GMOs, Herbicides – Ambush in the Night

Moi moi

Moi moi wrapped in leaves, not plastics!

The tide of GMOs and deadly herbicides creeps on unsuspected consumers as they are literally being ambushed in the night. Twenty countries, including Togo and Malawi, have placed a ban on the use of glyphosate containing herbicides based on health and environmental concerns. Togo recently joined the ranks of countries that have banned the herbicides after two years of intense debates. According to that country’s minister of Agriculture, the such herbicides already in the country must be used up or destroyed within 12 months.

While we regret that the ban ought to have meant an immediate halt to the use of the herbicides, we believe there is a lesson to be learned here by Nigerian authorities. Glyphosate, as an active ingredient in herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready which is widely used as a weed killer around the world, have been named a cancer-causing agent. Thousands of plaintiffs have sued the makers of these herbicides due to impacts suffered through exposure to them. Probably the most well-known case is that of Dewayne Johnson who was awarded US$289 million that was later reduced to US$78million for harms suffered.

In many of the cases, the key arguments include that the manufacturers of the harmful herbicides did not adequately warn consumers and users of the associated cancer risks. Concerns raised in Nigeria as NBMA opened the avalanche of GMO approvals was initially met with the explanation from Monsanto that the chemicals are safe if used according to specifications. It can readily be seen that the caveat was given with the knowledge that the average Nigerian farmer is not likely to read the fine letters on the packages or to wear space suits before spraying their farms with the poisons.

While Togo has declared a total ban of herbicides with glyphosate, such herbicides are quite commonplace in Nigeria. They are freely sold and some even have certification from NAFDAC.

Nigerians should worry because certain crops approved in Nigeria are genetically engineered for the application of the cancer-causing herbicides.

Ministers of Agriculture appear to be stepping up to the challenge concerning the threats posed by harmful chemicals and the genetically engineered crops necessitating their production. The position of the Togolese minister and the government on these glyphosate-based chemicals must be applauded. The position will not only protect farmers who are bound to be directly exposed to the chemicals but will also protect consumers who would eat crops with the residues of the chemicals.

The other minister that stepped the plate is that of Ghana. With a bold headline, “National well-being wins over foreign interests as gov’t ditches GMOs, a report announced that the government of Ghana, through the Minister of Food and Agriculture announced the terminating of imposition of GMOs on farmers in the country. The minister was paraphrased to have said that “the nation has capable scientists who could use traditional breeding methods to produce high yielding varieties and disease resistant plants for cultivation by farmers and no need for GMOs in the next 100 years in Ghana.”

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

Peasant farmers and civil society groups responded to the declaration by urging institutions, persons and groups “benefiting from proceeds from Monsanto to promote GMO in Ghana to rather join Ghanaian scientists and farmers to promote the local seed industry”

While Ghanaians celebrated the “defeat” of GMOs in their country, a major civil society group in the country, Food Sovereignty Ghana, cautioned that the battle is not yet over. They hinged this position on the fact that government is still defending the impending release of Bt cowpea, GM rice and Bt cotton in court. The next hearing on the case comes up on 30 January 2020. Food Sovereignty Ghana and others had sued the government of Ghana represented by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the National Biosafety Authority and the Attorney-General’s Department to stop the commercial release of these crops.

When the case against the release of the genetically engineered cowpea (beans) first went to court in Ghana in 2015, no country in the world had authorized the release of the variety for human consumption. The promoters of the GM beans declare that they cannot be visually distinguished from their natural counterpart and point to this as a mark of substantial equivalence. It is not rocket science to know that things may look alike without being the same. They may indeed have special genetic characteristics that makes their patentable as unique, as the situation with the GM beans is. Promises of labelling is trash when we consider our socio-cultural context, especially in terms of processing, storage, marketing and consumption of local foods. Selling the idea of labeling GM beans and other local crops can be compared to accepting to be ambushed in the night (apologies to Bob Marley).

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change Cooked Africa (in 2019)

Solitary tree, Kano

Solitary Tree @ Dawakin Tofa, Kano. photo by Babawale Obayanju (www.tellthatstory.com.ng

2019 was a year of extreme weather events spread across the world. Sweltering heat hit much of the world. Raging wildfires were recorded in Brazil, Bolivia, Australia and the United States of America. Massive floods ravaged even cities like Venice, famed to be able to handle floods.

Climate change was implicated in exposing over 33 million Africans (spread across Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya) to food insecurity emergencies. The food situation has been compounded by the erosion of food sovereignty due to the loss of biodiversity. Violent conflicts and poverty add another dimension to the dire situation and raises the number of the vulnerable to over 52 million.

Southern Africa warmed at two times the global rate and experienced two massive cyclones in March and April leading to a loss of over 1000 lives. Having two cyclones in one season was a record. The intensity and upward reach of the cyclones on the South Eastern coastline also broke the records. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth impacted close to 3 million persons. Some researchers tie the cyclones to the warming of the Indian Ocean. If this is true, we can expect more cyclones as well as the devastation of marine ecosystems in the region.

If parts of Africa warm at double the global average, it means that if the global 1.5 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement is achieved, we can expect a 3 degrees scenario in Africa. And, if the “well below” 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase above preindustrial level is the result of lack of ambition, Africa will be cooked at over 4 degrees Celsius. We note also that the global lack of ambition or readiness to seriously tackle global warming and the aggregation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) already points at over 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise – sentencing pasts of Africa to a calamitous roasting.

Southern Africa warmed at two times the global rate and experienced two massive cyclones in March and April leading to a loss of over 1000 lives. Having two cyclones in one season was a record. The intensity and upward reach of the cyclones on the South Eastern coastline also broke the records.

Within the year, the continent experienced a high level of climate induced refugees and migrations. Some of these refugees are internally displaced while many, seeking to escape the clutches of the disaster, lost their lives in the Sahara Desert or in the Mediterranean Sea.

The shrinkage of Lake Chad and the attendant social upheavals are already very well known. From a size of over 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s, the lake measures a mere 2,500 square kilometres today. What caught the attention of the world towards the end of 2019 is the shrinkage of Victoria Falls to mere trickles due to disastrous droughts in the region.

In addition to the floods, droughts, deforestation, food shortages, violence complicates and escalates the problems. Floods displaced hundreds of thousands in Somalia within the year. It is known that disasters happen when hazards meet vulnerability.  Things cannot get worse than when you live in an unstable society, with violence knocking on the door and then climate change steps in.

In the same year, Nigerians, though warned of impending floods, could do nothing to stem the tide when they arrived. Storms and cyclones brought deadly floods that hit Angola, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. More than half a million people were affected by floods in Ethiopia and in South Sudan. According to reports, entire communities were submerged by floods, destroying basic services, markets and farms. Floods between August and October affected more than 420,000 people in Sudan with 78 people dead and 49,500 homes destroyed.

There are genuine reasons for anger at the inability of the multilateral system to address the climate challenge in a serious manner. Things have gone so bad it has taken the rising of kids to call out dithering adults before they could even come up with fictive false solutions. Vulnerable nations, including those in Africa were forced into a deadlock over Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. That article is the sword that fossil fuel interest groups foisted on the Planet.

The Article 6 promotes approaches that will help governments to implement their NDCs through voluntary international cooperation. The Article seeks to establish a policy foundation for a carbon emissions trading system, that allows polluters to buy the license to continue polluting from less polluting nations. The fossil fuels industry and partner nations love this article because it would require nothing but a monetary exchange for their climate sins. The point is this: the polluters have the cash and the vulnerable could receive the cash, but the Planet will suffer. The first step is to halt extracting and burning new fossil fuels. Next step is a planned systemic change. The alternative will be a chaotic change for those that may survive!

Science informs that the world cannot afford to open new fossil fuel mines or fields. This sector is responsible for 80 percent of all carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Rather than halt the extraction of the climate harming fuels, the industry is set to invest US$ 1.4 trillion in new oil and gas projects between 2020 and 2024. It is estimated that this will yield 50 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 and would drive the world to a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

A combination of factors places African nations in a tight corner and requires critical examination of the route forward. First is the fact that while African nations have contributed little to the depletion of the carbon budget, and have been quite ambitious in the NDCs, they are trapped in the catch-up narrative where they make the futile dash to be like the rich, industrialised and polluting nations. They push is for serious climate mitigation actions while ensuring high economic growth and development. Considering that economic growth and development in the current capitalistic and neoliberal framework propel climate change, it should be obvious that that is the wrong way forward.

2020 presents us opportunity to look back, hopefully not in anger. It presents us a moment to interrogate the notion of development and growth in a finite world. It also gives us a moment to deliberate on means of halting fossil fuels proliferation and how to secure a just cooperative future for our peoples. Oilwatch International has proposed that a group of Annex 0 nations be created in the UNFCCC as a means of promoting real climate action. Countries like Belize, Costa Rica, France, New Zealand can already be grouped here as they have halted fossil fuels extraction. Ogoniland can also be recognised as a community that has taken this action within Nigeria. A fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty has been proposed for the halting of a disaster that is more likely to happen than what triggered the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

2019 was a year that sounded a loud alarm. We chose to play hard of hearing. A quarter of a million Australians called attention to the disastrous fires ravaging that nation and petitioned for a halt of the elaborate fireworks to herald 2020. Their government responded that the fireworks had already been paid for and must continue. They did. A perfect example of how we are comfortable with “the normal”, no matter the circumstances or the consequences. The alarms have gone off everywhere. 2020 is the moment for reflection and action. Shall we wake up?

 

 

 

Walk Back from GM Beans

Not on our Plates!

Nigerians are not ready for GM Beans or any GMO for that matter. The commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) beans has been celebrated by the purveyors and promoters of the artificial variety. The Pod Borer-Resistant Cowpea (PBR-Cowpea) also known as Vigna unguiculata is modified to express the Cry1Ab protein expected to “confer protection from certain lepidopteran insect pests of cowpea, principally the pod borer (Maruca vitrata Fabricius).” Although the insecticidal beans has been advertised as the first genetically modified (GM) crop to be released into the Nigerian environment, and for consumption, it is actually the second crop. The first crop was GM cotton whose application for commercial release was approved by the NBMA in 2016.

Most people see cotton as a crop whose use is only in textiles. However, the truth is that cotton seeds are used in making cotton cakes as well as cotton oil. Cotton is eaten by our peoples in one form or the other. We are emphasizing this because some GMO promoters tend to wave off complaints on possible health impacts of the crop on the false claim that it would not enter our food chain.

Seeing the promoters of GM beans celebrate through press conferences, announcements and meetings is quite understandable. The approval for confined field trial of the variety was first granted in 2009, six years before Nigeria had a biosafety law. Another application for same purpose was approved in 2018. After spending over a decade working on the variety and having a system that authorizes its release into the environment and unto our food bowls, any scientist should be proud of the achievement. But the duration of an experiment does not suggest that the product is needed.

In assessing the application for release of the variety into the environment and market, the National Biosafety Committee decided that the beans was more or less the same as the natural counterpart. They also claimed that “The characteristics and factors affecting survival, multiplication, gene expression and dissemination are not different from those of the unmodified counterpart.” They further claimed that “Interactions with the environment are not different from those of the conventional counterpart, except in the insect resistance trait for which the product was modified.” They also claimed that the GM beans is substantially equivalent to the natural variety. In fact, the only queries on the GM beans application are basically on typographical errors.

A section of the report of the recommendation document speaks to the socio-economic considerations regarding the GM beans. This is what they said: “The introduction of the Bt Cowpea will not stop the continued use of unmodified farmer preferred varieties by any farmer who chooses to do so. The use of the Bt cowpea will increase farmers’ wealth from increased yield and reduce Farmer investment in pesticides, it will reduce environmental pollution by the insecticides due to reduced amount of total insecticide sprayed, it will reduce farmers’ health challenges from insecticide exposure. Introduction of Bt Cowpea will translate to improved food security in the entire country due to availability of much higher amounts of cowpea. This will also translate to higher incomes due to export of the commodity, because less residual insecticide means higher acceptability of Nigerian cowpea in the international market.”

There are a number of contentious ascertains in the above quote. First of all, this GM variety will likely contaminate natural varieties through cross pollination, although beans are usually self-multiplied. There is a possibility that even where a farmer chooses not to grow the GM variety, the preferred natural variety could be contaminated. The release of the GM variety thus poses a threat to the preservation of natural species. A loss of natural varieties would mean that rather than promote food security, Nigeria could be stepping into an era of uncertainty, of unpredictability and food supply instability.

The declaration also claims that farmers will earn more income because the beans would have “less residual insecticide” and would thus be more accepted in the international market are questionable. Apart from the fact that the GM beans is actually an insecticide, it is very doubtful that there will be much international market for genetically modified beans, unless their identity will not be declared in such markets.

Although the Nigerian Biosafety Act requires labelling of genetically modified organisms, we have said repeatedly that our socio-cultural and food systems do not lend themselves to labeling. This is obvious with the way our foods are prepared, packaged, presented, served and eaten. It means that regulating our food systems must take our context into consideration and much more care should be taken than may be necessary elsewhere. We are in a situation where the NBMA and the GMO promoters are ambushing both the farmers and the consumers through the release of these needless varieties into our environment and food system.

It is important to note that there are natural innovative strategies to solve the problem of pests including the Push and Pull method and biological control which have proven effective. The rush to adopt a technology immersed in so much controversy and linked to health, environmental as well as economic problems is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful.

We have had reasons to warn that the NBMA’s process for GMO approval is stacked against contrary opinions and objections. This position has been strengthened by the Recommendation reports posted by the agency on the website of the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). Two of the reports relate to applications from the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. One is for GM Beans, while the other is for “confined field trial of maize genetically modified for resistance to stem borer insect and for drought tolerance.” The NBC members that signed the recommendation document for the GM maize application include vested interests represented by prominent and frontline promoters of GMOs in Nigeria. We cannot expect rigorous evaluation and assessment of applications when the promoter is saddled with the task of such assessments.

Considering the above, it is imperative that the risky beans are recalled before it is too late. It is never wrong to retrace your steps when you find that you are on the wrong track. No matter how far you may have gone.

The Coming Green Colonialism

COP25We have entered the era of Nature-based colonialism. Call it the Green Colonialism. The gloves are coming off. The climate crisis in the world is being approached as a mere unfolding change, as business opportunities and not as an emergency that requires drastic action. Nations are comfortable to spend decades on talks and pretend they have ample time to procrastinate or deflect actions. However, this is not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

The climate COP25 held in Madrid is drawing to a close as this is being penned. Not much progress has happened at the negotiations. Indeed, the technocrats who are saddled with actually negotiating the various clauses of the Paris Agreement’s rule book could not conclude work on a number of articles and pushed them over to be handled by the ministers who arrived in the second week. It should be noted that the ministers are basically politicians, and their inputs tend to be weighted heavily on political considerations.

Beginning from the evening of 10 December, a pattern of selective consultations ensued with ministers and not with heads of delegations or negotiators. Considering that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement remains the thorny matter at this COP, observers feared that some of the ministers will be unfamiliar with the details and may indeed be unable to adequately negotiate it due to its complex and technical nature.

It is clearly not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

Issues expected to be handled by the ministers include adaptation financing in the context of the cooperation under Article 6 and use of the approaches for other international mitigation purposes; delivering on the overall mitigation in global emissions; and the governance of the framework for non-market approaches.

There is a general tendency for nations to strenuously work towards avoiding responsibility. The current government of the USA shows clearly that nations can simply walk away from the multilateral space and allow the world take care of its problems. The only snag in this way of thinking is that unlike the nuclear deterrent scenario where nations hoped to beat others by arming themselves and projecting possibilities of utter destruction, the impending climate catastrophe does not offer the possibility of any nation emerging as the winner or even as a survivor.

It is doubtful that anyone can survive extreme temperature increases, neither can anyone hope to survive for long under flood waters. You would think that this sobering reality would force politicians to have a rethink concerning their posturing at the climate negotiations.

Climate politicians are churning out new seductive words to obscure intentions and to market ideas that would help them avoid both action and responsibility. The narrative merchants bring up concepts such as nature-based solutions (NBS) which, on face value, is hard to fault. How can you reject any action that is based on nature, that respects nature and that works with and not against nature? The catch is that NBS does not mean of that. At the COP, there were side events that showcased how to include nature in Nationally Determined Contributions. Another one listed Shell, Chevron and BP as founding members for “Natural Climate Solutions.”

So-called nature-based solutions include carbon offsetting mechanisms that allow polluters to carry on polluting while claiming that their pollution or emissions are offset by mitigating activities such as tree planting or corralling off of forests as carbon sinks. Indeed, the NBS can be understood as the wheels of carbon stock exchanges.

“the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.”

When nations speak of carbon neutrality, they are basically speaking of solving the climate crisis through mathematics and not through any real climate action. It does not suggest changes in modes of production and consumption. The same can be said of having Net Zero carbon emissions.

As the climate negotiation drags on, we must remind ourselves that it is essential for us to understand what we are fighting for before we can forge the real solution. The acceptance of carbon offsetting and similar notions as epitomes of carbon colonialism give reasons for worry. The burden of climate action is being forced on the victims without any regard for historical responsibilities, without regard for justice. This posture rides on the same track as slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and their cousin, neoliberalism.

Climate activists made a loud noise outside the plenary hall on Wednesday 11 December voicing the critical need for rich, polluting nations, to remove their heads from the sands and take real climate action. They were urged to quit their push for carbon markets and tricks to aid double counting when it comes to climate finance. They were reminded that there is a climate debt that has neither been acknowledged nor paid. The investment of $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel projects and the expenditure of close to $2 trillion in warfare annually were held up as obscene reminders that contributing a mere $100 billion for climate finance ought not to give the world sleepless nights if there is any seriousness to use the hours spent at the COP to tackle the root causes of global warming, cut emissions at source, help build resilience and pull the vulnerable from their miseries.

As Asad Rehman of War on Want said at the Social Space during the COP, “the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.” He warned that anything short of the needed system change is nothing but a precursor of a new wave of green colonialism.

 

 

We Cannot Feed on Myths

Moi moi

Moi moi made with GMO beans will not be labeled.

Myths don’t feed anyone. Small-scale farmers provide 80 percent of global food supply using a mere 25 percent of the resources in the food production sector. Industrial agriculture provides less than 20 percent of the global food supply using 75 percent of cultivated land. These stark statistics are from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), not from some angry civil society group, and state the simple truth of the situation. Nevertheless, the world is gripped by the myth that small scale farmers cannot feed the world. How is that?

Industrial agriculture thrives on monocultures, pervert diversity and has inexorably forced humans to develop monocultures of the mind, to borrow the phrase from Dr VandanaShiva. A handful of corporations have cornered the seed and agricultural inputs market and so concentrated power in their control that governments, multilateral and research institutions find it difficult to stand up to them. To be clear, the corporate mafia has not cultivated the minds of policy drafters and makers through mere propaganda, they have achieved this through arm twisting, bribery and diverse devious ways.

Thus, you would hear otherwise respectable persons wave off small scale farmers as being incapable of feeding Nigerians, Africans and the world. We hear so much excuses for not supporting the hoes and sickles that feed us. They are dismissed as primitive, burdensome and not modern. Industrial agriculture offers the world well packaged foods, and these are hailed as what is feeding the world. The mafia is so powerful that even when in 2008, over 400 scientists and development experts under the United Nations-World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) called for the revitalization of public sector agricultural research, small farmer-oriented, low-input agroecology, governments endorsed the report and quickly ignored it.

Today, the world denigrates agriculture that is aligned with nature and celebrates the propaganda from companies whose products can be traced to death sciences and who are now pushing products into the market under a false façade of being promoters of life sciences. How could chemicals that wipe out beneficial organisms, not just in soils but in our guts, be the product of life sciences?

Makers and promoters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been hard pressed to sell their artificial and unnatural crops and animals. They have achieved the spread currently attained through all manner of approaches: political pressure and blackmail, illegal introductions through irreversible contaminations and through basket-case biosafety regulatory systems.

If we agree to the FAO findings, then it should be self evident that GMOs are unnecessary. The arguments for introducing them are untenable except for those who prefer to swallow whatever is offered as food. Our small-scale farmers require support, including through extension services, rural infrastructure, storage facilities and access to markets. Agriculture is a highly subsidized business in many countries. Why is it a taboo to support our small-scale farmers? Is it not clear that those who insist that there should be no subsidies in the agricultural sector, and no critical support except through wasteful and harmful fertilizer distributions, are actually sabotaging our food system?

Matters got worse for Nigeria because somehow the nation set up an institution whose mandate is to develop biotechnology before making a law to regulate the sector. Once the biotech foot was in the door, it became the duty of the promoter to facilitate the development of the regulatory framework. This explains the porous regulatory system as well as the incestuous relationship between the promoters and the regulators. They simply find it impossible to stand apart. And, so you find the regulator spending a bulk of their time talking about the safety GMOs.

We are told that GMOs yield higher than natural varieties. This has been shown through scientific studies to be a false claim. Another claim is that with GMOs, farmers will use less chemicals because some of the crops are engineered to act as pesticides. We are also told that the GMOs designed to tolerate certain herbicides reduce the application of the chemicals in farms. Both claims are not only patently false, they have been shown to try to conceal harmful repercussions of dependence on the pesticidal crops and chemicals.

First, the herbicide tolerant crops may actually withstand the chemicals, such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready which is all over the Nigerian market. However, the weeds they try to kill have been known to build resistance and become super weeds, requiring higher doses of the lethal poisons. These chemicals don’t only kill weeds, they kill other beneficial organisms in the soil and in waters where they may be washed into. We should state here that Roundup Ready has glyphosate as a major component and this is a carcinogen. Thousands of cases have been instituted against Monsanto (and Bayer who bought the company) over the deadly health effects suffered by users of the chemical. That chemical is all over our markets, complete with NAFDAC numbers.

Second, some of the GMOs, such as Bt cotton and Bt beans, are designed to kill target pests. They are created by genetically altering their genome to express a microbial protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The argument is that the bacterium is found in soils, is safe and should be no cause for concern. The inconvenient truth is that the naturally occurring Bt is not exactly the same as the genetically engineered Bt. The natural Bt has a shorter half life when exposed to sunlight, but the biotech variant persists with implications and consequences, including for our gut organisms. Bt Cotton was trumpeted as dramatically reducing the use of pesticides on the crop as they were supposed to kill the target bollworm pests. The crop has failed to kill off bollworms in India and farmers have had to use more pesticides and suffered economic woes as a result of the failure. Cotton farmers in Burkina Faso complained of this failure, besides the fact of poor-quality fibers. It is that failure that is being celebrated in Nigeria.

In many countries there are strong demands for labeling of GMOs so that consumers would have a choice of whether to eat such foods or not. The issue should not even arise in Nigeria because the way we package, sell and consume many of our foods simply make it impossible to label them. Who would label genetically modified ogi, akara, eko, moi moi, garri, epa and the rest?

As we interrogate GMOs today, we have to keep an eye on the new extremes variants that have emerged. These ones do not involve transference of genetic materials between species. Whereas old school GMOs tried to reduce the need to weed frequently or to kill off pests, the new variants, among other things, are essentially extinction GMOs. They also try to upturn nature, are prone to being weaponised and introduce traits with unpredictable and dire consequences for the future.

If the earlier GMOs had inputs from a war or poison mindset, and lead to erosion of biodiversity, the new ones aim to completely annihilate our understanding of agriculture and the care for Nature and her children. They herald a system of greed before life and an age of warfare without gunpowder. False claims continue to swirl wherever we look. It is time for us to wake up. Enough of these myths. Myths never fed anyone!

Infernal Gas Flares

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ground level gas flare

The gas flares in the Niger Delta are absolutely obnoxious. When 2020 was set as the deadline for halting gas flaring in Nigeria it seemed like ages away. As 2019 rolls towards its terminal point, 2020 is already placing its foot in the door. While launching the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP) in 2016, the indication was given that the nation would pursue a 2020 flare-out date. The nation also signed unto the Global Gas Flaring Partnership (GGFP) principles aiming at a flares-out date of 2030.

It is interesting to note that the Federal Government of Nigeria has been pursuing two deadlines on the same objective. Given our laziness about meeting deadlines, it was obvious to observers that 2020 was a smokescreen and could not be a date to bank on. Nevertheless, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, was particularly insistent that the year was sacrosanct.

The reasons for such optimism included the fact that up to 800 companies had submitted bids for the management of 176 gas flare sites in the Niger Delta and of the 800 bidders, 226 had paid stipulated fees as part of their expression of interest to manage the gas flare sites. Needless to say that as 2020 rolls in, that target has quietly evaporated.

We should remind ourselves that gas flaring commenced in the Niger Delta in the 1950s. We should also remind ourselves that gas flaring is inevitable in any oil field that has gas associated with the crude oil being extracted. Such gases are usually vented or flared in order to avoid uncontrollable build up of pressure in such installations. The flares are occasionally lit and then put off until when pressure mounts again. However, the gas furnaces that have ravaged the Niger Delta are not lit to relieve pressure from the oil fields, they are simply lit to waste the gas, as if no one would ever complain over the waste or poisons. This sort of burning of the resource is termed routine gas flaring. This routine flaring is the permanent insult that operators have relentlessly piled on our peoples and the Niger Delta environment.

We were told that President Muhammad Buhari is totally against gas flaring in the Niger Delta and was doing everything to ensure that the infernal flames are snuffed out for good. That position seems plausible considering the fact that the decree outlawing gas flaring came into force on 1st January 1984, during his tenure as a military Head of State. Secondly, in 2018 the government issued the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulation.

… the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Notable features of the 2018 Gas Flare Regulation include the fact that the Federal Government now owns all the gas flares stacks and all the flared gas. That sounds rather funny, but the reason the claim is made can be assumed to have arisen from the fact that investors were denied access to the flared gas by operating oil companies. It is not clear whether government would still expect oil companies to pay fines for flaring gas now that government has claimed ownership of the gas flare stacks. Or will the government now be the offending party? By reason of owning the gas flares, access to flared gas to be utilized for commercialization or otherwise is now to be obtained from the Petroleum Minister, who in this case is the President.

The Regulation also requires that the producers are to maintain a daily log of gas flared. The interesting point here is that government agencies are unable to measure or meter the volume of gas flared in the country. Neither are they able to measure the actual volume of crude oil extracted on a daily basis in the country. So, when we say that 8 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually, we are simply throwing out a guesstimate. Government agencies depend on oil and gas companies to declare the volumes of gas extracted and flared.

This brings us to another point in the Regulation which stipulates that the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) may demand for gas flare data from the operators. It also adds that the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Back to the flares-out deadlines. In the 1960s noises were already made about the need to halt the obnoxious act of gas flaring. As already mentioned, the first deadline was 1 January 1984. That deadline was shifted to 2007 and to 2008 and 2010 and then to 2020. These shifting goalposts have been made attractive to the oil companies because the Decree or Act outlawing gas flaring allows companies to flare gas provided they had obtained a permit to do so from the Minister of Petroleum. Besides obtaining a certificate to flare the harmful gases, they are to pay a fine. In 1979 that fine was pegged at 0.003 US dollars per million cubic feet of gas flared. By 1988 the fine rose to a handsome 0.07 dollars. In January 2008 the fine was set at 3.50 dollars for 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. From report, this figure was simply ignored. In 2018 the fine was pegged at 2.0 dollars per 1000 cubic feet of gas flared.

The gas flare game has continued due to the sort of Joint Venture arrangements in place in the country. The operators call the shots, including with regard to measuring the gas produced and flared as well as oil produced, spilled or stolen. The recent report by Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initative (NEITI) suggesting that an outrageous $11 million worth of crude oil is stolen daily in Nigeria did not raise a significant number of eyebrows, beyond making news headlines. Some observers believe that although the figure shared by NEITI may be conservative, it does suggest that the malfeasance in the oil and gas fields fester on an industrial scale and we should stop blaming the victims.

The entire petroleum sector architecture needs to be urgently deconstructed and reordered, including by stopping gas flares by 2020, by all means necessary. Thirty five years after outlawing gas flaring, and fourteen years after a High Court declared the act an assault on our human rights, we have no reason to further kick the deadline down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon: Oil Spills in Bauchi

pondering

Oil Spills in Bauchi- coming soon. Crude oil is sometimes called the black gold and has an allure that almost makes it irresistible to speculators, corporations, governments and those who believe that wealth does trickle down from such exploitations. Whatever is the case, crude oil births dreams. It also aborts them.

Nigeria ranks among the top 20 crude oil producing nations in the world today, with its position hovering around the 16th. Africa contributes 9 per cent of global crude oil production and half of that comes from Angola and Nigeria. About a quarter of the crude oil production in Nigeria happens onshore, while the rest are extracted offshore. That ratio may change if the oil find in the region of  Bauchi/Gombe proves to be in commercial quantities.

A number of factors combine to make the nation a high risk territory for sourcing for the resource. One of the factors relates to the impact on communities of the ecological despoliation that accompanies its extraction in the country. Others include the social discontent and conflicts generated by the destruction of livelihoods, contamination of food sources and the general rupturing of support structures for healthy living. For Nigeria, vesting in further oil exploration and extraction is risky in a world that will soon shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Is the continued search worth the budget?

The extent of crude oil pollution in the communities of the Niger Delta is simply mind boggling.  With at least one flare point popping up at the new oil find location, it seems that oil pollution may finally be seen and understood by a larger number of Nigerians. The celebratory tones of the find on social media has been comparable to the drumming, dancing and hopes that burst out in Oloibiri and other communities in Ogbia area of Bayelsa State when oil was found there in the 1950s.

The celebrations in Oloibri did not last long before it turned sour as hopes of “development” were dashed and what stuck in its place was untold environmental devastation. Today,  the first oil well, drilled in 1956, sits in a hut and has been designated a mere monument. Other abandoned wells in the Ogbia bushes are yet to be decommissioned and try not to be ignored by occasionally dripping crude.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria have justly earned a bad reputation from the local population and on a global scale. They built that reputation from scratch, including from when they started flaring gas associated with crude oil extraction on the flimsy premise that there was no market for natural gas in the 1960s and flaring became a convenient company practice. It may be said also that because oil companies were not immediately held to account for oil spills when they reared their ugly heads in the Niger Delta, pollution became acceptable corporate practice. They were ignored and rose to the levels of ecocide that we see today.

In the heat of the fires set by their corporate misbehaviour, transnational oil companies operating in Nigeria have devised the strategy of supporting “backward integration” or encouraging the entrances of local entrepreneurs by selling off some of their onshore assets and clawing deeper out into the sea. And, the locals, often being “sons and daughters of the soil”, are given the benefit of the doubt and are readily accommodated by local communities since it is believed that the accruing wealth will trickle down to them and that local companies would not permit dastard ecological harms. Such sentiments do not take into account the pattern of accumulation by despoliation and dispossession inherent in the DNA of reckless capitalist production. The oil spills under local hands are as deadly as when they drip through foreign fingers. This is already happening.

In any case, the multinational oil companies prefer to dive into deeper waters, because they can escape close scrutiny and because the deeper you go, the amount the Nigerian government receives as royalties gets  progressively smaller. Who would not choose the deep water option if doing so brings more profit and less responsibilities?

The National Oil  Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) must be stretched to the limits by the spate of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The agency must literally be chasing after new spills and those that are ignored on a daily basis. Over the years, it has been agreed that about 240,000 barrels of crude oil gets spilled into the environment annually.

Researches indicate that between 1999 and 2005, up to 17.04 percent of the spills were attributed to mechanical failure. Corrosion caused 15.56 per cent and unknown causes accounted for 31,85 31.85 per cent of the oil spills. Operational error accounted for 12.59 per cent. These four categories, or 77.04 per cent, can be summed up as industry responsibilities. For that period, 20.74 per cent was said to be from third party activity. What happened at 2005? What changed?

These days, most of the incidents are attributed to third party interferences. At one level, the current situation appears to be the result of very well orchestrated campaign by the oil companies to change the narrative by getting fingers to  point at poor community people as the source of the ongoing ecological terror. The campaign succeeded due to the highly advertised violent actions in the creeks and oil thefts that continue to escalate despite the crude beingstolen from high pressure pipelines and other structures. This state of affairs allow crude oil to be made available for the running of the obnoxious “bush refineries” that are contributing massively to the degradation of the environment. These illegalities run on the subtly induced obnoxious sense of entitlement or ownership, that encourages the horrible situation where poor community people engage in extremely dangerous slave labour of cooking and distilling petroleum products at the pleasure of evil barons.

All said, the beneficiaries of the ecocide in the land are the oil companies. As the ecological crimes intensified, they simply stepped up their media game, conducted helicopter pollution tours for local and international media and continued to wash their oil soaked hands off the debacle they orchestrated. The outcome is that today, many believe that the pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by third parties without asking questions about who constitutes this infamous third party? The other questions to be answered include why they do what they do and how. Could these third parties be embedded in the industry, security and political structures?  It is imperative that the so-called third parties are identified and adequately sanctioned.

The people also need more information about the harmful nature of crude oil. The belief that the noxious material can be used to treat convulsion or other health situations must be debunked in clear terms. Government should urgently embark on an environmental assessment of the entire Niger Delta using the Ogoni assessment as a guiding template. The oil fields should be adequately metered so that the nation may know what quantity of crude oil is actually being extracted, how much is being exported and how much is stolen or dumped into the environment. As for the new oil find, detailed ecological baseline studies should be conducted in the oil exploration areas so that when the spills begin, what is lost will be clearly known and there will less difficulties knowing who to hold to account.