despoliations? When, indeed will the call to Keep it in the Ground become a binding rule and not just a slogan mouthed by the polluters and their supporting neoliberal institutions? When, indeed, will we demand an end to pollution and not merely demand that polluters pay?
The Measure of Progress
What development or progress birth well being? Efforts have been made to measure development and progress through a variety of indexes including the notorious Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which has been described as Gross Domestic Problem (Lorenzo Fioramonti, 2013). It has been shown by many analysts that the GDP of a nation has no correlation to the state of well being of the citizens. Yet other indices include Measure of Economic Welfare (MEW), Total Income System of Accounts (TISA), Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), Human Suffering Index (HSI) and Ecological Footprint.
Writing on the quest for statistical measure of economic performance, Joseph Stiglitz said, “Just as a firm needs to measure the depreciation of its capital, so too, our national accounts need to reflect the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of our environment. Statistical frameworks are intended to summarize what is going on in our complex society in a few easily interpretable numbers. It should have been obvious that one couldn’t reduce everything to a single number, GDP. The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress will, one hopes, lead to a better understanding of the uses, and abuses, of that statistic.”
Some politicians and statisticians are stuck with the GDP because it offers flattering pictures of their economies. As a compilation that is built mainly on imagination and sleight of hand, the GDP stubbornly marches on despite the arrival of other measures such as Human Development Index (HDI) and the Gross Happiness Index (GHI) that are closer to reality and do indicate a correlation to reality and the hopes of citizens.
Consider how Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy in 2014. Nigeria’s GDP was said to have grown by 6.81 percent in the third quarter of 2013. But this and other optimistic GDP projections mask the lived reality of ordinary citizens on the ground as evidenced even in official statistics. For example, a joint study conducted by the World Bank (WB) and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on poverty in Nigeria. A blog on the report opens with an oblique statement that “The World Bank and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have recently completed an in-depth analysis of Nigeria’s last set of household survey statistics, which were compiled in 2010 but until recently were not fully understood”. Why did it take the WB and the NBS so long to get to the point of comprehending the real situation? The stumbling block obviously is the stark contradiction between the huge growth rates in the nation and the “stubbornly high” poverty rates.
Reporting on the sudden jump of the Nigerian economy, the Economist (8th April 2014) tackled “How Nigeria’s economy grew by 89% overnight.” It explained that the base year for previous computations was 1999, but the government decided to change that base to 2010. The opening paragraph of the report makes a clear statement about GDPs. Here: “ON SATURDAY, April 5th, South Africa was Africa’s largest economy. The IMF put its GDP at $354 billion last year, well ahead of its closest rival for the crown, Nigeria. By Sunday afternoon that had changed. Nigeria’s statistician-general announced that his country’s GDP for 2013 had been revised from 42.4 trillion naira to 80.2 trillion naira ($509 billion). The estimated income of the average Nigerian went from less than $1,500 a year to $2,688 in a trice. How can an economy grow by almost 90% overnight?”
Waging War with GDP
The GDP as an economic measure goes back to the 1600s and has its roots in war efforts. It began when a physician of the British army, William Petty, was asked to conduct a systematic survey of the country’s wealth in order to aid in the redistribution of land among the soldiers. In order to position both land and labour for taxation, Petty tried to place market value on them. In the process, Petty got to increase his financial assets significantly. He acquired land from soldiers cheaply in lieu of salary and as such lands were declared “unprofitable.”
During the great depression of 1929 and 1941, it was found that market forces could not stabilize the economy quickly enough. The then president of USA needed a means of stimulating the economy and statistician Simon Kuznets started to work on the conceptualization and measurement of national income in 1932. His aim was to condense all economic production by individuals, companies and the government into a single number. The method developed by Kuznets finally came together during the Second World War (1939-1945) and the GNP was used a main scorecard for the design and implementation of national economic policy. The GNP accounts turned to be a powerful instrument used to estimate militarization costs and to calculate the speed at which the economy needed to grow in order to ‘pay for war’. Instructively, the government aimed to get citizens to increase consumption in order to be able to pay for the ammunitions used in war. It should be noted that Kuznets reportedly had reservations on the GDP right from the start. See Has GDP Outgrown its Use?
How could war or use of hard drugs be counted as activities that add to human welfare?
In the words of Lorenzo Fioramonti, “GDP was designed as a war device. That war did not end in 1945 but has continued ever since. It turned into an endless war against social equilibria, natural environments and non- renewable resources, in which consumers become the new foot soldiers; ultimately, a war against our own future on this planet”.
Humility and Defiance: Looking across that Valley
Saying No to mining and Yes to life is not a decision taken lightly. It is an inescapable objective reality when one has seen and experienced widespread ecocide in communities and territories that happen to harbour the gifts of Nature. Humans have no doubt developed tools through the transformation of Nature. However, the shift into a throwaway system of production where obsolescence is inbuilt, so as to promote inordinate consumption, is indefensible. The sure way to living well is by respecting Mother Earth and ensuring that our actions do not impede her right to maintain her cycles.
Standing on the lips of the valley behind my father’s house, it becomes clear that living well is possible for individuals, communities and the larger society. Living well happens when we are at peace with ourselves and with other beings and see them as our relatives. Living well happens when solidarity trumps competition and reckless wars. Living well occurs when we do not compete about whose car or house is bigger. Not even about who has the larger or more destructive nuclear button.
As my mind’s eyes wander beyond the horizons, it becomes clearer that well-being is not a private affair. It may begin as a personal quest but is only actualized in our connectedness. It is consummated in the commons, in our collectives, in our cooperations and in our undying trust that we can recover our memory. A recovered memory reminds us that the Earth does not belong to us, but that we are children of the Earth. Calling ourselves sons and daughters of the soil states a deep truth. As Vandana Shiva stated, we are the soil!
We are stewards bequeathed with gifts that have generational responsibilities. It is time to see the gifts of Mother Earth as re-sources perpetually calling on us to re-connect to her. True reconnection provokes healing and at the same time eliminates divisive instincts, and the dispositions that promote exploitation, domination and destruction.
The complex ecosystems around and within us yearn for an understanding of the intricate connections in the webs of life. Living with this consciousness and practice is Ubuntu, true liberation, true healing of both self, society and Mother Earth. We are individuals, yet we are community. This reality calls for both humility and defiance. Humility to accept that the tiniest being, even those invisible to our naked eyes, and the most complex ones need each other. Defiance by the essential need to oppose irresponsible exploitation of the gifts of Nature, ecocide and war.
The power that will tilt the ecological balance in favour of the health of Mother Earth, respecting the rights of Nature, will come through broad based mass movements joining forces, building common understanding and forging global solidarity of peoples.
We are at a crossroads. The Chinese saying advises that to get out of a hole you have to stop digging. Now is the time to make the transition to a post extractivist world. Extractivism has had its day and has driven many species to extinction. It has yielded what may euphemistically be termed a plastic civilization. Now is the time to move to the back of our homes and take a long gaze at the remains of what we have not yet destroyed.
It is time to gaze at the valleys and hills and re-connect and re-encounter Nature as a critical priority that cannot be postponed. We simply have to terminate models that situates humans as external to Nature. We are children of Mother Earth and it is time to wake up, regain our memory and return home. For healing to begin and be sustained we have to put a halt to the harms.
We bring you the March edition of our Eco-Instigator for 2018. The global environmental pollution is increasing and same heightened by the unholy wedlock between polluting industries and the supposed regulators. Activists from around the globe continue to work tirelessly for environmental and climate justice even as we prepare for a global “power shift” for climate action and activism.
In this edition, we bring you report from the UNFCCC COP23 which held in Bonn last November on the outcome of the Talanoa dialogue especially for the African stakeholders. We also serve you report from the maiden event of our FishNet Alliance in Lome, Togo.
Eco-Instigator #18 goes online! In this last edition of our Eco-Instigators for 2017 we bring you articles and reports on the following topics: Nigeria deserves an unbiased Biosafety regulator. Climate Change impacts on our land and food. Eat and Quench – Let’s listen to what our food is telling us. Geoengineering governance. South Sudan: new nation, new famine.
It was an incredibly exciting year with many things to cheer and plenty of others to fight. In this edition we bring you reports and articles that should interest and spur us up to take positive action aligned to the best interests of Mother Earth.
In this special edition, we serve you reports from our workshop held in South Sudan, our Community Dialogue and Sustainability Academy held in Abuja, in September and October, 2017 respectively. These activities provided us with the spaces to interrogate the complex issues of “climate Change, Pastoralism, Land and Conflict”. We also serve you reports from the UN climate change Conference of Parties (COP23) and from the conference on Redesigning the Tree of Life hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches.
This edition also features articles on Climate Change and the false solutions of geoengineering . We bring you reports from South Sudan and on the alarming fact that pollution is a top killer in the world today. The fight against colonizing our agricultural system through the genetic engineering is still on as the Nigerian biosafety regulator appears overtly in support of the risky technology. We bring you an article that questions their dangerous bias.
We also bring you interesting poetry and a selection of books that you should read. Want to know more about us and how you can be a volunteer? Drop us a mail.
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.
Soil quality has direct impact on the quality of harvests. Poor soils produce poor yields and climate change affects the quality and availability of soil for food production. We experience this directly when there are floods or droughts. The increasing desertification in Nigeria can be attributed in part to climate change. Poor soil management is equally responsible for incidents of desertification that is sometimes erroneously described as the “southward march” of the Sahara Desert.
Global warming is already having impacts on farming and food supply across the world. Projections for food supply if global warming trends are not reversed, or at least slowed down, are quite worrisome. We are witnesses of the impact of floods on farmers and farming in Nigeria this year, 2017. We cannot forget what flooding has meant in the recent past. In the 2012 floods, 6 million Nigerians were displaced and over 300 deaths were recorded. More than 100,000 persons were displaced by flooding in Benue State alone in 2017. Several deaths have also been recorded this year as a result of floods in Lagos and Borno States and other parts of Nigeria.
Without argument, change of rainfall patterns and volumes have direct impact on agriculture, including herding activities. Climate change has effects on access to land, as well as water, for cultivation and for pastoral activities. The effects can also contribute to conflicts arising from the shrinking of these and related resources. Drier lands contribute to migration or displacement of populations. The same happens with flooding or coastal erosion. Pastoralists and farmers can work in ways that are mutually beneficial rather than in the current conflict-ridden ways. With herders and farmers gathered in this dialogue today, we have opportunity to share concerns and build solutions.
Degraded land sometimes get labeled as marginal lands thus setting them up to be grabbed and taken away from communities. Global warming may lead to an increase of pests, diseases and post harvest losses. Even small increases of temperature will negatively impact the production of cereals such as maize. In addition, unusual weather variability coupled with extreme weather events also lead to:
Coastal erosion and loss of land and fishing grounds
Intrusion of salt water into fresh water systems, thus affecting marine ecosystems
Possibilities of rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020
Reduction in grassland and grains production will adversely affect animal husbandry
Increase of family and other social emergencies
Zero hunger by 2030?
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 sets the important target of achieving Zero hunger by 2030. If conscientiously pursued the world would drastically reduce the impacts of global warming on food production. Specifically, among other things, this important SDG seeks to:
By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed
The target of Zero Hunger by 2030 may seem impossible to attain in the face of climate change, but with suitable approaches and intensive extension services, food supplies can be sustained and farming can help to cool the earth rather than accelerate Global warming. The sort of farming that would do this would enrich soils rather than degrading poisoning them. They would protect soil organisms rather then killing them. This farming method would be agroecological, and deeply climate and culture smart. Culture smart farming works with the best indigenous knowledge and technologies and protect crop varieties. Such indigenous technologies include the zai method used by farmers in Burkina Faso and others to retain water and nutrients and thus maintain and enrich soil quality and thus protect biodiversity.
Culture smart and climate resilient farming are contrary to what is offered by modern biotechnology by way of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When GMOs are presented as being climate smart, there is a willful denial of the massive erosion of species that they represent. There is also a willful denial of the soil degradation by the agrotoxics that are applied in such farms.
Today, we are fortunate to have in our midst a pastoralist from Turkana Region of Kenya. She works with pastoralists and fishermen and women whose livelihoods depend on the predictability of weather patterns. She comes with a rich experience of what it means to raise livestock in a semi arid area and in a region that has both internal conflicts as well as the challenges of oil extraction. Her region in Kenya faces the combined challenges of climate change and oil extraction impacts.
Our hope is that through our dialogue, we will share experiences and pick out lessons that will help us manage our lands better, avoid or resolve conflicts and equally extend the lessons to those who couldn’t be a path of this Dialogue.
Permit me to now step aside and invite Ikal Angelei to take the floor and set the Dialogue rolling.
We held dialogues on Re-Source Democracy in communities and Sustainability Academies on the same issue in two universities- the University of Port Harcourt and the University of Uyo. We also co-hosted the 2017 edition of the Right Livelihood Lecture at the RLC campus of the University of Port Harcourt. We serve you with reports from some of the events. The community dialogues focussed on forest issues anchored on the unnecessary Superhighway project as well as our right to safe food.
We are also bringing you reports and articles related to our efforts to promote true biosafety devoid of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria and Africa. A highlight of our work in this regard was a major March Against Poison that saw hundreds of Nigerians marching to the National Assembly in Abuja on 7 June 2017 to demand a repeal of the National Biosafety Management (NBMA) Act of 2015. Our disciplined objection to the permitting stance of NBMA has resulted in abusive responses from GMO promoters as you will see in one of such articles reproduced in this edition.
A momentous landmark was reached on Monday 19 June 2017 when we teamed up with SDCEA and the fisherfolks in Durban, South Africa, to launch the Fish Not Oil campaign – a grassroots resistance to offshore extractive activities. This campaign is being deepened in FishNet Dialogues with fisherfolks in our countries and our aim is to see this replicated globally.
As usual we bring you poetry and a selection of books that you should read. We also indicate upcoming activities to which you are cordially invited.
The plans to take total control of Nigeria’s food system is moving rapidly on the genetically engineered organisms (GMO) highway. The list of GMOs being pushed in Nigeria includes beans, maize and cotton. Recently the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) teamed up with ETHZ laboratories of Zurich Switzerland to apply to carry out confined field trial in Nigeria of cassava genetically modified “obtain storage roots with lower post-harvest physiological degradation after harvest (thanks to pruning) without any loss of the nutritious starch.”
Health of Mother Earth Foundation, along with 87 other civil society organisations representing over 5 million Nigerians, has sent an objection to the application submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
IITA’s application is to conduct “confined” field trials of the cassava genetically modified using a new gene silencing technology that has never been tested before. In fact, the IITA admits that such an approval has not been given for this GMO cassava anywhere in any “jurisdiction” in the world.
According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), “The IITA has been a respected institution in Nigeria and Africa on whom farmers depend for good quality and safe crops. Now they have decided to drive on the GMO road, Nigerian and African agriculture face a mortal danger. If NBMA approves this application, we can as well say good bye to food safety in Nigeria.”
Bassey adds, “even if the IITA presents the Frankenstein cassava as a crop for the production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting the GMO cassava for food. We call on the NBMA to do the needful and reject this application outright. We don’t need GMO cassava. We don’t need GMOs.”
Reacting to the multi-front attack of GMO promoters in Africa, AFSA, the pan-African civil society platform championing food sovereignty in Africa, “calls for an immediate ban on the importation into South Africa of Monsanto’s high-risk second-generation gene-silencing genetically modified (GM) maize destined for human consumption. AFSA rejects and condemns US corporation Monsanto’s plan to exploit millions of Africans as unwitting human guinea pigs for their latest genetic engineering experiment. AFSA also condemns the IITA field trial application in Nigeria using this same risky technology to produce GM cassava for the agro-fuels industry.”
AFSA adds, “These GM applications target staple foods of maize and cassava, eaten by many millions of Africans every day. Scientists have reported that the untested gene-silencing effect is able to cross over into mammals and humans, and affect their genetic makeup with unknown potential negative consequences, and have called for long-term animal testing and stronger regulation before this goes ahead.”
IITA has a long romance with cassava. In 2006, the institution issued a statement stating that from their research, for the Nigerian Government to achieve 10 percent ethanol for fuel the country would need to produce about 7 billion kilograms of cassava annually. How would that quantity of cassava be produced without taking farmers off the food production line to start producing food for machines? How would this sort of egregious non-food production be carried out without land grabbing and displacement of poor farmers?
According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, the Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, “Promoting GM crops for biofuels demonstrates the hypocrisy of the biotech giants, who are always quick to summit that GM crops are necessary to produce more food for the growing world population. They make the case that relying only on natural crop varieties would create food deficits and lead to forests being cleared for cultivation, to meet rising food demand. Yet, the same companies think nothing of diverting large areas of arable land for cultivation of crops to develop ethanol for fuel, to feed the voracious machines of the North.”
HOMEF and all the organisations objecting to the application for confined trials of the novel cassava GMO agree with AFSA and demand that the National Biosafety Management Agency should throw out the application and advise them to carry out the test in Switzerland where it was developed.
“If IITA is tired of serving the needs of Nigeria and Africans as they have done in the past, they may as well take their business elsewhere. How can we ever trust them any longer with this extremely dangerous path they are taking?” asks Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener of Nigerians against GMOs.
There is no mentioning of this specific project/application of his technology with Cassava on the website of the developer of the technology. From a related website, http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/reseach-pb/research-pb.html, it is seen that it is another group that typically works on genetically engineered of cassava or all kinds of plants focusing on nutritional compounds such as iron and Vitamin A.
It does appear that the cassava variety being applied to be tested in Nigeria is a continuation of a PhD project under the supervision of Profs Zeeman and Gruissem. Part of that PhD research was to develop first transgenic lines of starch-altered cassava and they did all the work with one line of Cassava they got from IITA (cv60444) which they grew over the years in climate chambers/greenhouses at ETH.
The applicants claim that there are “no expected changes in toxicity or allergenicity of transgenic cassava clones,” but cites no research to back up the claim. This is highly presumptuous as other scientists have said all methods of crop improvement have potential to cause unintended compositional changes. What makes IITA’s GM cassava different? We are confounded how claims such as these with no evidence to support them can be “scientifically” acceptable. But that is very typical and this application is no exception
GE cassava for biofuel is a very ‘northern’ idea. It will not work in Nigerian context with little to no oversight over production chains and certainly not for small-scale farmers. It hasn’t even worked in industrial countries as all previous dual-use GE crops have utterly failed to this point, with the worst case being with Cry9C maize in the US which was also meant primarily as feed and explicitly NOT as food. Within weeks after the first harvest, even in a country like the US, it was shown to have ended up in all kinds of food products like cornflakes, tacos etc. They took the product off the market within a year but it was still around – and may still be around – for years.
The Applicants said the trial personnel have relevant skills in biotechnology and “will be appropriately trained in biosafety to cope with the requirement of the study.” This assertion suggests that IITA does not already have the requisite personnel to handle the biosafety aspect of this application. Again, this shows that Nigerian is chosen as the platform to roll out this risky experiment probably because they believe that any sort of application would be passed by Nigeria.
The objection also calls on the NBMA not to allow our territory to be used for the trial of risky and unnecessary technologies that add no value to our food systems but rather threaten our agriculture, health and survival of our peoples. This application fails on all layers and levels of consideration and IITA will do well to allow ETHZ to retain their specimens in their laboratories in Zurich rather than become a conduit by which our well-being is threatened.