Eat Today, Eat Tomorrow

Eating TomorrowEat Today, Eat Tomorrow. Many of us have been advised not to talk while eating, but eating without talking is hardly ever an option. We often muse over many issues as we munch. Meal time offers a time to appreciate the culinary skills of the cook and the generosity of the person providing the meal. It can also be a time to reflect on the source of the ingredients used in preparing the meal, their modes of production and distribution. Tracing the route from the seed to the bowl can be extremely informative and often helps the eater to better appreciate the roles of the farmer in the process. While some have the luxury of ruminating on the art of food, almost a billion persons on earth go to bed hungry and are simply happy to have a meal when they can find or afford one.

The saying that we are what we eat underscores our responsibility to ensure that we eat healthy. We cannot wish to eat healthy if we do not devote time to examine the political economics of food, including ownership of seeds and access to land. We cannot ignore the players behind the processes by which seeds are cultivated in particular communities, nations or regions and the related farming inputs that go with such seeds and farming methods.

A book that should be a required read for public policy makers related to seeds, farming and food as well as farmers and consumers has just been published. That book is titled Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food. It was released on February 5, 2019 and is written by Timothy A. Wise. The author, Wise is a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute, where he directs the Land and Food Rights Programme. Wise is a senior research fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute.

Eating Tomorrow is a book with three major sections. The first part speaks of Africa and the new Colonialism while the second part deals with what the author calls The Roots of Our Problems. The third section looks at trade regimes and how our Right to Food is being traded away. Reading the book has been quite a journey for me. The book is highly accessible and drips with wisdom and high-quality information. Raj Patel’s foreword to the book does not leave any reader in doubt about the seriousness of the matter under consideration. He states plainly in his opening lines, “More people are hungry today than yesterday. For the first time in a generation, global hunger is increasing. It’s not just the absolute number of malnourished people on the rise. The percentage of humans facing food shortages is climbing too.”

Patel goes on to add, “Industrial agriculture is an engine for the exploitation of humans and the web of life.” He also added, “If you want to invent pandemic disease, you couldn’t imagine a better laboratory than the hells of concentrated animal feeding operations, in which the constant drip of antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for the next deadly swine or bird flu. Along the food production line, workers in the food chain are treated as brutally as the product they butcher. And a complex web of social and ecological subsidies allows the system to produce food that appears as a bargain but is increasingly likely to contribute to chronic disease and ecological destruction.”

Wise and Patel underscore the fact that policy should be people driven. A person’s stand with regard to the health of the planet and people greatly influences the manner of interpretation and analyses of complex situations. And here we should say that those promoting modern biotechnology are welcome to promote their pet projects, but characterizing those opposed to these risky experimentations as “enemies of the state” is nothing but hate speech and is highly unbecoming of anyone wearing the toga of a scientist. Autocratic force-feeding of citizens with genetically modified foods just because the outcome of laboratory experiments validates a hypothesis is actually opposite to patriotism.

Wise is not shy of taking clear positions on the food and farming debate. Writing from research experience from the field, he quotes small scale farmers referring to “Climate-Smart Agriculture” as “Climate-Stupid Agriculture”. The fact presented is that farmers have developed climate adaptation strategies including intercropping, soil improvements and drought resistant varieties. Getting farmers to abandon the seeds that ensure diversity and soil building for chemical and artificial inputs, open the farmers to vagaries of often manipulated market forces. He notes that the high use of insecticides and herbicides end up literally leaving soils lifeless.

Besides examples from Asia, Latin America and North America, much of the book focuses on Africa and provides plenty of food for thought for our governments. He reminds us that the food crisis of 2008 was triggered by the massive diversion of food and land into biofuel production and the surge of speculative capital rather than on scarcity. In Nigeria, indeed in Africa as a whole, we are constantly being fed with the neo-Malthusian fear of humungous rise in population and fears of scarcity – the very hooks used by predatory agribusiness and supporting governments to dispossess poor farmers of their lands and force them into becoming farmhands or sharecroppers.

Wise gives examples of massive land grabs on the continent that failed either due to popular resistance or due to the wrong headedness of the schemes. Examples include the ProSavana project driven by Brazilian and Japanese investors, that sought to grab up to 10 million hectares of fertile lands in Mozambique and the spectacular failure of jatropha as a miracle biofuel crop in Africa.

African governments accepted the notion that jatropha and other crops were needed to build a green OPEC in Africa as proposed in 2006 by then president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade. It was said to grow on marginal lands and since the fruits or seeds were not edible they would not compete with food crops. But jatropha planted on marginal soils only yielded marginal returns. Proponents of jatropha ended up grabbing massive land areas and this was accompanied by degradation of agricultural lands, in Swaziland, Mozambique and Tanzania. After the failure of the experiments, we hardly hear of jatropha being touted as the miracle biofuel crop. Silently, the crop has returned to its veritable use as a hedge crop and as a marker of the graves of those who died far from home as is the case with the nomadic Nyaburu people of Tanzania.

Eating Tomorrow reveals how government policies are often based on pressure from transnational seed and inputs companies as well as politically powerful nations bent on dumping surpluses from their own farming outputs. We also read about the place of Bill Gates and Rockefeller funded Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition launched in 2012. The architecture of the Alliance is that “Donors would provide aid; private companies like Cargill, Yara, Monsanto, and DuPont would make a non-binding promise to invest and participating African governments would commit to reforming their national laws and regulatory systems to ‘enable the business of agriculture.’”

Wise reports on the resilience of indigenous crop varieties in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique and how externally driven policies have been very harmful to farmers and farming, forcing poor farmers to buy seeds each year and only benefiting international agribusinesses and other speculators. Monoculture cropping, in the words of Wise “produces monoculture diet deficient in many basic nutrients.”

The scope of this column does not allow us do a comprehensive review of this all-important book, and we will probably return to it in the future. Eating Tomorrow is a book that goes beyond diagnosing problems and offers real solutions. It fittingly closes by stressing that we all have the right to eat safe and healthy food and that we should not be content with only eating today but also work to ensure that we eat tomorrow. This is the crux of the struggle for food sovereignty and against the wholesale adoption of policies and practices built around aid, philanthropy or trade relations.

 

Dining on Genetically Engineered Pesticides

thumb_img_0761_1024-2.jpgEating Genetically Engineered Pesticides. All through the ages, in the development of agriculture, humans have selected and cultivated crops and animals that thrive in their environments and are good for their health. Some of the factors that determine what we love as food are highly sensory and include the texture, taste, colour and their smell. Taste, for example, can drive people to eat things they know are not good for their health. Besides, people may tilt to a food product due to the power of suggestion through advertisement on the mass media.

Food can be an instrument of control and power. Weather variations and extreme weather events can bring communities and nations to their knees. Violent conflicts and wars can also render people hungry and expose them to the need to receive or purchase food aid. Yes, some food aids are paid for and are not exactly humanitarian. One nation that stood her grounds and insisted on what sort of food aid was acceptable is Zambia. They rejected the genetically engineered grains that were extended to them as food aid in 2002. And although much political pressure was piled on the nation, they did not starve but transited to bountiful harvest the following year. In the case of Nigeria, after the devastation of agriculture of the Northeast, we have received tones of seeds without verifying if they were genetically modified or not. That is how much food aid can trump caution.

What do consumers look for when they go shopping for groceries? Research has shown that consumers that care to read the labels on the food products prefer to buy those that are pesticide free and are not genetically modified. Generally, buyers prefer fresh, clean and natural products.

Unfortunately, many of our foods in Nigeria are sold in measures using cups and basins. Foods such as beans, garri, corn, amala, and the likes are often neither packaged nor labelled. You simply have to trust your eyes to tell you whether what you are buying is wholesome or not. And, our people hardly read the labels on the packaged products on the market shelves. They may read the brand names and pay less attention to the contents. Agencies saddled with policing our borders against entry of unauthorised foods, such as the ones that are made of genetically engineered materials, appear overwhelmed by the influx of these products. Products are imported without much filtering with the assumption that whatever is presented as food is safe. It is as if it is assumed that because a thing was made in the United States of America, for instance, then it must be good for our consumption. We simply do not know what we are eating. However, we should care to know as our health depends on that knowledge and our choice.

Regulators and promoters of genetically engineered crops and foods in Nigeria accuse those that question the technology of being fear mongers or anti-science. This may be dismissed as a hollow accusation, but when they make such arguments frequently, the real fear is that they may believe themselves. Besides, they also believe that they are running the best biosafety system in Africa and that other countries such as Burkina Faso who junked genetically engineered cotton, cannot be compared to the supposed high skills and facilities Nigeria boasts of. This arrogant posturing is extremely dangerous.

When scientists produce genetically engineered beans (cow pea), do they consider the fact that the insecticidal beans could also kill non-target organisms and that even the target pests could develop resistance? When crops are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, do they consider that they kill other plants and not merely weeds? And what about the soil microorganisms they kill thereby disrupting the webs of life in the ecosystems?

Working beneath the supervisory radar, the promoters of these technologies are set to erode our biodiversity and set the stage for ecological harm. Nigeria has quickly become the testing ground for novel and risky technologies, exposing citizens to next levels of danger. With regards to the recently approved genetically engineered beans, we note that this beans variety with the transgene Cry1Ab used in its transformation, has not been approved anywhere else in the world. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) may have concluded field trials for a cassava variety that has never been planted anywhere else in the world. That cassava was engineered to produce starch that would last longer than normal before degrading.

All these genetically engineered events are prepared overseas and brought for testing in Nigeria and yet we boast that we are so equipped and innovative in the sector.

If anyone tells you that the producers of genetically engineered crops (and foods) are cocksure of their products, ask them why they fight against nations having strict liability clauses in their Biosafety laws. Uganda just inserted such a clause in their genetic engineering regulatory law, ensuring that makers of GMOs will be held liable for any harm that may come from cultivation or consumption of their products at any time, even if such effects come years down the road. Since that law was enacted, scientists have branded President Museveni and the Ugandan parliament as being anti-science. In other words, good genetic engineering science must leave room for doubt and when harms manifests, the producers should not be held strictly liable. That posture puts the Precautionary Principle on its head. That principle is the bedrock of Biosafety regulation. It simply means that where there is doubt, we should be cautious. The speed with which Nigeria is permitting GMOs is highly suspicious and offers no assurance that the government is concerned about food safety and the preservation of our biodiversity.

Nigerians must be mindful of what we buy, cultivate or eat. We can bet that no one will knowingly eat an insecticide. But that is what we do if we eat any crop genetically engineered to be insecticidal.

Surprised by the Storm

Changes get accepted as normal occurrences when they are uninterrogated. We hear talks of the new normal which could mean that unpredictable change is the norm. We could also take the new normal to creep in when things that initially appeared novel, or even odd, regularly reoccur and we end up accepting and taking them in our stride. In terms of the weather, climate change has birthed the wisdom that nothing will remain normal if humans do not act to stem or reverse the actions and inactions that contribute to the crisis. In this mode, the abnormal can become the normal even if it leads to the extinction of species.

Popular climate narratives attempt to make humans aware of the fact that we are at the crossroads of history, that we are at a moment of crisis driven mostly by vested interests which also promote a stubborn refusal of the powerful to accept the fact that a new ecological ethics cannot be postponed but must be recollected, learned or constructed. Climate deniers speak of freak weather events as normal or that they may not be as bad as they appear. In a flash we are surprised and in flash all is forgotten.

With this mindset, people think of climate change as a new clime of opportunities that must be exploited and profited from. While vulnerable communities, such as those living on threatened coastlines battle for survival in the face of storms, hurricanes and typhoons, disaster entrepreneurs see those events as opportunities to clear the poor from the scenic zones and appropriate them as recreation spots for the rich. When storms and floods batter coastline communities in our cities, slum clearance pops up as the first proffered solution. Rather than build the resilience of the less resourced or serviced communities, erasing them off the map and commodifying their territories become the prime solutions. This reality has been captured in-depth by Naomi Klein in her ground-breaking book, The Shock Doctrine – the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The first major rains are beginning to fall in Nigeria and we appear not to have expected that they would fall. Lying mostly in the tropical belt, and although we have dry and wet seasons, the reality is that no month passes by without rainfall in some areas. Not expecting a measure of rain to fall every month has become a normal situation for coastal cities such as Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt. This lack of expectation is not built on facts of history, but on the lack of attention to reality.

Already, Port Harcourt experienced its second heavy rainfall on 21January. When the first heavy rain in Lagos fell on 20 January 2019, it was celebration time for some and a tale of woes for many. Some Lagos residents were happily drenched by the downpour while others got trapped in traffic gridlock of the type that floods precipitate in the city. There were interesting and even amusing news reports of the event. Some residents celebrated the fact that the rain would lower current high temperatures and they would enjoy a respite and sleep well that night. For taxi drivers, the rain meant reduced business and possibly hungry families. To cap the reports from the News Agency of Nigeria, we were told that efforts to reach the director of Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) in Lagos proved abortive as his number “was not reachable.” One could deduce that the rain made it impossible for journalists to reach the director.

Flooding in Lagos says a lot about the climate readiness of Nigerian cities. As the economic capital of Nigeria and as an emerging “mega city,” it would be expected that more investments would be made in the direction of making the city climate smart. Residents of Lagos keep suffering and smiling and they literally take the storms as they come. When floods overran the city in 2017, some residents went kayaking and even fishing on the streets. A crocodile was even caught in the floodwater.

Flood disasters have become regular occurrences in Nigeria and floods along the River Benue and River Niger have become national nightmares. The floods of 2012 led to a reported damage worth up to 2.6 trillion Naira, killed 363 persons and displaced over 2 million others. That flood was caused by a combination of rainfall and release of water from the dams along the two river systems, especially from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon. A whopping 32 out of 36 States of the nation were affected, with 24 affected severely. That flood was followed by a flurry of activities to get relief to citizens whose homes and farmlands were submerged. Some analysts posit that disaster entrepreneurs made a killing from the relief efforts while some victims waited in vain for succour. That too, is increasingly taken as normal. No surprises.

The floods experienced in 2018 killed over 100 persons and pushed many others into internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) declared a national disaster in four states – Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta. Before the floods came, the Nigeria Hydrological Agency (NHSA) in its flood outlook released in May 2018 projected that Sokoto, Niger, Benue, Anambra, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Anambra, Ogun, Osun, Cross River, Kogi and Yobe states faced high risks of river flooding, while Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, and Ondo states could face coastal flooding.

The forecast for 2019 is still sketchy. NEMA projects that 20 percent of Nigeria’s population is at risk of flooding across the country. At a total population of 170 million persons, this means up to 34 million Nigerians are at risk of flooding impacts this year. That is a dire projection and demands the declaration of a national emergency considering the ecological, economic, health and security implications of this level of risk. If the nation waits until disaster strikes, we will probably take it as one of those inevitable things and simply move on.

It is not acceptable that foreseen disastrous weather events are taken as normal. They are not normal. There is urgent need to put in place policies and actions to address the threats, including response actions. The situation calls for urgent review of drainage and general infrastructure master plans for our urban centres and rural communities. The autonomous and unplanned urban sprawls must be checked. We need the greening of our cities, a focus on soft landscaping and halting of sand filling of wetlands and water bodies in so-called land reclamation efforts. These would enhance natural drainage of flood waters. Flooding is inevitable when rainfall meets clogged drainage systems. The management of solid wastes must become more efficient and single-use plastics should be banned outrightly.

The rains should not take anyone in the tropical belt by surprise except if we are living in denial of reality. It is time for leaders to draw up clear visions and to present the visions to the scrutiny of the citizenry. In an election season, debates are good platforms for such enunciations and we have seen that begin to happen. However, the debates held so far have focused on economic matters without significant reference to the environment which provides the base for the economy, health and overall wellbeing of the people. While we have seen both lackluster and forceful presentations at the debates and political conversations, we have also been treated to vacant podiums not taken by politicians who assume that they already hold the keys that will decide electoral outcomes. It would be a flood of a different kind if the Nigerian electorate rises up and demand to be respected and not to merely have slogans and clichés thrown at them from commercials or at mass rallies. That could be a storm of a different kind.

Dying for Pieces of Copper

IMG_3901

Okrika Water Front, Niger Delta

Of the ten most toxic places on earth, three are found in Africa. They are: the Niger Delta, the mining communities of Kabwe in Zambia and the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana. While Kabwe ranks as number five on the list, Agbogbloshie stands at the tenth spot.

The Niger Delta ranks as number two on the list prepared in 2013 by Pure Earth and Green Cross, Switzerland. If you think that the region may have slipped out of the list since 2013, we are sorry to disappoint you as the listing remained valid at the close of 2018.

The rampant pollution of communities in Africa has gone on unabated and mineral rich communities are the worst hit. The state of affairs has been driven by the manipulation of governments by a mix of transnational corporations, as well as national and international financial bodies. Throw into that, the wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies by governments eager to attract so-called foreign direct investment and development aid and the waters become murkier. The craze for privatisation of public goods continue on the premise that government cannot be a good manager of business and must not be caught in any enterprise that requires efficiency. Thus, janitorial tasks in public offices are contracted to private enterprises and the digging of trenches in warfronts are being privatised and contracted out in the rich economies.

In our 2012 book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, we stated, “The conversion of public goods into private property through the privatisation of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one [of the ways] neoliberal institutions remove the tenuous threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities and a nation.” This pathway has oiled and locked in corruption of various shades in the continent.

Zambia stands out as one of the countries that ended up holding the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the pursuit of privatisation, pliant surrender to corporate interest and lax regulatory and tax regimes. Corporate tax stood at almost zero at a time when they enjoyed a tax boutique that had the biggest chunk coming from workers’ withheld taxes. At that time extractive companies generated a mere 2.2 per cent of the revenue collected by Zambian authorities.

The abuse suffered on the continent is clearly systemic and places the burden on poor communities. Unfortunately, often the struggles of the poor are overlooked and even subverted by external and internal forces. How else could the list of the top ten most toxic locations in the world be in the public realm for over a decade and we continue with business as usual and keep weakening environmental laws so as to score cheap points on the chart of nations rated for ease of doing business?

Niger Delta communities continue to fight decades of horrendous oil and gas pollutions that have heinously degraded their environment. They have resisted and continue to do so through protests, litigation, direct and political actions. Thousands of lives have been lost, or cut short due to the pollution and attendant militarisation of the region.

In Zambia, 1800 villagers have stood up to the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, that had polluted their waters through the activities of its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers complain that the company’s Nchanga copper mine has turned their Kafue River into a river of acid and are suing for personal injury and loss of livelihood. Villagers from Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are demanding compensation for harms arising from the pollution of their primary source of water. They also complain of the impact on their agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing.

The Zambian case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent, indeed across the world. Local and international civil society networks continue to work with the suffering communities of the Niger Delta while the impacted Zambian villagers enjoy the solidarity of groups including Foil Vedanta in the difficult efforts to secure their right to life in a battle against mining behemoths. International oil corporations operating in Nigeria are deft at utilizing loopholes in the legal system to ensure that cases are often never decided on within the short lifespan of the litigants. When they are found guilty, they can shrug the sentence off as they are sure the government would be unable to force compliance since they are literally in bed together due to the business partnerships that are rigged against the people and the environment. Litigation in the home countries of the offending companies has been the option that offers a ray of hope for justice for the poor and for Mother Earth.

When the case against Vedanta went to the High Court in the United Kingdom the company argued that the matter should be heard in Zambia and not in the UK. The court disagreed on the understanding that the villagers would not get justice in their own country because of the costs and other aspects of the adversarial legal system.  That has always been the first objection that Shell, Chevron, ENI and the others raise whenever a case is brought to a location where their shareholders may pay attention. In fact, a Zambian court had ruled in 2011 that the company should pay a $2million compensation to 2000 claimants affected by pollution of the Kafue River that occurred in 2006.

The Zambian case will be heard at the Supreme Court of the UK next week based on Vedanta’s objections. While that is coming up, the manner by which Vedanta acquired the copper mines in Zambia is a lesson that conscious citizens should pay attention to. In a sort of confessional speech captured on video, Anil Agarwal, the founder/chairman of the company at a conference, gleefully outlined how he fooled the Zambian government when they advertised the desire to privatise their mining company. The guy literally scammed/bluffed his way into acquiring the Zambian assets. The video showed the chairman of KCM boasting that the mines make him $500 million in profits a year, when he acquired the mine for only $25 million. The lame excuse by the company is that the video clip was part of a longer speech and was taken out of context.  The facts speak clearly for themselves and show a very condescending attitude towards the Zambian authorities.

The company went ahead to claim that they had invested $120 million in “local communities, providing schools, educational programmes, sustainable agricultural initiatives, critical medical programmes and funding for cultural events.” This sounds much like what we hear as corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in Niger Delta communities where the basic right to life is clearly negated by the ecological harms orchestrated by the same companies.

Next week we shall know what the Supreme Court of the UK thinks of the cry of the Zambian communities. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly time for our communities to connect their pains, strategies and fights. Pollution respects no geographic or political boundaries and we cannot afford to allow these boundaries to short circuit our struggles.


This article was first published in The Instigator, my weekly column in The Leadership newspaper, Nigeria as Poisoned for Pieces of Copper

Struggle, Freedom and Change

Change

poster designed by Chaz Maviyane-Davies

As one year draws to a close and another one unfolds, it is always a time for reflection, introspection, and resolutions. Many persons resolve to leave bad habits and to assume acceptable modes of behaviour. Heads of governments make speeches and promise new directions. Prophets declare their annual visions and promise hope or doom. Of course, some persons and governments, convinced of their infallibility, indulge in self-congratulations, dig in and promise to forge ahead on their chosen pathways.

Some of us spend the time browsing through notes and reflections made from conversations, readings, meetings, and engagements in the fading year in a bid to pick out what was inspiring, what spurred actions, what worked, what did not work so well and what failed outright. We also reflect on what made the headlines in our communities, nations and elsewhere.

A note taken in January 2018 while listening to the Cuban journalist and philosopher, Enrique Ubieta, reminds us: “Those who have been colonised must be suspicious of anything offered by colonialism.”

Obviously, the issues that stood out for us were issues that shaped our ecological realities, challenges, and nightmares. On the local political scene, we could not ignore the drama that occurred at the Nigerian National Assembly on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 when President Buhari presented the 2019 national budget. It was quite a spectacle. It was a day of infamy on many counts. It was a day when legislators donned the garbs of legislative activism, complete with “Freedom Comes from Struggle” placards and absolutely disregarded legislative niceties.

The Nigerian national assembly has before now boasted of fence climbers (ala Spider-Man), dancers of all sorts, singers of all sorts and actors acting like politicians. On the budget presentation day, the house was neatly divided into cheerleaders and jeerleaders. While the president reminded the politicians that the world was watching the unfolding prime time drama, it turned out that the politicians were not in the mood to listen to what the President had to present as the vital grounds for running the economy in 2019.

Who won in the raucous finger displaying political combat? Did the ayes have it or was the day carried by the nays? As they say, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The drama left Nigerians wondering how confidence will be built in the economy in the coming year.

The budget presentation was a great test for a usually taciturn president who, by self-confession, is for everybody and for nobody. Criticism has been said to be like organic compost that may smell bad but makes things grow. Being at the receiving end of criticism cannot be easy for the faint-hearted, but seekers of solutions to complex problems must learn to accept them, interrogate them and sieve the chaff from the real. Karl Marx, the great thinker, demanded “ruthless criticism” of everything including our personal views. That, to us, is a healthy attitude.

A note taken in January 2018 while listening to the Cuban journalist and philosopher, Enrique Ubieta, reminds us: “Those who have been colonised must be suspicious of anything offered by colonialism.” This is true even when the offer is coated with honey. For instance, someone could sell you the idea that you cannot afford to urgently transit to clean energy, that you need dirty energy sources to build the basic requirements of “civilised” living and that the transition is a luxury for the rich. Supposing the ultimate plan of your “sympathizer” is to sell second-hand coal or nuclear power plants to you, would that be in your best interest?

Hunger and poverty deeply affect the way individuals and groups see themselves. When anyone provides the signature image of either of these scourges, it affects both how they present themselves and how they are perceived by others. This was clear in the case of the classification (by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund from 1996) of some nations as poor and highly indebted before they could be given consideration for certain financial facilities. Looking at the offers available, and blind to the toga of poverty and indebtedness, many nations struggled to proudly wear the label. And many nations failed to be so “recognised” even though they had severely rubbished themselves in the process.

… forces of colonialism seek to retain their vice-grip on Nature, squeeze the last profit from her without care that their greed may plunge everyone over the precipice. The force of colonialism is the enduring coloniality that can only be overthrown by our emancipation from mental slavery, as in the words of Bob Marley.

Nations have opened their communities and environment to ecological abuse in their pursuit for foreign exchange in order to service odious debts and to meet the insatiable needs of their elites for foreign goods. The truth is that it is impossible to escape the hunger and poverty traps, at all levels of their manifestation, without ecological justice.

As I close my jotter for the year 2018, I keep looking a note made from Change: Organising Tomorrow, Today, the incredibly empowering book written by Jay Naidoo. He wrote: “Economic inequality and climate change are the greatest threats confronting humanity today, and how we choose to deal with them has repercussions for all species on this planet.”

With the world in a literal tailspin and with humans remaining adamant on reckless exploitation and commodification of Nature, there is much that requires us to stand up for the people and for the planet. It is time to pay attention to our children, youths, adults, and elders. We have to listen to ourselves. We have to listen to youths such as the 15 years old Greta Thunberg, from Sweden, who looked world leaders in the eye at the United Nations’ Climate COP24 and called out their irresponsible attitude and lack of climate ambition. We have to listen to elders like David Attenborough, the naturalist, who stood before world leaders at the COP and warned them, “The world is in your hands.”

We have to act in the interest of the people and the planet. My notes show that forces of colonialism seek to retain their vice-grip on Nature, squeeze the last profit from her without care that their greed may plunge everyone over the precipice. The force of colonialism is the enduring coloniality that can only be overthrown by our emancipation from mental slavery, as in the words of Bob Marley.

In dealing with climate change, leaders have fallen for the techno-optimism fetish or an oversimplified way of viewing advances in the world in a way that discounts the intricate interconnectedness of ecosystems in nature. Overcoming this issue of the loss of connectivity with nature ought to drive popular ecological struggles going forward.

The world tends to think that technology and regulation can solve virtually all problems. We tend to forget that regulations are basically drawn up to control the way certain things come into society and that if things are unwanted, they should simply be banned. To avoid taking these tough actions may encourage a slide into authoritarian environmentalism where the commercial interests and mechanistic economic opportunities are held up as the ultimate solution and government apparatchiks wear the garment of infallibility. As we walked the streets of Auschwitz in the weeks of the United Nations climate talks (COP24), one question that kept coming up was “where was the world when the holocaust happened?” Today, a tragedy of horrendous proportions is building up, indeed unfolding, before our eyes. Future generations will ask the same question as we are asking of the past. Our resolve must be to ask that pertinent question now.

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This essay was first published in my column in The Leadership newspaper on 28 December 2018 as Freedom, Struggle and Change

 

 

 

Kotawice and Climate Pathways

IMG_0421President Buhari made a subtle Climate justice pitch in Katowice There is cautious optimism that nations may get serious about climate change as the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Katowice, Poland on 3 December 2018. The optimism is slim because the conference would essentially draw up the rule book for the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015. That agreement has been globally hailed as the singular effort of nations to jointly tackle global warming, ensuring that average global temperature rise is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The anchor on which action to tackle global warming hangs in the Paris Agreement, is what is called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emissions reduction. The key phrase here is Nationally Determined. This means that each nation must decide or determine what is convenient or feasible for them to do in terms of cutting emission of greenhouse gases known to cause global warming.

While the world celebrated the Paris Agreement, climate justice campaigners warned that there was nothing substantial on which to hang the celebratory banners. It was clear that powerful nations, who also happen to be the most polluting nations, would not cut emissions at source in ways that will halt the rising temperature dial. With pledges made and computed, the world is faced with the stark scenario of temperature rise in the range between 2.7 degrees and 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Such a temperature rise will simply roast the planet, kicking in cataclysmic climate events and making life impossible for humans and other beings in most parts of the world.

In addition, the pledges made by many countries are conditional on having certain supports by way of finance and technologies. Nigeria pledged to cut emissions unconditionally by 20 percent and conditionally by 45 percent with support from international partners. The country also planned to work towards ending gas flaring by 2030 and towards providing off-grid solar power of 13,000 Mega Watts. While making those pledges, it is expected that within the 2015-2030 implementation period, the national economic and social development would grow at the rate of 5 percent per year. It is well known that the economic fortunes of the nation are not anywhere near that level, by any measure.

As the curtains opened in Katowice on Monday, 03 December 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the heads of governments that took the podium in the high-level sessions. One highlight of President Buhari’s speech was his emphasis that in taking climate action the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) must constantly apply. This was the hammer on the head of the climate nail because without adherence to this principle the justice basis of climate responsibility is forever lost. The CBDR principle was one of the strong anchors in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. That protocol differentiated rich, industrialised polluting countries from poor, vulnerable and non-polluting nations. They were grouped under Annex I and Non-Annex I countries respectively.

The protocol provided a legally binding framework by which nations were supposed to be assigned scientifically determined emissions reduction targets. By that means, it was hoped that the effectiveness of emissions reduction would be known in advance if parties agreed to adhere to their assigned targets. The level of ambition of 37 industrialised countries and the European community in the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol was a mere 5 percent against 1990 levels.

A second commitment period (2013-2020) was agreed in 2012 as the Doha Amendment. President Buhari announced during his speech that Nigeria was set to ratify the Doha Amendment. This agreement more or less provides life support for the Kyoto Protocol, especially after the emergence of the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and the Paris Agreement (2015) both of which are anchored on voluntary emissions reduction, with scant attention to the requirements of science.

The recently released special report of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) warns of the dire situation facing a world that has already crossed the 1-degree Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial level. It gives the world an ominous 12-year window in which to act or descend into an utterly chaotic climatic situation.

While the big polluters are reticent, suggesting that the capacity to pollute is the mark of progress, some non-polluting countries are displaying NDCs that would mean cutting emissions they are not even emitting. These show that voluntary emissions reduction pathway is not the way out.

President Buhari spoke of the harsh situation the 14 million persons depending on the shrinking Lake Chad are facing. He spoke of the plans for an inter-basin water transfer that would see water from the Congo Basin being piped to recharge Lake Chad. The canalisation idea was first developed by an Italian firm, Bonifaca, about four decades ago. While the feasibility studies of that old recharge idea are being worked out, perhaps we can work on examining the ground water management systems in the region with the aim of conserving and protecting what is left to keep the lake alive.

The president’s speech covered many areas, including the need to maintain sound environmental management in economic development. Surprisingly, he said nothing about ending gas flaring. Considering that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is selling the idea that gas flaring would end by 2020 ahead of the 2030 target set by Nigeria’s NDC, and has placed advertisements in papers indicating readiness to pursue that goal. It was disappointing that the president did not utilize that global stage to show how Nigeria is taking leadership in cutting emissions from one of the most obnoxious sources.

As the first week of COP24 draws to a close, the world is waiting to see if the leaders in Katowice will wake up to the fact that the NDCs are not the right way forward. To continue on the path that inexorably leads to intractable climate chaos is another side of the denial coin sold by the political heads of the USA and Brazil.

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This piece was first published on 7 December 2018 as Buhari’s Climate Justice Pitch in Katowice in my Leadership newspaper column,  The Instigator

 

 

 

 

A Dose of Needless Medicine

img_0764.jpgA Dose of Needless Medicine. In this reflection we are looking at genetically modified cotton (GM) in the light of  the Tortoise Principle. There is a folktale about a time a Lion was sick and declared that all the animals in the kingdom should pay him a get-well-soon visit. After several animals had heeded the call it was Mr Tortoise’s turn. On arrival at the gate of Mr Lion’s home, Mr Tortoise noticed that all footprints were in one direction, all going into the house with none coming out or going in the other direction. On careful reflection on the import of this observation, Mr Tortoise turned back and decided not to go into Mr Lion’s house. Did Mr Tortoise decide to avoid Mr Lion’s house out of fear?

Our submission is that the decision not to enter a house from which no visitor emerged was not predicated on fear but on sound judgement.

Our application of this tale relates to the forced release and endorsement of genetically engineered crops and products into Nigeria without due consideration of clear failures elsewhere and with a cavalier attitude to the grave danger that these artificial crops and products portend to the health of our peoples and environment. At a recent press conference by the ministers in charge of Agriculture and Science in partnership with Bayer-Monsanto
to celebrate Monsanto’s release of genetically engineered cotton into the Nigerian market and environment, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture declared that although he was not a scientist, he saw no reason for not accepting genetically engineered crops. He went on to say that Africans are too fearful of “new things.” In other words, the minister was declaring that those who call for precaution over the release of these artificial crops into our environment are unreasonable and do so out of fear. On his part, the minister of Science repeated myths peddled by the biotech industry and their cohorts – that genetically engineered crops yield more than natural varieties and require less pesticides (because some of them are pesticides) and make farmers rich.

The positions of the ministers raise serious questions about their willingness to dispassionately consider issues related to these technologies. The position that GMOs are rejected out of fear does violence to the integrity of scientists and governments who fought hard to ensure that the Precautionary Principle is a cardinal element of the United Nation’s Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Indeed, because of the knowledge of the harms related to the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment and in food, the African Union (then known as the Organisation of African Unity) produced the African Model Law on biosafety. That model law was to provide African governments a basic scaffold on which to build sound Biosafety regulatory frameworks. The notion that it was not the job of regulators to stop GMOs, as often peddled these days, was alien to the defenders of biodiversity.

At that time, African governments knew the importance of biodiversity in securing nutritious food and building resilience of local agriculture to the vagaries of weather and pest infestations. African research institutes had scientists that were engaged in promoting crop and animal species that were suitable to the local environment and yielded products that suited the local cultures, tastes and had acceptable levels of storability. That was the focus of science and agricultural ministries at that time. The coming of Structural Adjustment Programmes of the international financial institutions in the 1980s ensured wholesale adoption of neoliberal conditionalities and policies that brought about the destruction of local agricultural support systems. They also destroyed social safety nets and made our countries dumping grounds for all sorts of products which today appear in the form of untested GMOs originating from corporate laboratories that are not in the least concerned with our interest.

Today the framework that would have protected our environment is being shredded, and Nigeria is leading the pack in this ignominious degradation. This reverse leadership is very visible at the ongoing CBD Conference of Parties (COP24) with Nigeria and South Africa as the main negotiators. The most contentious items at the negotiation include what to do with extreme genetic engineering including synthetic biology (Synbio) and gene drives organisms (GDOs). These are technologies that have dire socio-economic and ecological consequences for Africa. Reports from the COP show serious opposition to gene drives with a number of countries demanding spoke a moratorium on the technology. Opposing countries include Bolivia, El Salvador, Grenada and Egypt. Shockingly, most African countries at the COP have become advocates for gene drives probably with the hope of attracting grants and other pecuniary benefits to their governments.

Observers believe that the inexplicable enthusiasm of a group of African nations, including Nigeria, to reject a moratorium on gene drives and to promote their release may be connected to the Gates Foundation’s funding for the production and release of gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso by an organisation called Target Malaria.

Gene drives is a new gene-editing technology that makes it possible to have species-wide genetic engineering through the aggressive spreading of genetic changes through the wild. Analysts posit that gene drives have a high potential for unpredictable, and even uncontrollable, impacts on biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystems.

The products that the synthetic biology industry is bringing into market include a vanilla flavour produced using synthetically modified yeast and some special oils used in soaps and detergents derived from synthetically modified algae. The replacement of natural vanilla with a synthetic variety has implications for millions of farmers, many of them Africans, who depend on them for livelihoods. They also have social and cultural implications. In addition, scientists warn that genetically modified algae and yeast could have unpredictable health effects and ecological impacts if they escape into the environment.

To say that opponents of GMOs are fear mongers is a sad way of demonizing Africans as fearful of new technologies. If fear is a factor in the demand for strict risk assessment of new technologies, that fear must be one that rises from the fact that public officials who should protect our interests are instead being tied to the apron strings of corporate and pseudo philanthropic interests. The Tortoise principle requires that we setup platforms for the critical assessment of new technologies.

As the world edges towards unleashing unregulated technologies that have the capacity to wipe out species, and can readily be made into biological weapons, we have a duty to review how we regulate our foods and environment. A situation where the most vulnerable continent, with scant capacity to regulate and contain basic genetic engineering, cheers on the merchants of the technology spells nothing but trouble.

First published as Of Genetically Modified Cotton and The Tortoise Principle at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/23/of-genetically-modified-cotton-and-tortoise-principle/