Court Decides on GMO Case: The Struggle to safeguard our food Continues

Portable Network Graphics image-0FF7159A2AC6-1The 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.

Beyond Fossil Fuels

Beyond Fossil Fuels – OILWATCH AFRICA’s LAMU DECLARATION Oilwatch Africa network members, Lamu community representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) met in Lamu Kenya, on 7th and 8th August, 2018 at a conference on the theme: Beyond Fossil Fuels. The conference considered the politics of fossil fuel extractions, the impacts of fossil fuels on the continent and the strategy to unlock Africa’s power using alternatives to fossil fuels energy systems that are environmentally friendly and socially just.

The participants of the conference considered also the implications of the proposed LAPSET project (Coal power plant, deep Sea Port and Oil extraction) by the Kenyan Government on the socio-economic lives of the people of Lamu, including the impacts of these project on their culture, agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods of the people. After listening to the Save Lamu movement experiences, the conference noted that Lamu is an example of similar dirty energy and mega projects being pursued on the continent without full consultations with the people and without their free prior informed consent.

The conference analysed:

  1. Africa’s energy needs and the politics of a just transition;
  2. The challenges that fossil fuels funding in African countries, including the issues of debt and the resolution of disputes under a jurisdiction different from the involved country;
  3. The way Africa should go about renewable energy in relation to land tenure and land use;
  4. The political corruption and abuse of political power as a major problem faced by the people
  5. The destruction of livelihoods and local economies by the polluting activities of fossil fuels industries
  6. The issues of land grabbing, displacements and the marginalisation of communities in Africa due to fossil fuel industry activities among others

The conference declared:

  1. Full support for the demands of the Save Lamu movement;
  2. Opposition to the use of public funds to subsidize fossil fuels;
  3. That land tenure systems on the continent must respect community ownership as dictated by culture and tradition
  4. Communities must give their free prior informed consents for projects proposed for their territories while retaining their right to say NO
  5. That governments should urgently transit to renewable energy for all, owned and controlled by people
  6. African governments must urgently diversify national economies away from dependence on fossil fuels, exploitation of peoples and the destruction of the gifts of nature.

This declaration was issued on the 7th of August, 2018 in Lamu, Kenya

Participants at the meeting were drawn from Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Uganda.

 

 

 

Eco-Instigator #19— Climate, Biosafety, Conflicts and more!

Eco-Instigator #19 coverWe 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.

Download and read this issue Eco-Instigator #19 X

Share your thoughts. Send articles, photos, poems, songs and/or reports of ecological challenges. We like to hear from you. Reach us at editor@homef.org and home@homef.org.

2018. Biosafety. Biosecurity. Food Safety.

NBMA promotes GMOs

Screenshot: NBMA website 31.12.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Road to Food Sovereignty

land and agricThe Road to Food Sovereignty. Peasant Farming, Not Industrial Food Production.
Industrial agriculture isn’t the efficient beast it’s made out to be. Peasant farming, not industrial food production, is the way to feed the world, argue Pat Mooney and Nnimmo Bassey.
Time is running out if the world is going to slash greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep us below a 1.5°c temperature rise by 2100, an aspiration set by the Paris climate accords.
Two conferences this autumn tackled different ends of the problem, in splendid isolation from each other. The UN Committee on World Food Security held its annual meeting in Rome in mid-October, alarmed that the number of hungry people on the planet has suddenly climbed by 40 million in the past year – much of it due to the direct and indirect effects of climate change – and fearful that an unpredictable climate will cut global food production still more sharply in the decades ahead.
Meanwhile, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) met in Bonn and high on its agenda was the need to cut agriculture’s GHG emissions which experts say account for anywhere from one third to more than half of global warming. So, what for Rome delegates is a problem of food security is for Bonn delegates a problem of climate security.
The solution for both climate and food sovereignty is to dismantle the global industrial agri-food system (which we call the ‘industrial food chain’) and for governments to give more space to the already growing and resilient ‘peasant food web’ – the interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world.
Global land use and food production: industrial agriculture and peasant farming compared
Global land use and food production: industrial agriculture and peasant farming compared. Picture: New Internationalist. Data: ETC Group, Who Will Feed Us? Report
In our report delivered to policymakers in both Rome and Bonn, Who Will Feed Us?, ETC Group (the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) provides original data about the importance of peasant food systems and the real economic, environmental and social cost of industrial agriculture.
The industrial food chain is using at least 75 per cent of the world’s agricultural land and most of agriculture’s fossil fuel and freshwater resources to feed barely 30 per cent of the world’s population. Conversely, more than 500 million peasant farms around the world are using less than 25 per cent of the land – and almost no fossil fuels or chemicals – to feed 70 per cent of humanity.
Aside from burning vast quantities of fossil carbon, industry is also wasting money that could be directed to supporting equitable agroecological production while still lowering food prices for the world’s marginalized consumers.
The statistics are staggering. Consumers pay $7.5 trillion each year for industrially produced food. But between a third and half of this production is wasted along the way to the consumer or at the table: spoiled in the field or in transport, rejected from grocers because of blemishes, or left on the plate because of over-serving.
Conversely, households in OECD countries consume about a quarter more food than is needed – leading to obesity and related health problems.
The total food overproduced each year is worth $3.8 trillion – a combination of $2.49 trillion worth of food waste and $1.26 trillion of over-consumption (see footnote 191 of the report). Burgeoning waists worldwide also have both human and economic costs.
When the wider environmental damages – including contaminated soils and water, greenhouse gas emissions – are added to the health and social impacts, the harm done by the industrial food chain is almost $5 trillion (see footnote 193). For every dollar consumers spent in supermarkets, health and environmental damages cost two dollars more.
Added to the amount spent by consumers, this makes the real cost of industrial food $12.4 trillion annually.
Policymakers negotiating the future of food and climate may wonder if it is possible to make such a dramatic change in our food production. Peasants may feed 70 per cent of the world’s population now but can they adapt quickly enough to climate change to feed us in 2100? Which system, the industrial food chain or the peasant food web, has the track record, innovative capacity, speed and flexibility needed to get us through the unparalleled threat of an unpredictable climate?
The answer is clear. Take experience: over the last century, the industrial food chain has not introduced a single new crop or livestock species to production but has cut the genetic diversity of our crops by 75 per cent, reduced the number of species by about one third, and reduced the nutritional value of our crops by up to 40 per cent. The peasant web has introduced 2.1 million new plant varieties where industrial agriculture has only introduced 100,000 over the same time frame.
The industrial food chain works with only 137 crop species and five main livestock species. Stunningly, 45 per cent of the industry’s research and development targets just one crop: maize. By contrast, the peasant web is breeding and growing 7,000 different crop species and 34 livestock species – like the alpaca, ñandu, and guinea pig.
Peasants also have the track record of dealing with new conditions quickly and effectively. Recent history is replete with evidence that peasant producers – before there were telegraphs or telephones or railways – have adapted new food species (through selective breeding) to an extraordinary range of different climatic conditions within the span of only a few human generations.
This process of seed and knowledge sharing from farmer to farmer is how maize spread across most of the regions of Africa and how sweet potatoes were planted everywhere in Papua New Guinea from mangrove swamps to mountain tops – all in less than a century – and how immigrants brought seeds from Europe that were growing across the Western Hemisphere within a generation.
When we compare the track record of the industrial food chain to the peasant food web we must conclude that our century-long experience with the chain shows that it is just too expensive, and it can’t scale up. Meanwhile, with almost no support from governments, the peasant food web is already feeding 70 per cent of us (see page 12) – and could do much more, while producing drastically less greenhouse gas emissions than industrial methods.
To be clear, ‘peasant farming as usual’ is not an option. Climate change will mean our over 10,000 years of agriculture has to deal with growing conditions that the world hasn’t seen for three million years.
There is no reason to be sanguine about the problems ahead.
Peasants can scale up if the industrial chain gets off their backs. Governments must recognize peasants’ rights to their land and seeds and support fair, peasant-led rural development and trade policies. We need to cut waste and shift our financial resources to strengthening the peasant food web and both tackling climate change and ensuring food sovereignty.
IMG_8781
This article was first published in the New Internationalist
The ETC Group’s publication, Who Will Feed Us? which compared peasant farming and industrial agriculture, can be downloaded in English and Spanish from ETC’s website.

 

HOMEF, CSOs Reject Transgenic cassava application from IITA

Objecting IITA's applicationThe 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.”[1]

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[2] 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.

Read the full objections as submitted to NBMA here: Objection to IITA’s GE Cassava Application

Further information for editors:

  1. The developer of the GMO cassava that IITA is applying to bring into Nigeria is Prof Zeeman, whose work are is mostly on starch metabolism and biochemistry which has now been tried with Cassava. See more at http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/research-pbc/research/research-and-thesis-projects.html.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.[3] 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.
  4. 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.[4] 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
  5. 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.[5]
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 
Endnotes
[1] AFSA (22 August 2017) OPEN LETTER: Do not allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs for untested high-risk new GM technology. http://afsafrica.org/open-letter-to-african-biosafety-regulators-do-not-allow-africans-to-be-used-as-guinea-pigs/

[2] Muhammed, Hamisu (19 December 2006). Nigeria: Biofuel – Nigeria Needs 7bn KG of Cassava Annually, Daily Trust, http://allafrica.com/stories/200612190564.html

[3] https://www.research collection.ethz.ch/bitstream/handle/20.500.11850/154780/eth-46938-02.pdf

[4] See, for example, Rijssen, Fredrika et a. (2013) Food Safety: Inportance of Composition for Assessing Genetically Modified Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz). http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jf401153x?src=recsys&

[5] Wikipedia. StarLink corn recall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarLink_corn_recall

 

The Petroleum “Host Community” Bill

HOMEF's Comments on the Petroleum Host Community Bill 2016The premise of the Petroleum Host Community Development Bill, 2016, is the pursuit of development of Petroleum “Host Communities” using the vehicle of the Petroleum Community Trust. The Bill ignores the fact that a community does not have to host petroleum companies or their facilities before they are exposed to the negative impacts that accompany the actions of the sector, for example, black soot was observed in some parts of Port Harcourt in 2016 and early 2017 far from the pollution sites. The 1998 offshore Idoho oil spill that started from Akwa Ibom spread as far as some coastal areas in Lagos. Goi community in Gokana Local Government area of Rivers State has no oil installations or pipelines but was heavily polluted by an oil spill in 2005 that has rendered many community people homeless till date and with all their sources of livelihood lost. It cannot be denied that communities that do not fall into what this Bill refers to as Petroleum Host Communities do indeed get impacted as petroleum pollution does not respect community boundaries, especially in riverine areas where water bodies and swamps impacted by oil pollution are interconnected.

Secondly, by focusing mostly on financial contribution/distribution, the Bill overlooks the critical component of prior informed consent with regard to petroleum prospecting and exploitation in the affected communities. The only manner by which this is implied is in terms of “Community Development Agreements.”

Thirdly, a Bill of this nature would benefit from robust community engagements and consultations. This does not appear to have been the case with this Bill. That step cannot be ignored and should be urgently embarked on before any further consideration of the Bill. Having a public hearing in Abuja would not be sufficient if this is truly aimed at meeting the yearnings of communities.

Civil society groups including Spaces4Change, Social Action, Kabetkache and HOMEF met recently in Port Harcourt to review the Petroleum Host Communities Bill 2016. We share  HOMEF’s Comments on Petroleum Host Communities Bill 2016.