What We Eat (must not eat us)

IMG_5511What We Eat (must not eat us): The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted, while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.

The need to interrogate our biosafety has become very pertinent because of the many myths around modern agricultural biotechnology. These myths are being peddled regularly by the industry promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their team players in public offices. A major plank on which biosafety, and perhaps biosecurity, rests is the precautionary principle[1]. This principle, or approach, is a safeguard against the permission or introduction of products or elements into the environment where there is no scientific consensus that such an introduction would be safe or would not have an adverse impact. In other words, the precautionary principle helps to disallow the use of citizens as guinea pigs in experimental release of products that could harm them. The argument that there is a risk in everything is hollow and an acceptance of that as an excuse to expose citizens to harm is inhuman.

In this engagement on biosafety we hope to share information on the issues of biosafety and GMOs in Nigeria and Africa. The aim is that media practitioners would be able to sift the facts from the myths, and by so doing help the public to require a sense of responsibility from our biosafety regulators, research institutions, political forces and commercial interests behind the risky genetic engineering approach to food production.

The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted,[2] while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.[3]

Another argument used to sell GMOs is that they require the use of less chemical in terms of pesticides and herbicides because the crops can be engineered to withstand herbicides or to act as pesticides themselves. The emergence of what have been termed super weeds and superbugs have dented that claim as farmers have had to sometimes apply stronger doses of herbicides and pesticides on farms where such weeds or pests emerge. In any case, the herbicide known as Roundup/glyphosate to which crops engineered by Monsanto are resistant, has been said to be a ‘possible’ source for cancer.[4]

Evidence is now mounting that there has been a collusion by biotech companies and regulators in the USA to conceal the fact that glyphosate is indeed a probable human carcinogen. One Environmental Protection Agency official, Marion Copely, in a 2013 email[5] stating the following ways in which glyphosate can cause cancer:

  1. Endocrine disruption
  2. Free radical formation and inhibition of free radical-scavenging enzymes
  3. Genotoxicity — which is key in cancer onset
  4. Inhibition of certain DNA repairing enzymes
  5. Inhibiting the absorption of essential nutrients
  6. Renal and pancreatic damage that may lead to cancer
  7. Destruction of gut bacteria and suppression of the immune system

The official (who has cancer and passed on in 2014) added, “Any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously. It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer. With all of the evidence listed above, the CARC category should be changed to ‘probable human carcinogen.’”[6]

A report published yesterday by Global 2000 shows that between 2012 and 2016, biotech companies sponsored a series of review articles asserting that glyphosate and its commercial formulations are not injurious to health. The Global 2000 report, “buying Science” reveals that the industry-sponsored reviews of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and genotoxicity (ability to damage DNA) have serious scientific flaws, including assigning greater weight to unpolished studies than peer-reviewed ones. The papers are said to also have introduced irrelevant data in violation of standard guidelines for the evaluation of cancer studies in rodents. Moreover, the reviews also consistently assign greater weight to unpublished industry studies than to studies that were peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals.[7]

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) on 1st May 2016 approved for Monsanto/NABDA to introduce genetically engineered maize varieties that would depend on this cancer-causing weed killer. Responding to objections to the permits and the obnoxious chemical, Monsanto issued a press response claiming that the chemical would not offer any cause for worry if farmers apply them strictly according to the guidelines or labels on the packets.[8] We note that overwhelming evidence show serious health impacts of agro-chemicals on persons working on farms planted with GMOs or living in close proximity to such farms.[9]

We invite journalists to interrogate the fact that GMOs are grown as mono-cultures and consider what this would mean to our agricultural system which is anchored on mix-cropping that promotes diversity and resilience. It also pays for us to look at the woeful performance of GMO cotton in Burkina Faso where the crop is being phased out and the remarkable failure in Makhathini Flats in South Africa where it was showcased as a grand success for small scale farmers in the late 1990s. We should point out that it is the same failed GMO cotton that has been halted in Burkina Faso that has been permitted to be commercially released into Nigeria.

You will hear in this programme how our regulatory agency works in cohort with GMO promoters and where official GMO promoters are interlocked with Monsanto, as for example in the GMO maize application and approval. As one ancient philosopher said, we simply have to believe the evidence of our “eyes” before we jump unto the GMO bandwagon in the pretext that we are doing science, claiming that all is well, when there are deep wells of doubts concerning the technology.

As we speak, GMO products are already on our market shelves. And a plethora of field trails of others are ongoing, including that of GMO beans that may be introduced into the Nigerian markets by 2019, according to the promoters[10]. HOMEF and other critical observers have scrutinized the NBMA Act of 2015 and found critical clauses in it that makes its capacity to protect our environment and health very questionable. We have also proposed how this situation can be remedied: either a total repeal of the act or a drastic review of the questionable provisions.

My task is to declare this training open. I do so now. And I urge you to engage and contest any ideas you are not in agreement with. And do see our publications, including our GMO Factsheet for more information. We should be concerned about what we eat. And we should not be forced to eat what we do not want to eat.

Let the conversations proceed.

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Media Training-Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria held in Benin City , Nigeria, on Friday, 24th March 2017

Notes

[1] http://www.precautionaryprinciple.eu

[2] UNEP. 2016. Food Waste: The Facts. http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts

[3]David Johnson and Siobhan O’Connor. 2015. These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the US. Time Health.  http://time.com/3840073/gmo-food-charts/

[4] Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’ causes cancer, says WHO study. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/21/roundup-cancer-who-glyphosate-

[5] See report on “Heartbreaking letter from dying EPA scientist begs Monsanto “moles” inside the agency to stop lying about dangers of RoundUp (glyphosate)” at http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-15-heartbreaking-letter-from-dying-epa-scientist-begs-monsanto-moles-inside-the-agency-to-stop-lying-about-dangers-of-roundup-glyphosate.html

[6] Vicki Batts. March 23, 2017. Thousands of people now have non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma due to glyphosate (Roundup) exposure, warns legal firm that’s suing Monsanto. http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-23-thousands-of-people-now-have-non-hodgkins-lymphoma-due-to-glyphosate-roundup-exposure-warns-legal-firm-thats-suing-monsanto.html

[7] GM Watch. 23 March 2017. New report shows glyphosate producers are “buying science.” http://gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17518

[8] Ben Ezeamalu. June 11, 2016. Monsanto responds to PREMIUM TIMES’ report, says own modified crops ‘safe.’ http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/205109-monsanto-responds-premium-times-report-says-modified-crops-safe.html

[9] Paul Koberstein. June 16, 2014. GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides. http://grist.org/business-technology/gmo-companies-are-dousing-hawaiian-island-with-toxic-pesticides/

[10] Zakariyya Adaramola. November 29, 2016. Nigeria to get GM beans in commercial quantities by 2019- NABDA. https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/health/nigeria-to-get-gm-beans-in-commercial-quantity-by-2019-nabda/173748.html

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism. Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

The need to interrogate what patriotism means in the context of the challenges of the push of modern agricultural biotechnology into Nigeria and Africa has been instigated by an article by a “Lagos-based research scientist” titled “Biotech agencies NIREC report and unpatriotic activism.” That article opened with this claim: “Recently, a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) issued a press release with the intention of misleading the public and pursuing an alien agenda.”

I have personally not seen the “statement” that was supposedly released by NIREC and probably would not have learned of the publication in Daily Trust, but for the strident responses from the government agencies and their proxies. I also have strong doubts that the Daily Trust publication was a press release “from a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).” The source of the story, however, is not our concern here.

Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

For an immediate modern day example by which we can examine the puerile claim that government (agency) worship is equal to patriotism, we only need to look at the current resistance to the travel ban proposed by the president of the United States of America. The president proclaimed a ban, the world was aghast, legal challenges were instituted, the government lost and a revised ban was issued. As we write, a court has blocked that new presidential order. It is our guess that those who object to the travel ban can be labelled unpatriotic, after all the orders were issued by a president. No applause for such logic. We must ask ourselves why biotechnology proponents find it hard to accept that their ideas can be questioned and that they could be wrong, as they often are. The falsehood of the myths of the biotechnology industry have been demonstrated continuously and shown for what they are. Moreover, Nature repeatedly trumps the myths – through super weeds, superbugs, etc..

Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events. We know they would not flip their script.

Let us linger a bit more on criticism as lack of patriotism. What is patriotic about foisting on Nigeria a technology that has failed woefully in Burkina Faso, a neighbouring country? How come we are wishing away the fact that the quantity and quality of cotton harvests in Burkina Faso has picked up since they escaped the GMO hoax?

What is patriotic about forcing down our throats, a system that was sold as revolution for small scale farmers in Makhathini Flats, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa in 1998 but failed woefully?

We will look at other issues in the article written by the Lagos-based scientist who apparently must be an insider in one or both of the agencies defended in the article. The scientist appears to have the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau.

The argument that anyone opposing GMOs is doing so for pecuniary reasons, or is acting as someone’s stooge, is laughable. That same argument can be extended to those of us opposed to criminal oil pollutions, toxic dumps and the like. The same can be said of those of who fought against military dictatorship in Nigeria, against apartheid in South Africa or slavery in the USA. It is a weak, poor and worthless argument that does not even merit a response. What would the Lagos-based scientist say of the web of actors and sponsors that are openly funding and pushing for the deployment of GM crops in Africa?

The committee that NIREC set up to review the GMO situation in Nigeria was an advisory one made up of academics, researchers and people of faith. To my knowledge, apart from secretariat support, members were/are not part of NIREC. The committee invited the two key institutions promoting or overseeing the “deployment” of GMOs in Nigeria.

Finally, the Lagos based scientist stated in the article under reference and we quote: “Nnimmo Bassey was an active player in the processes that cumulated in the establishment of the NBMA, so to turn around and say that the Agency is a brain child of NABDA questions his credibility and integrity.” (our emphasis).

Let us go back to what we wrote in the article that drew the ire of the Lagos-based scientist. Here is it: “A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination.”

Note that I used the word “purportedly” and then added that I did not imagine that curious supposition. The fact is that the disclosure that NBMA was a brainchild of NABDA was stated by the official that represented one of the agencies when they appeared before the NIREC committee. We do not think it is important to say who among the two made that incredible claim. But if anyone really wants to know the information it can be shared. This writer did not imagine, claim or say it. The revelation unveils the foundational flaw of the GMO scaffold.

In any case, those who promoted the NBMA Bill have their logos printed on the back of the document that was distributed at the Public Hearing on the Biosafety Bill Organised by the Joint Committee on Science and Technology and Agriculture, ABUJA, 9th December 2009, at the National Assembly. To suggest that this writer ever endorsed what was signed into law by our former president is an incredible distortion of the truth. When we recognise that we have a bad product, two of the ways to respond is dropping it or reviewing it. One of the organisational flyers of NBMA carries the names of individuals, including those from CSOs that are totally opposed to GMOs but attended one of the meetings in the preparatory stages of the bill that has become law. Why are those names listed on a promotional flyer? To gain credibility? To silence opposition? Did their attendance indicate that they endorsed the bill? Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events.  We know they would not flip their script.

In conclusion, let us just state that no law is cast in concrete, although even concrete cannot last for ever. No matter what the current GMO promoters say, believe or defend, the fact remains that a defective piece of legislation ultimately will be reviewed or jettisoned. The same will be the terminal point of a technology whose obsolescence is already appearing.

 

 

 

[*] Nnimmo Bassey is Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins

thumb_img_0764_1024NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins: Recently there was a news report that the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) cautioned the Nigerian government with regard to permitting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) foods into Nigeria. That significant report may have escaped many Nigerians. However, the strident denial by the directors general of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that they were not members of the NIREC committee on GMOs helped to bring up the report again. Both officials are right to say that they were not members of the NIREC committee because they were not. I was a member, so I can testify to that. They were invited to share information and respond to questions on GMOs with the committee set up by NIREC. And the director of NBMA did while NABDA was represented by Dr Rose Gidado, an assistant director of the agency. A disclaimer published by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Nigeria (OFAB) on behalf of NABDA opens with these words: “On the Daily Trust publication below (NIREC cautions FG against GMOs), the OFAB Nigeria Coordinator, Dr. Rose Gidado whose name appeared as part of the Committee wishes to state that she was called to answer questions at the Committee meeting but was never part of the Meeting not to talk of being part of the approval process of the final report that was produced.” She met with the committee as a representative of NABDA.

They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination. It is alarming because the NABDA as the name implies is a biotechnology research, development and promotion agency. Their job is to ensure that GMOs are placed on the dining tables of Nigerians whether we want them or not.

The fact of one being the brainchild of the other was revealed at one of the sittings of the committee. The inseparable nature of the two agencies was also illustrated before my eyes in the studios of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) where their two heads were invited to the Good Morning Show to which I was, unfortunately, also invited. They would not consider sharing the precious space with someone who would speak against their positions. They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

NABDA and NABMA work hand-in-hand in a manner that is unacceptable. A true regulator would be an impartial umpire on biosafety and GMO issues. In his rebuttal to the news report that erroneously stated that the two biotech leaders were part of NIREC, the head of NBMA stated that he was assuring Nigerians that his agency will supervise the safe deployment of GMOs in Nigeria. First, he takes the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria as a given. Why would a biosafety regulator consider himself as a supervisor of GMOs? Can we tolerate a referee, in a soccer match, who celebrates whenever one side scores a goal? Secondly, when he talks about the introduction of GMOs he used a militaristic terminology, deployment, probably signifying that the battle lines are drawn against Nigerians who are suspicious of any GMO hemlock.

The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria.

However, when NABDA blames the NIREC committee of bias and in another breath claims that the NIREC committee endorses GMOs, that is a figment of the agency’s imagination. It simply is not true. The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria. With the attitude of brooking no dissent, it was curious to hear the chief of NABDA accuse the NIREC committee of bias, because, according to her, the committee did not have GMO promoters on it.

thumb_img_0761_1024-2The committee was at pains explaining to the two agencies that, in carrying out their work, they must understand that the critical baseline is the interest of Nigerians and our environment and not that of any commercial or political interest– no matter how powerful. The two agencies could not convince the expert committee that they had enough tools to adequately carry out their tasks. Among other things, the committee also saw that NABDA was functioning more as a GMO advocacy agency rather than engaging in useful research, while the Biosafety Management Act itself requires urgent radical review.

Eco-Instigator #14

eco-instigator-14The year 2016 ran through so rapidly. And just as well. It had a store of horrors – extreme exploitation of nature’s re-sources, wars and repression, massive pollution, deforestation and unconscionable climate inaction. Will these let up in 2017?

While you ponder on what we must do as individuals and as collectives, we serve you another loaded edition of your Eco-Instigator. We share reports, statements and articles hoping that you will get sufciently instigated to step up and speak up as sons and daughters of Mother Earth.

As this edition was going to bed, we received news of the renewed aggression against our partner group, Accion Ecologica by the government of Ecuador. We note the tremendous global solidarity exhibited by individuals and groups from around the world in support of Accion Ecologica. This group is probably one of the foremost environmental justice organisations in the world today and deserves our support. They celebrated 30 years of existence in October 2016 at a grand ceremony held in the Che Guevara Auditorium of the Central University of Ecuador. At that event, several awards were given out to grassroots activists, journalists, academics and others. Yours truly was included in that exalted list in the category of calalysts of the defence of Nature. Here is the list for this category: Ricardo Carrere (late), from World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay; Vandana Shiva, of Navdanya of India; The Corner House, of England; Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network of North America; Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria; Silvia Ribeiro from Mexico and Alberto Acosta from Ecuador.

From all of us at HOMEF we bring you the best wishes for a just 2017.

Download the eco-instigator-14

Viva Acción Ecológica!

This is a thank you note from Acción Ecológica. Your solidarity helped stop the closure of this frontline Ecuadorian environmental justice organisation. We join them to say a big thank you and to echo their words: ‘We have known (between you and us) how to defend our right to solidarity, to participation, and to denounce the aggressions against nature. Even though it might seem strange to celebrate this, we do, because the risk of losing those rights approached, and it was terrifying.’ How true!

Dearest friends,

We want to publicly acknowledge the thousands of letters, embraces and messages that we have received from every corner of the world. We have, indeed, received an answer that for many, was unexpected: the Ecuadorean government has desisted in its intent to close Acción Ecológica.

We have known (between you and us) how to defend our right to solidarity, to participation, and to denounce the aggressions against nature. Even though it might seem strange to celebrate this, we do, because the risk of losing those rights approached, and it was terrifying.

Our defense of nature might be uncomfortable for groups of power, and to the transnational companies, and perhaps especially to the Chinese, as their companies are present in all of our national territory with their extractive projects and construccion of megainfraestructure But we recognize that our organization is also profoundly loved and respected by communities and individuales with whom we have worked. And put in the balanece, their lack of comfort on the one hand, and the love and respect on the other, the latter weighs more.

We live in a country marked by socio-environmental conflicts, oil exploitation in areas such as the Yasuní, mining in the Cordillera del Cóndor, and agrofuels in our dry and tropical forests. With such assault to territories, custodians of nature have called on us to participate, to be in solidarity, and to denounce such aggressions. We will continue to do so, with our intellectual and political support, with our presence in the streets, and through the construction of shared work – in order to confront the different causes and forms of aggressions against nature.

In accordance with our vision and mission, we commit to continue working so that the intelligence respects the Earth, and so that the Earth can sustain humanity.

We thank all of you for being there, and for giving life to and amplifying our voice, and for touching us with your loving drumbeats of peace, with justice and dignity.

ACCION ECOLOGICA
Together we are the inextinguishable fever, the little light that leads, and the expanse that crosses the night.

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Queridos amigos y amigas

Queremos hacer una declaración publica de agradecimiento a las millares de cartas, abrazos y mensajes recibidos desde todos los rincones del mundo. Hemos logrado un resultado para muchos inesperado: el gobierno del Ecuador ha resuelto desistir de su intento de cierre de Acción Ecológica.

Hemos sabido (entre ustedes y nosotros) defender nuestro derecho a la solidaridad, a la participación y a la denuncia contra las agresiones a la naturaleza. Aunque resulte extraño tener que celebrar esto, lo hacemos, porque el riesgo de perder estos derechos se veía cercano y era aterrador.

Nuestra defensa de la naturaleza puede resultar antipática a los grupos de poder, a las empresas tranasnacionales, quizás especialmente a las chinas, pues estas empresas están extendidas en todo el territorio nacional con sus proyectos extractivos y de construcción de mega infraestructuras. Pero reconocemos que nuestra organización es también profundamente querida y respetada por comunidades y personas con quienes hemos trabajado. Puestos en la balanza, antipatía y afecto, éste pesó más.

Vivimos en un país marcado por los conflictos ambientales, conflictos por la explotación de petróleo en áreas como el Yasuní, o de minería en la Cordillera del Cóndor, o de proyectos de agrocombustibles sobre nuestros bosques secos. Un asalto a territorios en donde la naturaleza vive bajo el cuidado de sus custodios que nos convocan a la participación, a la solidaridad y a la denuncia, allí seguiremos, con nuestro aporte intelectual y político, con nuestra presencia en la calle y en la construcción de espacios de trabajo compartido para enfrentar las diferentes causas y formas de agresiones a la naturaleza.

Conforme a nuestra visión y misión, nos comprometemos a seguir trabajando para que la inteligencia respete a la Tierra y para que la Tierra respetada sustente a la humanidad.

Gracias a todos y todas, por estar ahí, por animar nuestra voz y por tocar con nosotros los tambores de la paz que queremos, con justicia y dignidad.

ACCION ECOLOGICA
Juntos somos la fiebre inextinguible, la pequeña luz que cabecea y por la llanura de la noche cruza.

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Chères amies, chers amis,

Nous voulons faire une déclaration publique de reconnaissance aux milliers de lettres, accolades et messages reçus des quatre coins du monde. Nous avons obtenu un résultat pour beaucoup inespéré: le gouvernement de l’Equateur a décidé de renoncer à son intention de fermer Accion Ecologica.

Vous et nous avons su défendre notre droit à la solidarité, à la participation et à la dénonciation des agressions contre la nature. Malgré qu’il puisse sembler étrange de célébrer cela, nous le faisons, parce que le risque de perdre ces droits nous a frôlé d’une manière très inquiétante.

Notre défense de la nature peut paraître antipathique aux groupes de pouvoir, aux entreprises transnationales- et sans doute particulièrement à celles venues de Chine, car celles-ci se répandent a travers tout le territoire national avec leurs projets d’extractions et de construction de méga-projets d’infrastructures. Mais force est de reconnaître que notre organisation est aussi profondément appréciée et respectée par les communautés et personnes avec qui nous avons travaillés: à mettre en balance l’antipathie et l’affection, c’est cette dernière qui a pesé le plus.

Nous vivons dans un pays marqué par les conflits environnementaux, que ce soit autour de l’exploitation pétrolière dans des régions comme le Yasuni, ou de l’exploitation minière dans la cordillère du Condor, ou encore des projets d’agrocombustibles dans nos forêts sèches. Un assaut aux territoires où la nature vit sous la protection de ses gardiens qui nous appellent à la participation, à la solidarité et à la dénonciation; appel auquel nous continuerons de répondre avec notre contribution intellectuelle et politique, avec notre présence dans la rue et dans la construction d’espaces de travail partagés pour affronter les différentes causes et formes d’agression à la nature.

Conformément à notre vision et mission, nous nous engageons à continuer de travailler afin que l’intelligence respecte la Terre et pour que la Terre respectée soutienne l’humanité.

Merci à toutes et tous, pour votre présence, pour encourager notre voix et pour battre avec nous les tambours de la paix que nous désirons, dans la justice et la dignité.

ACCION ECOLOGICA
Ensemble nous sommes la fièvre inextinguible, la petite lumière vacillante qui chemine dans la plaine de la nuit.

Climate change: Hangman of the poor

cover-2016-augustseptemberClimate change: Hangman of the poor

Climate change affects the world unevenly and it is developing countries which, though not historically liable for it, that have to bear the brunt of its adverse effects. Nnimmo Bassey explains, with particular focus on Africa, the nature of the threats facing countries which are financially and economically ill-equipped to meet them.

THE impact of the climate crisis, which is disproportionately felt by those that have contributed least to the crisis, is undisputed. This is why the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) is seen as a key principle by which climate justice is introduced into the climate debate. This same reasoning led to the creation of the Annex I and non-Annex I categories of nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in order to have those most implicated in the climate debacle take greater steps or actions to tackle the menace.

Since the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 15) in 2009, the idea of having nations committed to emissions reduction at levels required by science has been sidelined. At COP 21 in Paris last December, leaders set targets for temperature increase of 1.5oC or ‘well below’ 2oC. We remember that at COP 15, the lead negotiator for the developing-country Group of 77 (G77), Lumumba Di-Aping, denounced the 2oC warming target as ‘certain death for Africa’. He also characterised it as a type of ‘climate fascism’ that was being forced on Africa. He wondered why Africa was asked to sign an agreement that would permit an unacceptable level of warming in exchange for $10 billion, and also being asked to celebrate such a deal.1

At COP 21 the idea of binding emissions reduction targets was totally jettisoned, in a manner that underscores the high level of power play and global dominance by rich industrialised nations which are determined to avoid responsibility for the climate crisis. The Paris Agreement of COP 21 has been applauded by political leaders across the world and celebrated by mainstream media and transnational corporations mostly because it marked the first time nations agreed that action had to be taken to combat climate change. A close examination of the document shows, however, that the real agreement by political leaders was that: while climate change demanded action, they could essentially perpetuate business as usual, without recourse to what science requires. The actions they would take are called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As the name indicates, nations state what they intend to contribute to tackling the looming crisis according to national interests, with the NDCs being subject to review every five years and coming into effect by 2020.

It has turned out that if emissions are reduced at the levels nations have said they would contribute, we will be on track for a global temperature rise far above the ‘well below’ 2oC target set by COP 21. We should note at this point that the polluting nations are punching far below their weight in terms of emissions reduction while the poorer, vulnerable nations have pledged to do much more than their fair share. That is the classic way of turning justice on its head.

The Paris Agreement is loaded with good intentions that are not backed by commitments to take requisite action. Added to the NDCs, the agreement left a hole through which false solutions such as REDD+, geo-engineering, carbon trading/offsets and other market environmentalism schemes could gain ascendancy. ‘Solutions’ such as REDD+ (REDD stands for ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries’) transfer the burden of action to curb global warming to vulnerable forest communities, for example, in ways that further deepen their vulnerability. Meanwhile geo-engineering entails intentional weather modification efforts that essentially put the planetary climate thermostat into the hands of powerful entities that could be governments or corporations. Computer models used to check the impacts of pumping sulphates into the stratosphere, for example, indicate serious implications for nations in the Global South.

Computer modelling in two peer-reviewed scientific papers showed, among other findings, that ‘sulphate injections into the [Southern Hemisphere] could increase precipitation in the Sahel region by up to 100 mm/month, but decrease precipitation in the South West [of Africa] by up to 60 mm/month … Similar results were found regarding NPP [Net Primary Productivity] with an increase in the Sahel region by up to 100% but a decrease in the South West by up to 60% and also in the Magreb area of up to 20%. [The authors also noted that] Brazil could see a decrease in both NPP and precipitation. In a scenario where sulphate is injected into the [Northern Hemisphere], the Sahelian region is subject to reductions in NPP by as much as 60-100% … The precipitation pattern in the region could be affected by a reduction of 20-80mm/month … In this scenario, Southern Africa could see increases in both NPP and precipitation.’2

Urgent actions are needed and they must not be such as would create more problems for the poorest. One of the factors that hamper climate action is finance. It must be stated here that if the ecological or climate debt owed the Global South were recognised and paid, there will be no debate about who contributes how much, and who can access, climate funds. The debates always tend to suggest that finding needed finance is a herculean task; meanwhile enough funds that could make a huge difference are stashed away in tax havens by a handful of individuals and corporations. A recent report by Friends of the Earth International shows that 13 richest persons in the world have enough money to provide renewable energy to all of Africa within 15 years, for instance. Meanwhile the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is looking for $10 billion between 2015 and 2020 to tackle energy poverty on the continent. In terms of the Green Climate Fund, the target is $100 billion per year from 2020. Meanwhile, the rich nations are spending over $1 trillion a year on destructive military hardware and warfare. The point is that the money is there; what is lacking is commitment to face the planetary crisis.

What are the implications of this lack of commitment and readiness to act?

The world is currently enamoured with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a fitting successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If sustainable development is to be attainable and not an oxymoron, we must become conscious of the fact that the very concept of lineal development or growth is an impossibility on a finite planet. The targets or goals will remain mere pipedreams in a climate-changed world.  For the goals to be met, tackling global warming cannot be based on nationally determined contributions.

The casualties of climate change are many. They include those whose nations, territories and communities are being washed away by rising sea levels, floods and coastal erosion. They include those whose lands are suffering desertification. There are casualties braving deserts, seas and oceans to find a foothold on higher lands.

A major area of vulnerability is agriculture and food production. Real climate actions are needed to build resilience into agricultural systems before catastrophic climate change sets in. The 1996 World Food Summit declared that ‘Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’3 This indicates that food security must rest on four pillars: availability of food, accessibility to food, suitable utilisation of food, and the presence of these three in a stable way. When hazards meet vulnerability, the inevitable outcome is disaster. No hazard is more pressing globally than climate change.

Some 80% of the food in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is produced by smallholder or family farms.4 They depend on natural resources such as forests and shrub lands for their livelihoods as farmers and pastoralists. They also depend on rivers, lakes and creeks for fish. The tragedy is that governments seldom think of the smallholder farmer when they think of agriculture. They think more of industrial agriculture which utilises chemical inputs with heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Apart from the concomitant land grabs, displacement of smallholder farmers, and destruction of food systems and ecosystems, industrial agriculture, including cash cropping through plantations, exacerbates climate change.

Besides the threat to food security, there is a greater risk to food sovereignty. Understanding the difference between food sovereignty and food security is important for us to grasp the grave impact that climate change has on agriculture and nutrition. Food sovereignty speaks of the right of peoples to grow crops and produce foods that are healthy, suit their ecosystems and are culturally appropriate. Food security, in comparison, is concerned with having food in sufficient quantities. These two concepts are not opposed to one another, but rather food security is best secured in the context of food sovereignty. What does this mean?

With a simple focus on food security, it does not matter what food a person eats, provided she eats something. The food could be totally alien to the individual, but to erase hunger, whatever food is available has to be consumed. Mere food security eliminates choice and forces people, for example, to eat genetically modified (GM) foods, even when they are opposed to the technology. This was the sore point that Zambia was confronted with when the country faced food shortages in 2002.5 At that time Zambia insisted on being given milled and not whole grain GM maize to avoid contamination of indigenous species. The struggle over what food to receive or reject became a source of big debates and geopolitical power play. A major newspaper in the country, the Zambia Daily Mail, had this to say: ‘It is very interesting to note that for the first time Zambia was being forced to accept a gift. Doesn’t this worry us as recipients, that the giver is insisting that we take the GM foods? Are the Americans just concerned about our stomachs or there is something behind the gift?’6

Increasing temperatures and freak weather events are bound to have profound impacts on agricultural systems. The magnitude of these impacts would determine how the remaining carbon budget is managed or expended. The race to colonise the atmosphere is on and will likely intensify with nations making voluntary pledges to cut emissions. The implication of such voluntary pledges and actions is that sufficient resilience will not be built into our food and infrastructural systems. That translates to the harsh fact that vulnerable nations and regions will be incapable of coping with resulting loss and damage.

El Nino, La Nina and desert locusts

El Nino is a weather pattern which happens as a result of the warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator, off the coast of South America. It occurs when trade winds off the Pacific coast of South America weaken, or at times reverse, letting the warm water of the western Pacific flow instead towards the east. This change sets off atmospheric changes triggered by the warm water displacing the cooler water that is normally found near the surface of the eastern Pacific. This abnormal weather situation sets in motion altered weather events in many parts of the world. It occurs every 2-7 years and does not have a regular pattern.7 This recurring cycle thus goes with variations in sea-surface temperatures, convective rainfall, surface air pressure and atmospheric circulation across the equatorial Pacific Ocean.  The opposite to this is called La Nina.

A minimum 0.5oC temperature increase has to occur in the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator for it to be considered an El Nino year. It is not clear how these phenomena will change in the age of climate change, but the associated precipitation variability on regional scales is likely to increase due to larger moisture availability in the atmosphere.8 With heightened unpredictability in precipitation as well as the cyclic occurrence of the El Nino and La Nina phenomena, it is obvious that food systems will come under greater stress and plans must be made to absorb or cope with the shocks.

One cause to worry about these changes in temperature, rainfall and wind patterns associated with climate change is the effect they may have on the desert locust in Africa. The land mass from West Africa to the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and southwest Asia will be particularly exposed to the impacts of this highly destructive migratory pest. Warmer temperatures and increased rainfall in desert areas cause the locust to mature sooner and have a shorter lifecycle; the breeding season begins earlier than normal and continues beyond the usual. It is expected that with a combination of a general increase in precipitation, higher rainfall events and tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea, locust numbers may increase more rapidly and, if not adequately controlled, may become plagues.

Water stress

The quantity and pattern of rainfall affect the availability of water. Already we are seeing a significant shrinkage of a water body such as Lake Chad. Others like Lake Turkana are under threat from proposed dams and other factors. Lake Chad, located at the intersection of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, has shrunk from over 25,000 square kilometres in the early 1960s to less than 2,000 square kilometres. This has led to the displacement of farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolks. The resultant loss of livelihood is seen to be contributing to the violence in northeast Nigeria as well as in the country’s Middle Belt region where violent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers flare up frequently.

Water wars or conflicts will likely intensify as freshwater systems get salinised through sea level rise and incursion of seawater. It has been estimated that by 2030 climate-related conflicts will rise by 54% in Africa. This could be directly linked with the availability of water. Overall, it is estimated that by 2020 up to 75-250 million people in Africa will face water stress. Changes in rainfall patterns will affect the distribution and health of wetlands, streams and rivers. When rainfall is reduced in arid and semi-arid areas, serious water stress is experienced, while other regions may have increased rainfall and be confronted with new challenges on how to cope with floods.

Biodiversity changes

Climate change and rising temperatures affect ecosystems in many ways. One vital way is through the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. It is estimated that up to 90 million more people in Africa will by 2030 be exposed to malaria, already the biggest killer in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to weather variations.

There are also effects on beneficial insects and birds, including those that help in the process of pollination. Pests and invasive and alien species can have direct impacts on livestock and general food production. For livestock, temperature variations affect the animals directly. It is projected that diseases such as West Nile virus, bluetongue or Lyme and schistosomiasis (bilharzia) may expand into new areas. Increased rainfall and flooding due to El Nino has also been implicated in outbreaks of Rift Valley fever in East Africa.

Increases in pest infestation which result in health issues and loss of forages and water sources create more challenges. The changes in crop and livestock productivity would have implications for availability and accessibility to food, which could instigate disaffection and riots. These impacts will also be reflected in existing geographical variations in ways that could see increased productivity in some regions and reduction in others. Climate change can easily lead to the erosion of genetic resources, including crop, animal and fish species.

Reduced rainfall and shrinking water bodies affect the presence and diversity of riverine fisheries. Assessments by researchers report that the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture will be felt most acutely in Africa and South Asia.9

Climate impacts on forests directly translate to livelihood challenges for the estimated 1.6 billion people who depend on forests for livelihoods. Forests provide timber and non-timber products, and protect water sources and soils. Forests are vulnerable to droughts and increased temperatures. Climate impacts will include loss of forest biodiversity through tree mortality, fire outbreaks and human pressures.

Human pressure includes conversion of forests into plantations, with the accompanying loss of biodiversity. It also includes the pursuit of infrastructural development such as roads through forests. A current case in point is a proposed superhighway that threatens to erode community forests as well as a major forest reserve in Cross River State in Nigeria. The sore point with the proposed highway is that the government revoked occupancy rights of communities within a 10 km stretch on either side of the highway. By estimates, the highway and the lands girding it would take up 25% of the landmass of Cross River State. Analysts insist that the superhighway can easily be re-routed to preserve the communities as well as enormous biodiversity which includes rare and endangered species. It is also noted that the highway will lead to massive deforestation with grave climate change implications.

The 260 km road is planned to lead from a proposed deep sea port at Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area through the Cross River National Park and up to Katsina Ala in Benue State, at a cost of 700 billion naira or about $3.5 billion. Observers think the project may be a cover for land grabbing, illegal logging and poaching and the destruction of habitats in the forests and reserves that are protected by law and preserved by custom. They question why a project of this nature would reportedly enjoy contributions from Nigerian banks without requisite preliminary surveys, plans and approvals.10

Climate injustice and sundry impacts

The climate impacts we have discussed thus far illustrate inherent injustices: the poor and the vulnerable are the ones mostly at risk. Poor levels of social investment leave the poor vulnerable and without protection as unpredictable weather events manifest. They are the most hit by food losses, sicknesses, infrastructure destruction, droughts, floods and water stress. They are poor, and climate change makes them poorer still. They are the ones expected to take real climate action, like protecting their forests, yet they are the last to be compensated when the booty of market environmentalism (through the commodification of nature) is to be shared. Within this scenario lies also hidden gender injustice exacerbated by imposed gender roles, oppression and patriarchy.

There were serious floods in various African countries in 2012. As we write this, there are warnings to communities in the flood plains of the Benue and Niger rivers to brace themselves for heavier floods this year. The floods of 2012 displaced 530,000 people in Niger between July and September, while six million were displaced with over 300 deaths in Nigeria. Thousands more were displaced in Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Chad, South Africa, Mozambique, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mauritania and others.11 Flooding cost Mozambique a whopping $550 million in 2000 and lowered the national gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.5%. For Nigeria, the 2012 floods brought a 0.36% drop in GDP.

With a 2oC warming above pre-industrial temperatures, it is estimated that there could be permanent reductions in per capita food consumption of 4-5 %. With current trends in temperature increase, about 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land may become much less suitable for farming by 2080.

A paradigm shift from a one-dimensional characterisation of responsibility and suffering to dimensions of fairness and justice is necessary to move beyond the impasse in international climate negotiations and improve national-level policy-making. The inequalities which are associated with human-induced elements, unequal distribution of impacts, unequal responsibility for and disproportionate cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation have shaped vulnerability and capacities for adaptation.  There should be a shift from a simple dual classification of winners and losers derived from locations in sensitive biophysical systems to include political, economic and social determinants of vulnerability and adaptation capabilities.

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Endnotes

1                    Patrick Bond (2012). Politics of Climate Justice.

2                    ETC Group (2014). Geoengineering and Climate Change – Implications for Africa. http://www.etcgroup.org/fr/node/5985

3                    World Food Summit (1996).

4                    UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (2008). Food Security Concepts and Frameworks – What Is Food Security? Learner’s Notes. http://www.fao.org/elearning/course/FC/en/word/trainerresources/learnernotes0411.doc

5                    Friends of the Earth International (2003). Playing with Hunger. FoEI, Amsterdam.

6                    Zambia Daily Mail, 5 November 2002. Quoted in Friends of the Earth International (2003).

7                    Study.com. What is El Nino? http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-el-ni-o-definition-effects-quiz.html#courseInfo

8                    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013). Projections of Long Term Climate Change: Regional Changes and the Atlas. Accessed at https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/unfccc/cop19/cop19_pres_collins.pdf

9                    E H Allison et al. (2009). Vulnerability of national economies to the impacts of climate change on fisheries. Fish and Fisheries, 10(2): 173-196.

10                Nnimmo Bassey (2016). Halt the assault on the Ekuri community and other forests. https://nnimmobassey.net/page/6/

11                See http://poleshift.ning.com/profiles/blogs/west-and-central-africa-flood-impact-profile-as-of-17-sep-2012 for more details.

Culled from Third World Resurgence No. 312/313, Aug/Sept 2016, pp 17-20

20 years of Oilwatching

asamblea de oilwatch en octubre de 2016

Delegates at the 20th Anniversary/General Assembly of Oilwatch International

Oilwatch International was formally inaugurated in 1996 in Quito, Ecuador. Oilwatch has remained a network driven by the conviction that the petroleum civilisation is driving humans to the precipice. This forward-looking network called for oil to be left in the soil from its very early days. That is still the call today. Building a post-petroleum civilisation has never been more urgent as it is now.

Ecuador was the right place to begin this adventure, this struggle, this working with and learning from communities impacted by fossil fuels extraction. Ecuador served as a big school because in one or two days, and within a short travel time, you could visit oil wells, pollution spots and refineries. You could see all the atrocities and massive oil spills left by Chevron in the Amazon, for example. Using the tools of research and social exchanges, Oilwatchers from various countries could see that the destructive impacts of hydrocarbons extraction and oil-driven civilisation was uniformly reprehensible.

The extreme pollutions of the Niger Delta, the acid  and asphalt lakes beside the refinery in Curacao, the Tar sand pits of Canada and the ongoing epic struggles to keep pipelines from destroying nature and peoples ,remain the open wounds that we must confront daily.

In two days Oilwatchers looked at the rearview mirrors over the past 20 years, talked about the increasing criminalisation of nature defenders, remembered our fallen comrades, and agreed to pursue the attainment of a future where the rights of people and nature are respected and where humans live in harmony – in the true spirit of Ubuntu.

On my first trip to Quito in 1997 I took a photo of the three Amazons above on a scooter. Talk of mass transit! That photo is preserved in my pollution travelogue – Oilwatching in South America (Kraft Books, 1997). As we marked 20 years of Oilwatch we could not resist the pull to have a throwback! Simply amazing.

Oilwatchers stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters taking the stand on the Dakota Access Pipeline.