We are no GMO Guinea Pigs

We are not Guinea Pigs. Unjust, unsafe, unsustainable. These are the three key words that can be used to describe food systems based on genetic engineering and other chemical based agricultural systems that seek to pollute the environment and to overturn local knowledge, local food culture and local economies. Unjust because they are often introduced surreptitiously or illegally and without adequate information to the public. Unsafe because they are unnatural and because of the very process and nature of genetically engineered or modified organisms including by the inherent allergenicity of some of the organisms and the fact of some of them being basically insecticides. Unsustainable because they operate as monocultures and would eventually subvert African food systems, disrupt local economies, build dependency on agrotoxics and on monopolist seed companies.

The public needs to be repeatedly reminded that there is no evidence to assure the world of the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Products of modern agricultural genetic biotechnology are a real threat to our biodiversity, soils and ways of life. Pesticide crops do not only kill target pest but other beneficial organisms, including pollinators and those in human guts.

To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations

We must never forget the fact that once GMOs are released into the environment they cannot be recalled and would persist, contaminate and literally poison our environment. There are proven agricultural systems that require government support through the provision of extension services, research, rural infrastructure and linkages of farms to markets. These are where our governments must step up to the plate. Literally.

We are talking about our right to know what is on our plates and our right to choose what we eat. It is worth saying again and again that what we eat must not eat us. We cannot allow forces that are against our best interests to drive our agricultural narrative and suggest that nutrition can only be manufactured in modern biotechnology laboratories. We must uncover every surreptitious effort to contaminate our agricultural and food systems. It is time to monitor our imports including those that come as food aid.

It is time to march against poison! Yesterday the world paused to think about our global environment. The theme for the day was Connecting People to Nature. The world resolved to Stand with Nature. GMOs do exactly the opposite – they don’t only disconnect us from Nature, the fight against Nature.

GMOs have been spectacular failures in Africa. GMO cotton failed with small scale farmers in South Africa’s Makhathini Flats. The crop recently failed and was banned in Burkina Faso. Investment on GMO cotton experimentations in Ghana have just entered the pause mode with the purveyor of the failed technology, Monsanto, withdrawing financial support.

It is incomprehensible that the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) would permit the commercial placement in the Nigerian environment of a crop that has failed in a resounding manner just across our borders. This is the time for Nigeria to retreat from the GMO path before more damage is done. Populist propaganda for the technology will never eliminate the fact that GMOs are marketing tools designed to secure profits for corporate entities and to secure political control for neo-colonial and imperial forces. GMOs are the current epitomes of colonialism via the gastronomic route. They are being pushed by external political and commercial interests into Africa and the Nigerian government and her agencies should not play the willing tool to be used as the window through which Africa would once more become enslaved by forces ranged against her interests. This must be stated very loudly because the public has a right to know. If the current government inherited a dangerous programme from the previous government it should be bold enough to distance itself from it. Environmental corruption is infinitely more deadly than monetary thievery. The fight against corruption must include against the corruption of our food systems, socio-cultural and ethical codes.

We reiterate that we have a right to know that GMOs are against our interests, including in the health, economic, social and cultural spheres. We have a right to know that the threats that GMOs pose to us are real, present and dangerously intergenerational. We have a duty to state categorically that there are tested and successful and viable farming practices that are safe and should be promoted. That route is provided by agroecology, a system that is independent of controlling political, agrochemical and seeds corporations.

We have a duty to insist that the weak biosafety laws being pushed across Africa, and in contradiction to existing African Model Law on Biosafety, are not in our best interest. They are laws set up to permit atrocious assault on our health, agricultural and food systems. The NBMA Act 2015 is a prime example of a law begging to the drastically revised or repealed outright. The law is replete with provisions that block public information, promote conflict of interests promotes vested interests and restricts avenues for adequate punishment for harm caused.

To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations. This understanding should place a responsibility on all of us to demand food safety and reject attempts to force our peoples to become guinea pigs in needless and dangerous experimentations.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Stakeholders Workshop on GMOs held at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 06 June 2017

 

 

 

Forests: Connecting People to Nature

FOREST TOWN HALL RESOLUTIONS: What Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder

Health of Mother Earth Foundation held a Forest Town Hall Meeting on Monday – June 5, 2017 in commemoration of World Environment Day, at Apo Apartments in Abuja. The meeting was attended by 150 people including representatives from forest communities, CSOs, government and the media. At the meeting, it was resolved that we will continue to demand for justice for our environment and communities. The following are the outcomes:

  1. Clarification of the Funding Source of Ekuri Community Forest

The following questions needs to be answered clearly and transparently: where are the funds for the Ekuri Superhighway coming from, what are the conditions attached to the funds and what are the implications for the economic autonomy of the community and state?

  1. Community Sensitization, Mobilization and Empowerment

Any successful community effort will require proper sensitization, mobilization and empowerment. The entry protocol will include identification of the power structures in the community, individually sensitize the opinion leaders, organize collective community dialogues and connect the community with resources to exercise their human rights provided according to the law. This will enable the community negotiate appropriate compensations, where necessary.

  1. Land Belongs to the People

A key bone of contention in environmental issues comes about from the lack of clarity (or wrong awareness) of the ownership of land. It was brought to light that land belongs to the people, according to combined interpretation of the Land Use Act as well as the Constitution of Nigeria. The government is a ‘keeper’ of the land and cannot carry out activities that will infringe on the rights of the people, without their consent.

  1. Regard for the Forest

The forest is more than a collection of trees. The town hall meeting resolved to demand a holistic regard for the forest and the intricate values it provides ecologically, socio-culturally, and economically. A plantation of trees cannot be used to replace a forest and the dependent communities that have existed for hundred of generations.

  1. The Super Highway is Unlawful and Unwanted

The community representative expressed severally that while they are in need of good roads to serve their needs, they require a repair / upgrade of the currently existing road which was abandoned by the previous government, instead of an unjustifiable ‘Super Highway.’

  1. Sustained peaceful protests and campaigns

HOMEF and all its partners belief solely in peaceful methods to creating  change, including the use of all forms of media. Sustained protest and campaigns will continue to create the pressure required for the government to pay attention to the needs, voices and rights of stakeholder communities.

  1. Community Organizing

When there is a desecration of the environment, several communities suffer the impact. It is imperative for communities to come together, work in solidarity and ensure that they combine efforts to get their voices heard.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at the Forest Town Hall:

What Nature Has Connected

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, Connecting People to Nature, could not have been more apt, considering that humankind has lost the vital connections that make us conscious of our being a part of a community of beings on Earth.

Today we want to particularly look at the disruption of that connection by the politics of infrastructure that is sometimes pursued without recourse to national or even natural laws. We see roads build without drainages and where they are constructed, they are invariably emptied into streams and rivers without any consideration of the wellbeing of the aquatic life in them and of the people that depend on the water downstream.

I once asked the manager of a phosphate factory dumping toxic effluent into the Atlantic Ocean at Kpeme, near Lome, why such a harmful practice was permitted. The answer was that “you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg.” If you ask why international oil companies have been routinely flaring gas in the Niger Delta over the past fifty-nine years, they claim it became “industry practice” because there was no market for the product when oil extraction commenced. Can you seen how low we can sink?

One of the infrastructural projects that has astonished the world and stunned local communities is the 260 km Superhighway proposed by the Cross River State Government (CRSG) to originate from a “deep sea” port at Esighi in Cross River State and rip through the National Park and community forests to terminate at Katsina Ala in Benue State.  This Town Hall meeting will examine what has been lost due to the commencement of the execution of the project without adequate public consultations, before an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and presumably before any detailed site-specific designs had been made. We will also examine what has been saved by the self-reversal of the order by which the CRSG had grabbed an amazing 10km span of land on either side of the proposed highway. That land uptake would have meant the displacement of several communities, conversion of pristine forests, decimation of wildlife and possibly the extinction of some species.

The idea of shaving pristine and protected forests for the installation of a highway of any form indicates a clear disconnection between people and Nature. The farcical community consultations so far carried out underscores the disconnection between the wielders of power and the citizens. The struggle waged by the communities to ensure that they are duly consulted and that their free prior informed consent is obtained before any project execution is an indication that a people connected to Nature would not readily allow any force to disconnect them from Nature on which they depend for livelihoods. This Town Hall will also seek to assure our threatened communities that we are united in the efforts to ensure that they are allowed to live in dignity, enhance their systems of knowledge and that the best interest of all beings is respected.

“We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

The forest dependent communities of Cross River State have shown exemplary commitment to protecting and managing their community forests. In attestation of their excellent performance, the Ekuri people were conferred with the Equator Prize by the United Nations Development Programme in 2004. Forests provide a variety of services to humans and other beings. Forests help to cool the Earth, protect our rivers, maintain soil quality, house wildlife. They provide food and medicine for humans and are home to pollinators. While the communities deserve to have good access roads, building any superhighway through the well managed forests would spell disaster of global implications.

Regrettably, Nature has become to many of us “a thing” that is to be appropriated, transformed and traded. We have gone so far from Nature that one sounds ridiculous to insist that we do not need to attach monetary values to Nature before we can protect her. This is the logic that undergirds the concept of Green Economy and promotes market environmentalism. We have forgotten the intrinsic values of the gifts of Nature and of Nature herself. We believe that all is not lost. We can wake up from the present nightmare and dream of better ways of living, of connecting with Mother Earth.

Today, we have deliberated chosen to mark the World Environment Day by having a Forest Town Hall Meeting. We note that parts of our nation are not being denuded by processes of desertification and the forest regions are rapidly becoming Sahellian.  The transformation cannot be blamed on climate change alone, although it does play a part in the area of desertification. Our disconnection from Nature has permitted us to clear our forests, destroy complex ecosystems, food systems and our social heritage without any reflections on the consequences of our actions. The loss of our forest ecosystems translates to the loss of culture, of ways of life, of possibly irredeemable destruction of species. These loses translate to direct deprivation of livelihoods and the exacerbation of poverty in our forest dependent communities.

We are pleased that the Federal Ministry of Environment has stood ready to review Environment Impact Assessment documents presented by the CRSG and that a nod would only be given when it is clear that all requirements of the law are met, including full consultation of the communities that would be impacted by the proposed project. We look forward to hearing thoughts and experiences from development and environmental experts as well as from representatives of communities threatened by the proposed that project.

I and my colleagues took part in an ecological community dialogue in Akpabuyo, one of the already impacted communities, last week. The lament of the people that still rings in my ear is this: “We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

What was implied is that we must not be disconnected from our land, from Mother Earth. In other words, what Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder.

 

 

 

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

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

We Have a Right to Safe Food

Safe Food is a Human Right. Should science not be in the public interest and in service of society? The answer to that is obvious and it is a YES. Science has to be in the interest of society. Is all science in the interest of society? Again, this question attracts an easy answer and that answer is NO.

Must a people utilize a technology based on unproven or mythic promises? Indeed, must we use a technology simply because it exists or because we can acquire it? Does domesticating a technology, such as modern agricultural biotechnology, make its utility inevitable? Do nations shy away from utilising the technology that produces atomic bombs merely for lack of access to the technology or for reasons of safety and survival of humankind? Where does public participation begin and where does it end with regard to decisions that are matters of life and death?

If we are malnourished what must be done? Can food aid solve the challenge of food shortages in the North East when the root causes fester and lurk under every shrub or clump? Why are fisher folks in our Niger Delta creeks depending on imported frozen fish?

How much do we know of the GMO beans that will soon be unleashed on Nigerians? And what does the public know of GMO cassava experimentations/release in Nigeria? What about the approval of GMO cotton that failed in Burkina Faso for commercial release in Nigeria? Burkina Faso’s cotton production is regaining its former productivity since the government decided to jettison the GMO variety and return to planting natural cotton. Why is Nigeria being pushed blindly into a failed venture? We cannot be fooled when we are told that a permit for commercial release and placement in the market is the same as a permit for trials to be conducted.These questions are raised to remind us that there are many issues surrounding the matter of our food and

the challenge of agricultural modern biotechnology that require clarifications and in-depth interrogations.

On 13th November 1996, the World Food Summit hosted by the United Nations, the world affirmed that all humans have a right to access to safe and nutritious food in a manner consistent with the right to adequate food and freedom from hunger. The provisions for the right to life in our constitution and other global covenants speak of the right to food that is safe and nutritious.

As we begin our conversations on the state of biosafety in Nigeria, let us state that the fundamental way to ensure safe, nutritious food is through the promotion and support of food sovereignty. This is the way to ensure sustainable food production. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to safe and culturally appropriate food produced through methods that are ecologically sound and sustainable. It is critically the right of our peoples to define their own food and agriculture systems. It allows communities to control the way food is produced, traded and eaten. We understand that the best food security can be attained through food sovereignty. Any other understanding of food security leaves open the gates for dumping of inappropriate foods and products with the singular end of filling hungry mouths and stomachs. It essentially erodes a people’s sovereignty and promotes food colonialism.

The media has an enormous responsibility to inform the public about issues that fundamentally affect their safety – especially with regard to the sort of food or things that we eat. It is a sacred duty to lay open basic information and to encourage public participation in policy issues surrounding our food systems. We have a biosafety law, the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015, that is not only permissive in favour of the biotech industry, but is adversarial or against the public interest. This is illustrated by the fact that the Act only requires NBMA to hold public consultations at its discretion as in its Section 26(1). We believe that holding public consultations on plans to release genetically modified organisms should be a legal and binding requirement and not left to the whims of the Agency. Section 25(2) of the Act also allows NBMA to decide whether to advertise applications to introduce GMOs in national or local newspapers.

The ‘public enlightenment’ events held by promoters and regulators of biosafety in Nigeria merely suggest that our people are misinformed about the risks that GMOs pose. What our people need is accurate information from all sides of the issues so that they can make informed decisions and demand for or reject risky technologies. Assurances that NBMA will not allow dangerous GMOs into Nigeria are nothing but mere platitudes if the claims are not backed by open, neutral and unstilted adjudications.

How much do we know of the GMO beans that will soon be unleashed on Nigerians? And what does the public know of GMO cassava experimentations/release in Nigeria? What about the approval of GMO cotton that failed in Burkina Faso for commercial release in Nigeria? Burkina Faso’s cotton production is regaining its former productivity since the government decided to jettison the GMO variety and return to planting natural cotton. Why is Nigeria being pushed blindly into a failed venture? We cannot be fooled when we are told that a permit for commercial release and placement in the market is the same as a permit for trials to be conducted.

As the conversations begin, let us all keep in mind that this is a matter of security, cultural heritage, freedom from neo-colonialism and a human right to life. We are talking about food. And food is a human right.

Let the conversations continue.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at a Media Training on Biosafety hosted by HOMEF at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 24 May 2017

Eco-Instigator #15 : Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria

ECO INSTIGATOR 15 coverThe heat is on, as the saying goes. As the forces of environmental harm increase the heat on the planet, ecological defenders are stepping up on mobilisations and vigorously standing up for justice.

One key trending environmental matter in Nigeria in the rst quarter of 2017 was the soot or black carbon that blanketed Port Harcourt. The visible pollution got people talking and government agencies scrambling to check the situation.

Another boiling issue was that of Biosafety or the threats of genetically modied organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria. An innocuous newspaper report relaying the ndings of an ad-hoc committee of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) set up to advise the body on issues of genetic engineering has led to strenuous rebuttals and disclaimers from public agencies working on Biosafety and GMO issues. We serve you the report, the rebuttals and our own response. This is a matter that requires continuous vigilance and we promise to return to it in Eco-Instigator #16.

Always on the go? Check out the article by Sonali Narang on the need to watch our carbon footprint. And we serve excellent poetry from the pen of one of Nigeria’s acclaimed poets, Amu Nnadi.

Read, think, react, reach us. Until victory!

Read the edition here: ECO INSTIGATOR 15