Fishers of the World Unite!

IMG_3917 2Fishers Unite! It is abnormal for a fisher or fishing community to depend on imported fish for protein. It is an unhappy situation when an experienced fisherman returns from a fishing trip with only flotsam or other debris, including plastics, in the nets. Unfortunately, this is the reality facing fishers in much of the Niger Delta and in other regions where extractive businesses have heavily polluted our creeks, rivers and seas.

The case of fishers toiling for hours, even days, and returning home empty handed and hungry due to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems by oil spills, is similar to the sad experience of farmers whose lands have been damaged by these oil spills, waste dumps and mining wastes.

The ecological balance and health of our marine ecosystems have been heavily impacted by unmitigated pollution emanating from oil, gas and mineral exploration and other extraction activities.

Seismic activities disorient or even lead to the death of aquatic lives, including whales. In the heat of oil exploration in the offshore of Ghana, whales died and were washed onshore. In fact, 30 whales died and were washed to the shorelines of Ghana between 2011 and 2017. Although some people dispute the link between the recorded deaths and oil exploration activities, the spike in such incidents since the intensification of oil exploration and exploitation requires clear explanations.

We note that the undisputed causal links to similar experiences have been established by researchers elsewhere. For example, it is a usual experience to find fish, crabs and other aquatic life forms floating in oil coated waters whenever oil spills or oil-related fires breakout in our creeks.

Over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in the fishing business. This includes the fishers and the fish processors. When others in the value chain – involved in fish transportation, net fabrication and repair, boat building, outboard engines maintenance and cold storage operation – are considered, it is clear that this is a sector that requires support and protection.

The employment level in the fishing sector clearly trumps that of the oil and gas sector. While the petroleum sector may contribute in higher amounts to the national purse, the fishing sector directly impacts the lives of more individuals, families and communities than the oil sector. Indeed, if fishers are adequately protected and supported with necessary value addition avenues, fish could reasonably be expected to provide a more sustainable source of revenue and foods than the petroleum sector currently does.

We also bear in mind that millions of Nigerians and beyond depend on fish for 35 percent of their protein needs. This reality underscores the critical need to consider the overall health of our citizens in the management of harmful activities in our water bodies. There is over 12.5 million-hectare of inland water in Nigeria and with this the country can produce over 350,000 metric tonnes of fish yearly. Over 80 percent of the fish in our markets are caught by artisanal fishers. With a huge proportion of our population depending on fish for animal protein, this is an area that requires careful ecological and economic attention.

These considerations become even more urgent when we bear in mind that in a few decades, crude oil will be abandoned as an energy resource. When the need for crude oil fades away, as it soon will, our creeks, rivers and seas will not suddenly become clean or healthy again. The pollution that is being currently condoned is an inter-generational crime that requires to be halted and accounted for.

If our fishers should tell tales of what they see, of what their experiences are, in the struggle to make a living and to provide healthy foods for our teeming population, our hearts would be broken.

The questions are: why is the current state of affairs permitted in our waters? Why are our creeks, rivers and seas polluted with impunity and no one is held to account? Why are our fishers left to struggle to no avail with no compensations paid for fishing gears which are destroyed by oil spills, for loss of fishing grounds and for harms from divers factors?

Now is the time to stem the tide of destruction. Now is the time to use our tongue to count our teeth. Now is the time for fishers to unite and stand against pollution. It is time to demand a halt to extraction activities in our waters. It is time for fishers to say that our streams, rivers and seas are not waste dump sites or channels for disposal of toxic effluents. It is time for fishers to unite and loudly remind the world that our best interest is served by fish, not oil.

The FishNet Alliance provides the avenue for fishers to come together and forge a common front to protect our marine ecosystems, livelihoods and to build resilient economies and a sustainable and just future. Is this something we can do? This is our challenge. This is why we must come together, from community to community, from shore to shore and paddle together, united in the good fight for safe waters devoid of deadly pollution.

Let the conversations continue…

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at FishNet Community Dialogue at Mbo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, on 19 June 2018

 

 

 

In the Belly of the Plastic Whale

IMG_0658

Inside the Plastic Whale

Inside the Belly of the Plastic Whale. It was a surreal feeling for me to literally step into the belly of a whale in December 2017. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least. One could not but imagine what would have been the fate of biblical Jonah if he had found himself in the belly of a whale like the one I encountered.

My encounter was with a Cuvier’s beaked whale. An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale can weigh up to 3000 kilogrammes and measure 5-7 metres in length. These whales usually have just two visible teeth at the tip of their short beak. Lacking much in terms of teeth, they feed by suction. They hunt by echolocation and can be injured or confused by noises generated by humans, including noise from seismic exploration for fossil fuel resources.

Encountering them is not easy, so Jonah would probably not have been given a hike by this specie. Why? They live where there is no light, at about 2000 metres way down in the ocean. Plus, they feed on fish, crustaceans and mostly deep-sea squid. This appetite for squid may be one of the key problems that modern man now poses to these deep-sea creatures.

Scientists suspect that the Cuvier’s beaked whales get attracted to floating plastics, mistaking them for squids or ingest them while hunting for other species that may seek hiding places in floating plastics materials. Plastics in the seas are a huge threat to the Cuvier whales and other sea creatures.

Ending a Plastic Civilisation

The World Environment Day 2018 presents a challenge and an instigation. The theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, challenges us to take action and the notion that plastics pollution can be beaten should inspire actions. The World Oceans Day equally urges action against plastic pollution.

Beating plastics pollution is a huge challenge when we consider the perverse culture of current disposable economy. Fifty percent of plastics in use are disposable or single-use type. Globally, we buy one million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year. The least anyone can do is to pause and think before grabbing that plastic bottle of so-called soft drinks. We should learn to refuse plastics and not just aim to reduce, reuse or recycle them. It is time to tackle this menace at source. Packaging is said to account for 40 percent of all plastics in use. It is time to terminate this plastic civilisation.

Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors.

Sadly, many folks think that the story of their plastic bags or wraps end once they toss them into the trash bin. In a bid to appear hygienic, we cover or wrap foods with plastics – in both restaurants and homes. However, plastics out of sight is not plastics out of life. Tons of these materials end up in the gutters, rivers and the oceans. 15 tons of plastics are said to end up in the ocean every minute with more than 8 million tons being dumped into the oceans every year. An incredible 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives to plastic pollution every year

Reports by Ocean Conservancy, suggest that there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. Already, plastics have been found in over 60 percent of all seabirds and in all sea turtles species that mistake plastic for food. We must beat plastics, for our survival and for the survival of other species. We need fish, not plastics.

Floating on the waves

Plastics from one whale

All these plastics from the belly of one whale

It is interesting when we consider how long it takes for some of the plastics that end up in the oceans to decompose. Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors. Even the balloons that are used as decorative items – when released to float around for a few minutes or hours, end up taking years to degrade in the oceans and water ways.

The Cuvier whale at Bergen

Unfortunate ending for this Cuvier’s beaked whale

And, so, there was I in the belly of the Plastic Whale Museum, a museum set up at the University of Bergen, Norway, to serve as a poignant reminder of the harm that plastics pose to our oceans and to marine life in particular. This museum hosts displays of the plastics recovered from the belly of the whale that was stranded on the Sotra Island, west of Bergen, on 28th January 2017. The whale had more than 30 plastic bags and a large quantity of microplastics in its belly.

I was in the Plastic Whale Museum at the invitation of Rafto Foundation for Human Rights to discuss plastics, oil pollution and the threats to our communities as well as to marine ecosystems, the plastic backdrop was a haunting reminder of the harm that we are doing to our environment. When we eat fish that feeds on plastics, it is reasonable to say that we are actually eating plastics.

On that day, I ended my talk with a rendition of my poem, We Thought it Was Oil, but It Was Blood. Perhaps I should have changed that to read We Thought it Was Fish, but It Was Plastic. We simply have to beat plastic pollution.

 

 

*This blog was written to mark the World Environment Day and the World Oceans Day 2018

 

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

Eco-Instigator #19 coverWe bring you the March edition of our Eco-Instigator for 2018. The global environmental pollution is increasing and same heightened by the unholy wedlock between polluting industries and the supposed regulators. Activists from around the globe continue to work tirelessly for environmental and climate justice even as we prepare for a global “power shift” for climate action and activism.

In this edition, we bring you report from the UNFCCC COP23 which held in Bonn last November on the outcome of the Talanoa dialogue especially for the African stakeholders. We also serve you report from the maiden event of our FishNet Alliance in Lome, Togo.

Download and read this issue Eco-Instigator #19 X

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

Healing the Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self

E9EED5DF-8F17-44D5-A104-6BF51CC4787AHealing the Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self. Health and Wellbeing are central in Sustainable Development Goal 3 (“SDG 3”). But do we know what the art of healing is; are we aware of the four dimensions of health: physical, mental, social and spiritual health? And do you know the mystery of genuine happiness beyond ‘wellbeing’? Mother Earth needs to be healed, society requires radical transformation but we can only make change happen when we start with our own simple selves and the mindsets that cause the challenges of the 21st century. Ultimately we can join hands to address SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. Right Livelihood public lecture and workshop with Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria, Right Livelihood Award laureate 2010.

CURLS 2018
21 July – 4 August with public lectures Saturday 21 July and Thursday 2 August.

The Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summerschool is hosted by Sulak Sivaraksa, Right Livelihood Award laureate 1995; with public lecture and workshop by: Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria, Africa, Right Livelihood Award lecture; introduction by Anwar Fazal, Malaysia; Daw Seng Raw Lahpai, Myanmar, Magsaysay Award laureate Sombath Somphone lecture with introduction by Shui-Meng Ng; Dasho Karma Ura and Dorji Wangchuk, Bhutan; and from Thailand: Prapart Pintobtang and Surat Horachaikul, Chulalongkorn University; Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South; Anupan Pluckpankhajee, Seven Arts Inner Place and Makhampom theatre group.

Download the full brochure CURLS 2018 Healing the Earth.

Eco-Instigator #18 goes online!

Issue #18 coverEco-Instigator #18 goes online! In this last edition of our Eco-Instigators for 2017 we bring you  articles and reports on the following topics: Nigeria deserves an unbiased Biosafety regulator. Climate Change impacts on our land and food. Eat and Quench – Let’s listen to what our food is telling us. Geoengineering governance. South Sudan: new nation, new famine.

It was an incredibly exciting year with many things to cheer and plenty of others to fight. In this edition we bring you reports and articles that should interest and spur us up to take positive action aligned to the best interests of Mother Earth.

In this special edition, we serve you reports from our workshop held in South Sudan, our Community Dialogue and Sustainability Academy held in Abuja, in September and October, 2017 respectively. These activities provided us with the spaces to interrogate the complex issues of “climate Change, Pastoralism, Land and Conflict”. We also serve you reports from the UN climate change Conference of Parties (COP23) and from the conference on Redesigning the Tree of Life hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches.

This edition also features articles on Climate Change and the false solutions of geoengineering . We bring you reports from South Sudan and on the alarming fact that pollution is a top killer in the world today. The fight against colonizing our agricultural system through the genetic engineering is still on as the Nigerian biosafety regulator appears overtly in support of the risky technology. We bring you an article that questions their dangerous bias.

We also bring you interesting poetry and a selection of books that you should read. Want to know more about us and how you can be a volunteer? Drop us a mail.

Eco-Instigator #18 and read the edition here.

 

Halting Killer Herders

Halting Head Hunting Herders. The gruesome murder of our brothers, sisters and children in Benue State by herdsmen has taken the level of insecurity in Nigeria to new heights. While some of us were quick to avoid the devastating photos of the carnage as posted in social media platforms, photos of rows of caskets in which the victims were buried etched indelible prints on our souls as a people. The uniformity of the caskets says to us: this could be you.

As each victim was lowered into the grave, their departure marked a strong rebuke to a system that allows these atrocities to be perpetuated. How low can we sink as a people? The need to urgently check the spread of this terror cannot overemphasized. The relocation order given to the Inspector General of police days after the massacre does not convey a sense of the level of seriousness with which the Federal Government should approach the situation. It is not conceivable that the Nigerian police would adequately handle terror of this magnitude.

We hope that the mass burial in Benue State serves as a wakeup call for the Federal Government and its security agencies. And we do hope that mass burials do not turn into regular or repeated events, as happened in the case of previously inconceivable suicide bombings.

Some of the responses to the abominable killings in Benue have been contentious.  Consider, for instance, the presidential spokesperson’s statement that over 756 persons were killed by herdsmen in two years during the tenure of former President Jonathan. Efforts at informing us that the present massacre was not as horrendous as what may have happened in the past simply increase the pains rather than raise any sense of hope that things would change for the better. The murder of a single person diminishes us all and the death of 756 Nigerian in two or more years do nothing to calm nerves when it is recalled that 2,500 citizens were said to have been killed by herders in Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Benue States in just 2016 alone.

Moreover, the notion that migration is due to a population explosion in Nigeria is debatable. The lack of credible population figures and reliance on projections based on dubious figures make such assertions grossly unrealistic. Reliance on such notions inflicts avoidable harm on our planning efforts. Our larger-than-life population figure gives us ready excuse for not taking right decisions.

With regard to action responses to violent herdsmen, let us consider one of the proposed actions that would be taken as a long-term solution to the conflict — the idea of creating grazing or cattle colonies across the nation as announced by the Minister of Agriculture. It sounds rather bizarre and raises a number of concerns. Top on the list of concerns is the undertone of the word colony. For most Nigerians, the idea of a colony would be one defined as “a country or area under full or partial political control of another, often distant country.” Could it be that the minister was using the term in the sense sometimes used to describe animals of the same breed staying together in a closed structure? Whatever the case, the imagery requires further interrogation.

Keeping in mind that colonialism was entrenched by the power of the barrel of the gun, could anyone believe that it is at a period of heated conflict and distrust that colonizing any territory, for any purpose, can be the way to resolve the conflicts?

Unfortunately, the persistent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers are often reduced to incidents induced by struggle for religious or ethnic dominance. While there may be a basis for reaching such conclusions, it is clear that pursuing those lines would not lead to a resolution of the crisis. Pastoralism is not a preserve of particular ethnic nationalities or religion.  We can indeed develop pastoral activities across the nation with the mind-set that the business is not patented to only one ethnic nationality. With this understanding, a dedicated grazing area in a particular state would not translate to the ceding of such territories to be colonized by anyone. It should also be clear that grazing is not restricted to those breeding and rearing cattle. Goats, sheep, camels and other livestock can equally benefit from such developments.

It was from the understanding that the conflicts can best be resolved by tackling the root instigators of the crises, that Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) began a series of engagements with pastoralists and farmers starting from Abuja in September and October 2017. In those engagements, we examined the confluence between pastoralists, farmers, land use, conflicts and climate change. These were examined also from a gender perspective to provide a rounded understanding of the dynamics that throw up different kinds of conflicts in our society.

One of the conclusions from the engagements was that farmers and pastoralists can operate in a mutually beneficial manner. If the right physical environment is guaranteed, the culture of nomadic herders trekking over huge distances could be moderated in such a way that the movements would be strategic and not necessarily translate to herders trekking all over the nation. It cannot be denied that Nigeria needs multiyear environmental management plans with clear targets and strategic action paths.

The fact that southern Niger Republic is greener than parts of northern Nigeria should suggest to us that our approach to environmental management is defective. Here we refer specifically to our management of our vegetative cover and water resources. We tend to see our environment as capable of rapid self-regeneration irrespective of how rabid our rate of consumption of Nature’s gifts to us may be. The result is the reality of desertification in northern Nigeria that we characterize as the downward march or spread of the Sahara Desert. Permit us to pose a simplistic question: if the desert were marching down so mercilessly, how come Niger Republic has not gone completely under the sand?

cops and cows

While the security agents fish out and bring the perpetrators of the Benue massacre to book, it would be useful for the Minister of Agriculture, other relevant ministries, as well as security agencies, to consider some of the resolutions that came out of the October 2017 Sustainability Academy:

  1. There should be greater engagement of agricultural extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists.
  2. Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distort development efforts.
  3. There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existence as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
  4. The fact that climate change impacts differently on different gender and social groups should be considered in preparing climate action plans.
  5. The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate pastoralists in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
  6. Government should implement a livestock development policy that aligns with regional and international practices.
  7. The Federal Government should initiate actions to produce a detailed land use and environmental plan for the country.
  8. There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re- orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
  9. Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing as well as ranching.
  10. Fully integrate gender justice in the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives.
  11. The Federal Government should create a Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as is obtained in several other African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Tanzania
  12. Climate change dose not respect geopolitical boundaries and should be tackled with this understanding.
  13. Take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, review and take appropriate development actions.

 

2018. Biosafety. Biosecurity. Food Safety.

NBMA promotes GMOs

Screenshot: NBMA website 31.12.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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