HOMEF, CSOs Reject Transgenic cassava application from IITA

Objecting IITA's applicationThe plans to take total control of Nigeria’s food system is moving rapidly on the genetically engineered organisms (GMO) highway. The list of GMOs being pushed in Nigeria includes beans, maize and cotton. Recently the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) teamed up with ETHZ laboratories of Zurich Switzerland to apply to carry out confined field trial in Nigeria of cassava genetically modified “obtain storage roots with lower post-harvest physiological degradation after harvest (thanks to pruning) without any loss of the nutritious starch.”

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, along with 87 other civil society organisations representing over 5 million Nigerians, has sent an objection to the application submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

IITA’s application is to conduct “confined” field trials of the cassava genetically modified using a new gene silencing technology that has never been tested before. In fact, the IITA admits that such an approval has not been given for this GMO cassava anywhere in any “jurisdiction” in the world.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), “The IITA has been a respected institution in Nigeria and Africa on whom farmers depend for good quality and safe crops. Now they have decided to drive on the GMO road, Nigerian and African agriculture face a mortal danger. If NBMA approves this application, we can as well say good bye to food safety in Nigeria.”

Bassey adds, “even if the IITA presents the Frankenstein cassava as a crop for the production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting the GMO cassava for food. We call on the NBMA to do the needful and reject this application outright. We don’t need GMO cassava. We don’t need GMOs.”

Reacting to the multi-front attack of GMO promoters in Africa, AFSA, the pan-African civil society platform championing food sovereignty in Africa, “calls for an immediate ban on the importation into South Africa of Monsanto’s high-risk second-generation gene-silencing genetically modified (GM) maize destined for human consumption. AFSA rejects and condemns US corporation Monsanto’s plan to exploit millions of Africans as unwitting human guinea pigs for their latest genetic engineering experiment. AFSA also condemns the IITA field trial application in Nigeria using this same risky technology to produce GM cassava for the agro-fuels industry.”[1]

AFSA adds, “These GM applications target staple foods of maize and cassava, eaten by many millions of Africans every day. Scientists have reported that the untested gene-silencing effect is able to cross over into mammals and humans, and affect their genetic makeup with unknown potential negative consequences, and have called for long-term animal testing and stronger regulation before this goes ahead.”

IITA has a long romance with cassava. In 2006, the institution issued a statement[2] stating that from their research, for the Nigerian Government to achieve 10 percent ethanol for fuel the country would need to produce about 7 billion kilograms of cassava annually. How would that quantity of cassava be produced without taking farmers off the food production line to start producing food for machines? How would this sort of egregious non-food production be carried out without land grabbing and displacement of poor farmers?

According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, the Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, “Promoting GM crops for biofuels demonstrates the hypocrisy of the biotech giants, who are always quick to summit that GM crops are necessary to produce more food for the growing world population. They make the case that relying only on natural crop varieties would create food deficits and lead to forests being cleared for cultivation, to meet rising food demand. Yet, the same companies think nothing of diverting large areas of arable land for cultivation of crops to develop ethanol for fuel, to feed the voracious machines of the North.”

HOMEF and all the organisations objecting to the application for confined trials of the novel cassava GMO agree with AFSA and demand that the National Biosafety Management Agency should throw out the application and advise them to carry out the test in Switzerland where it was developed.

“If IITA is tired of serving the needs of Nigeria and Africans as they have done in the past, they may as well take their business elsewhere. How can we ever trust them any longer with this extremely dangerous path they are taking?” asks Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener of Nigerians against GMOs.

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

Further information for editors:

  1. The developer of the GMO cassava that IITA is applying to bring into Nigeria is Prof Zeeman, whose work are is mostly on starch metabolism and biochemistry which has now been tried with Cassava. See more at http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/research-pbc/research/research-and-thesis-projects.html.
  2. There is no mentioning of this specific project/application of his technology with Cassava on the website of the developer of the technology. From a related website, http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/reseach-pb/research-pb.html, it is seen that it is another group that typically works on genetically engineered of cassava or all kinds of plants focusing on nutritional compounds such as iron and Vitamin A.
  3. It does appear that the cassava variety being applied to be tested in Nigeria is a continuation of a PhD project under the supervision of Profs Zeeman and Gruissem.[3] Part of that PhD research was to develop first transgenic lines of starch-altered cassava and they did all the work with one line of Cassava they got from IITA (cv60444) which they grew over the years in climate chambers/greenhouses at ETH.
  4. The applicants claim that there are “no expected changes in toxicity or allergenicity of transgenic cassava clones,” but cites no research to back up the claim. This is highly presumptuous as other scientists have said all methods of crop improvement have potential to cause unintended compositional changes.[4] What makes IITA’s GM cassava different? We are confounded how claims such as these with no evidence to support them can be “scientifically” acceptable. But that is very typical and this application is no exception
  5. GE cassava for biofuel is a very ‘northern’ idea. It will not work in Nigerian context with little to no oversight over production chains and certainly not for small-scale farmers. It hasn’t even worked in industrial countries as all previous dual-use GE crops have utterly failed to this point, with the worst case being with Cry9C maize in the US which was also meant primarily as feed and explicitly NOT as food. Within weeks after the first harvest, even in a country like the US, it was shown to have ended up in all kinds of food products like cornflakes, tacos etc. They took the product off the market within a year but it was still around – and may still be around – for years.[5]
  6. The Applicants said the trial personnel have relevant skills in biotechnology and “will be appropriately trained in biosafety to cope with the requirement of the study.” This assertion suggests that IITA does not already have the requisite personnel to handle the biosafety aspect of this application. Again, this shows that Nigerian is chosen as the platform to roll out this risky experiment probably because they believe that any sort of application would be passed by Nigeria.
  7. The objection also calls on the NBMA not to allow our territory to be used for the trial of risky and unnecessary technologies that add no value to our food systems but rather threaten our agriculture, health and survival of our peoples. This application fails on all layers and levels of consideration and IITA will do well to allow ETHZ to retain their specimens in their laboratories in Zurich rather than become a conduit by which our well-being is threatened. 
Endnotes
[1] AFSA (22 August 2017) OPEN LETTER: Do not allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs for untested high-risk new GM technology. http://afsafrica.org/open-letter-to-african-biosafety-regulators-do-not-allow-africans-to-be-used-as-guinea-pigs/

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

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

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

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

 

The Petroleum “Host Community” Bill

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

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

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

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

 

Catholic Medical practitioners Caution on GMOs

This post is the EnviroNews report on the outcome of a recent scientific conference hosted by Catholic medical practitioners recently in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. You can also read the entire communique here: 2017 ACMP Communique in PH 

We reproduce the EnviroNews report:

Catholic Medical Practitioners have called on the federal government to legislate, regulate and monitor the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria.

While demanding that attention be payed to the labelling of GMO products, they demanded adequate funding for research and development by the GMO regulatory agencies for the nation to derive benefits from the technology.

“But more importantly, to protect our people and environment from the many possible dangers thereto: decreasing food productivity, food gene extermination, corruption of soil ecology, food insecurity and biological imperialism as well as various health hazards on human beings, the environment, animals and plants,” declared the Association of Catholic Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (ACMPN) in a communique released at the close of its 12th scientific conference and annual general meeting that had “Genetically-Modified Organisms: How Harmful, Harmless or Beneficial?” as the theme.

The event held from Thursday, July 6 to Saturday, July 8, 2017 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The conference called on the government to re-commit to working for all Nigerians, truly developing a national consciousness on shared values.

They also want the government to lead Nigerians to possess, take ownership and protect the nation morally, socially, politically, and economically in a truly independent and progressive manner.

“The protection of lives of everyone, including the unborn Nigerians is a sacred duty for all, especially those in authority,” the medical practitioners noted, calling on the authorities to adequately train the personnel, equip and fund the national agencies mandated to protect the health and lives of citizens, the environment and natural resources.

“In this way, these agencies will not become mere facilitators and local proxy organisations for global businesses and so-called development partners whose underlying targets may be inimical to the strategic interests of Nigeria and her peoples.”

The conference further called on Catholic doctors to engage in health insurance and especially community-based health insurance to help citizens access health care, and for Nigeria to achieve universal health coverage to improve its current low indices.

It also called on all doctors of goodwill to adopt healthier, ethically and culturally adequate approaches in their maternal, child and family health care, rather than the values of the “culture of death”.

The ACMPN also re-committed itself to promote the sanctity of human life, marriage between a man and a woman, natural family planning and NaProTechnology in pursuit of family health and national development.

Resilience, Resistance

Building a Resilient and Ecologically Engaged Citizenry. Cross River State is generally seen as a green state, with some of the last tracts of pristine rain forests – some of which have been preserved through community forest management efforts. Some of us believe that what the State needs is an economy creatively built on her bio-economic endowment. Such an approach would release the creative potentials of the citizens in an inclusive manner with inbuilt resilience. The rich soils and biodiversity of the State have however become a compelling pull for plantation or monoculture developers. Their incursions have put pressure on the local communities, especially the forest dependent ones. The incursions also have grave implications for national and global efforts to tackle global warming.

The suggestion that plantations are forests has been rejected by our peoples who insist that forests are biodiversity hotspots and that there can be no mono-cultures without the destruction of biodiversity. Biodiversity erosion degrades the resilience of communities at many levels – ecological, spiritual, economic, social and cultural. Biodiversity destruction can come from many actions including land use changes arising from conversion of forests into plantations as well as from infrastructural projects.

The controversies surrounding the Superhighway project idea have been consistently on rather basic premises. While some ask to know what would be exported at the Sea Port where the highway is to begin, others ask to know if the imported goods would terminate at Katsina Ala or where else they would go and how. These questions skirt the issue of the prime reasons offered for the Superhighway project – the urgent need to open up the State to investors and for development. The clouds over the project have been sustained by the lack of adequate public consultations on the routing of the highway, its necessity, its finance and viability and the trade-offs with regard to the massive community displacements and biodiversity destruction that would accompany it. Non governmental organisations (NGOs) like GREENCODE and Peace Point Action (PPA) have proposed that a railway system would be more cost effective in conveying goods from the seaport to the hinterland, besides having less impact on the environment.

These concerns have led communities and other citizens to demand a transparent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. That process has been unexpectedly tortuous for the Cross River State government (CRSG) because consultants engaged to help prepare the documents could not know, as pointed out by Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), that there are no Chinese alligators, blue monkeys or even dams that would be found on the proposed Superhighway route. The versions so far seen appear to be cut-and-paste documents with scant relevance to the localities to be traversed by the Superhighway.

The CRSG has struggled to listen to public complaints and has reversed itself on the astonishing move it had made to grab 10km on either side of the proposed superhighway in order to create what had been described as a “development corridor”. That land uptake would have grabbed 25 percent of the landmass of the state and displaced up to 180 communities in the process.  Secondly, the CRSG is said to have realigned the superhighway so that it doesn’t traverse forest reserves. The problem with this is that with the route still falls within the fringes of forest buffer zones, the threats of illegal logging and opportunistic poaching remain very high.

Unfortunately, the CRSG has not been able to build the confidence of the public on the gains that the changes could have brought. This situation arises from the fact that while renouncing its initial edict to grab 10km on either side of the Superhighway, as well as sending out signals that the routing has been reconsidered, there have been threats and ultimatums made to the effect that the CRSG would proceed with the project even if the requirements of the law are not met; that they would consider revoking the ownership of the Cross River National Park. Moreover, the new routing of the proposed realignment of the Superhighway is still a conjecture as the revised map is not in the public view. The only maps that are accessible are those produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This speaks volumes about the preparedness of the State for the prosecution of this project in a way that addresses the concerns of the people and the unassailable need to protect our ecological heritage.

Today we are gathered here in Akpabuyo for a diagnostic Community Dialogue on the state of the local environment. We will examine issues including threats to our biodiversity and livelihoods. We will also examine what steps can be taken to preserve and enhance local livelihoods especially under the canopy of our reconnecting with nature, discussing re-source democracy and examining how to promote positive changes in the communities while minimising those with negative impacts. The purpose of our engagement today is to facilitate a process of distilling existing knowledge and bringing out action points that would build an ecologically engaged, resilient and proactive citizenry.

Our series of dialogues cover many ecological zones and have been supported by hosting communities, SGP-GEF of the United Nations Development Programme, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Grassroots International. We thank leaders of Akpabuyo Community for making our dialogue today possible. We are also grateful to all the civil society groups and the media that are with us on this ecological journey.

We are only as resilient as our environment is. Let the dialogue continue.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the Community Diagnostic Dialogue on the theme Building Resilience for Resistance held at Akpabuyo, Cross River State on 30th May 2017

Women, Re-sources, Peace and Matters Arising

 

Nnimmo May 24Although women are rarely those that trigger wars and the arms race, they are often the victims and bear the brunt of the harms that occur during the conflicts. Each International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament gives us a unique moment to reflect not just on what women suffer from the needless primitive conflicts raging in the world today, but on what women contribute to peace building in our world.

Whether conflicts are of the low or high intensity type, people suffer. Women suffer multiple deprivations in conflict situations. They bear the scars of injuries from weapons of war and also of being taken as trophies of war by deviant arms bearing men.

It is a common saying that peace is not necessarily the absence of war. In other words, the fact that there is no war does not mean that there is peace. Can we say there is peace when women are deprived of their rights to own or inherit land and other properties in certain nations? Is there peace when the environment is polluted and livelihoods are destroyed without any sense of responsibility? What about when citizens have no say as to what extractive activities are conducted in their territory or communities? Is there peace simply because deprived citizens do not bear arms?

These are questions that a day like this provides space for us to reflect on.

It is a day for us to pay tribute to women who have made valiant efforts to halt the reign of terror in the world. It is also a day to remember the girls and women that have survived the worst that terror and security forces have thrown at them. On this score, we remember the Chibok girls – released and in captivity. We salute the courage of women who have unashamedly stood up against oppression by adopting the naked option. Here we call to mind that the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors used this method in their protest to the Rivers State Governor’s office and to the Rivers State House of Assembly in November 2010 demanding for action to restore peace to their community.  Others have done the same in protests against the despoliation of their environment by international oil companies operating with recklessness that would not be condoned anywhere in the world. And we cannot forget the Abriba women who a few days ago adopted the naked option peaceful protest in the face of brutal naked power.

These are matters that a day like this provides space for us to think about.

Our women have been outstanding Amazons as they tackle very hostile environmental realities in the Niger Delta. Oil spills, toxic wastes, and gas flares pose unique challenges to the health of our environment and peoples. Climate change adds to the growing list of woes that our women must contend with. These range from the shrinkage of Lake Chad, loss of coastal lands to erosion and unpredictable weather conditions. The impact on food production weigh heavily on the shoulders of our women. And how about the phenomenal conflict between herdsmen and farmers that often manifest in the rape and killing of women?

These are happenings that a day like this provides space for us to chew upon.

Our women have literally built peace with bare knuckles, so to speak, while governments around the world invest on the machines of war – cutting down and shedding innocent blood in their quest for power and control. With climate denialists in high political offices, investment in warfare puts women at greater risks, reduces humankind’s resilience to global warming, makes nonsense of efforts to pursue the United Nations Sustainability Goals. With almost 2 trillion dollars wasted on warfare yearly, whole cities destroyed as though in video games, there is little or no money for climate mitigation and building of resilience.

These are issues that a day like this provides space for us to act on.

In a series of community dialogues and sustainability academies, HOMEF’s instigators will examine how the concept of Re-Source Democracy can be interrogated and implemented to ensure that the rights of Mother Earth are not trampled underfoot and that conflicts related to the use of the gifts of Nature are eliminated as we all reconnect to hers. As we salute our valiant women who have done much to build peace in our part of the world, I invite you to sit back and receive the words that will be coming from the indefatigable Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo and the high achiever, Mrs Joy Akate Lale. We will also today be honouring the excellent legacy of peace built by the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors. We are thankful to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ndowa Lale, and the entire management team of the University of Port Harcourt for providing an excellent space for learning and for the contestation of ideas. We are also honoured to have a great peace activist in our midst, Alyn Ware, winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2009, all the way from New Zealand.

The issue of Re-Source Democracy is worth a peep on a day like this.

Re-Source Democracy by HOMEF is available online at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/resource-democracy.pdf. Let us see an excerpt:

Re-source Democracy requires that we recognise the fact that we do not have to exploit a re-source simply because we have it. Some places must be off limits to extractive activities especially when such re-sources are found in fragile ecosystems or in locations of high cultural, religious or social significance. Lack of respect for certain ecosystems lead to the over-harvesting of re-sources and habitat loss. These in turn could lead to biodiversity erosion and species extinction. There are examples of nations that have decided against the exploitation of certain natural re-source in order to support the higher objectives of clean and safe environments ensure citizen’s wellbeing. Examples include El Salvador where mining has been proscribed and Costa Rica where crude oil is le in the soil.

The benefits of re-source democracy include elimination of conflicts, community involvement in re-source governance and protection based on knowledge and assurance of access. It ensures an integrated and sustainable use of natural re- sources in a manner that is fully in consonance with socio-cultural, religious and political dictates. Re-source democracy ensures that we all join together in acts of solidarity to defend the natural re-sources on which we inevitably depend for our survival. It does this by recognizing the rights of nature to replenish itself, maintain its vital cycles and do so without destructive interventions by humans.

Re-source democracy gives us rights and also responsibilities. It is an inescapable construct in an era where human greed massively damages ecosystems, depletes re-sources and threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Sustainability Academy on Re-Source Democracy/Conflicts on the occasion of International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament co-hosted by the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on 24 May 2017.

 

Break Monsanto and Bayer’s Unholy Wedlock

Breaking the Unholy Wedlock between Monsanto and Bayer.The quest for profit in the agro-chemical sector is being pursued through the power game of colonisation of seeds and farming systems. Monocultures literally operate best in command systems where control is concentrated in a cabal or in a few hands. This is what the merger of Bayer and Monsanto seeks to solidify. This is why we resist this merger because its consequences will be dire. This is why citizens of the world reject this quest for the control of global agriculture, the poisoning of our food systems and the erosion of biodiversity. This is why we are extremely concerned in Africa even though this commercial enterprise appears to be between Europe and North America.

Monsanto’s Bt cotton in Burkina Faso failed fantastically when farmers harvested short-fibre cotton leading to economic losses. On 14th April 2016, the government of Burkina Faso make a determined turn around and halted the cultivation of the failed Bt cotton.

We are concerned because right now, big agri-business led by Monsanto and their political backers have worked hard to weaken laws that should protect biodiversity in Africa and ensure biosafety and biosecurity. They have assaulted our political structures and painted horrid pictures of hunger, malnutrition and starvation across the continent, prescribed techno-fixes and refused to interrogate the root causes of the symptoms. The technical fixes such as the products of genetic engineering are patently colonial insults being foisted on Africa. They ignore socio-cultural, ecological, economic, religious and ethical realms of our peoples. They present themselves as innovations, but are nothing more than unwanted tools seeking markets and dominance.

So far, genetically engineered crops are officially planted in just a few African nations – South Africa, Sudan and Egypt. Cultivation of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in Burkina Faso failed fantastically when farmers harvested short-fibre cotton leading to economic losses. On 14th April 2016, the government of Burkina Faso make a determined turn around and halted the cultivation of the failed Bt cotton. From that time farmers in Burkina Faso began to cultivate non-GE cotton and are already boasting of excellent quality cotton, rise in outputs and better financial returns.

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The critical situation for us in Nigeria is that in the dying days of our previous government, a very defective biosafety regulations law was signed into force. Within a year of the coming into effect of that law, Monsanto applied for and obtained three permits to introduced GE crops into Nigeria – two maize events and the same variety of Bt cotton that failed woefully in Burkina Faso. Two of those permits where obtained from applications that Monsanto made jointly with a National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) which is a member of the board of the regulatory or permitting agency. Our struggle in Nigeria is multi-layered. We are struggling to overturn the legislation that has conflicts of interest embedded in it. We are also struggling against a food production system that would see our peoples and environment doused with toxic carcinogens, such as the ones peddled by Monsanto. We are resisting the destruction of biodiversity through industrial agriculture that will worsen land-grabbing on our continent with the related displacement of small holder farmers. We are resisting a system that will lock in hunger and malnutrition and raise the spectre of the enslavement of our peoples through obnoxious labour and commercial practices.

With our staple crops such as cassava, beans, bananas and maize being targeted by the GE and chemical companies, the merger of Monsanto and Bayer will spell doom to our smallholder farmers. It will destroy our indigenous species and pressure our farmers to adopted a few dominant technological packages. It will mean destruction of our farming patterns of mix-cropping, colonise our seeds, expose our farmers to high costs of seeds and greatly hamper our food sovereignty – the right to safe and wholesome food. We cannot accept the merger of these two sellers of toxic technologies. When we reject this merger and the technologies and chemicals bringing them together, we are resisting the conversion of Africa into a dumping ground of obsolete technologies, unwholesome foods and the erasure of our biodiversity. We are standing against yet another attack on the survival of our peoples – a war now fought through seeds rather than bullets.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for solidarity. That you for excusing my inability to be with you today. We are in this struggle together. Until Victory!

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Talking points used in virtual presentation at the Town Hall meeting at University of Koln on 27.04.17

 

Biosafety is No Gamble

Biosafety is No Gamble: Dead people cannot speak against judicial or other decisions. Likewise, Dead people cannot be compensated if their demise was triggered by some poison they unknowingly ingested. These and several other considerations are markers on the pathways of justice. They underscore why we cannot shut our eyes to the laws that leave yawning gaps for transgressions. They illustrate the reasons why we cannot and should not stomach permissive laws that endanger our food and agricultural systems.

The Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act came into force on 18th April 2015 after the then President Goodluck Jonathan put his signature on it. On Thursday 28th April 2016, NABMA wrote a letter to HOMEF and ERA/FoEN (Ref: NBMA/ODG/050/1/68), acknowledging receipt of our copious objections to the applications from Monsanto and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) to conduct confined field trials of two maize events and of another application from Monsanto for commercial release and placement in the environment of GMO cotton. In the letter of acknowledgement of receipt of our objections NBMA said they have “noted” our objections and pledged to “review the application holistically and take the best decision in the interest of Nigeria, to avoid risks to human health, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The socio-economic impacts would also be well considered before taking final decision on the application.” The agency then thanked us for our views.

Two days later, on Sunday, 1st May 2016, NBMA issued permits to the two applications made by Monsanto and its government agency partner. It is clear to us that our objections were not considered.

Two things. We have an agency that approved applications for introduction of GMOs into Nigeria in less than a year of its being constituted. The speed with which the new agency approved Monsanto’s application breaks all records of similar processes anywhere in the world. The speed of approval raises questions over the readiness of the agency to tackle the delicate and serious issue of modern agricultural biotechnology – a contentious technology that has foisted tales of woes on citizens as well as farmers in other climes, a technology that opposes the basic tenets of our agricultural and food systems. Secondly, the speed shows a disdain for public consultation and participation in the serious approval processes. These are some of the issues that we have invited you, legal luminaries to examine in this roundtable.

As we discuss the issues surrounding biosafety, we hope you will focus particularly on the NBMA Act 2015 and see if the Agency as constituted is wired to serve the best biosafety interests of Nigeria or if it should be dramatically reviewed or even repealed. In particular, we hope that you, as legal experts, consider if there are issues of conflict of interest in a setting such as that of NBMA where board members are promoters of the risky technology and are also applicants that have benefited from the very first application to have come before the Agency. We wish to be advised if such a construct does not obstruct avenues for justice, fairness, probity and equity in our collective struggle for a food regime that ensures that we are not turned into guinea pigs by those pushing to colonise our food systems and expose us to avoidable risks.

As we engage in our dialogue, let us all keep in mind that this matter has implications that is intergenerational and lapses have consequences for Nigerians yet unborn. Laws are not cast in concrete. The right to safe and nutritious food is a universal right. GMOs challenge that right with its creation of novel organisms, dependence on toxic chemicals and abridgement of the rights of farmers to preserve and share seeds and to stay free from contamination by genetically engineered seeds.

A defective law cannot provide justice. It cannot protect our biodiversity, ensure biosecurity or secure our very life. We cannot gamble with our biosafety and biosecurity.

We have come to the roundtable. Let the dialogue begin.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at a Lawyers Roundtable on Biosafety hosted by HOMEF at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 25 April 2017