Systemic Betrayal of Farmers (and Consumers)

Lawyers RTSystemic betrayal of farmers. Applications for the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Nigeria started flowing literally before the ink with which the bill was signed into law had dried. Promoters of modern agricultural technology, notably the agency set up for that purpose before the law was dreamt up were ecstatic. In less than a year, the controversial biotech and chemical company, Monsanto, had collected the first three GMO permits to ever be issued in the country.

This was very significant, not because of the recipient but because they were applying to introduce a crop that had just failed spectacularly in Burkina Faso. That was the Bt cotton that had nearly ruined cotton growers in that country. The Nigerian regulatory agency, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) apparently believes that Monsanto was too big to fail and that they would do better in Nigeria. The bad news for them is that just as they were not too big to be swallowed up by Bayer, the German chemical company, they are not strangers to failure.

Trust Built, Trust Betrayed

Farmers trust government to support their efforts to feed the nation. This implicit trust was built in the days before the so-called structural adjustment programme imposed on the nation by international financial institutions decimated the ranks of extension officers and other support mechanisms. The trust was also built by public research institutes providing sound agricultural advice, seeds and roots to farmers. Government and farmers were partners in progress. Today the faith of farmers that government would always extend the best support to them is being betrayed in obnoxious ways.

The betrayal happens because farmers are being sold the idea that genetically modified crops provide the best options to ensure high yield, enrich the farmers and abolish hunger from the land. Farmers are equally not warned of the harmful impacts of agrotoxics that they must apply as they grow the genetically modified crops. Superficial roadshows advertising GMOs are falsely construed to be consultations with the public. Glossy brochures, television and radio programmes with tilted and dubious information have become the order of the day. And they equally use local and foreign movies to add to their arsenal of falsehood.

Feeding Hungry Africans on Lies

The rapid evolution of the subversion of our food system is accelerated by the opening of the gates for an influx of genetically modified grains – like maize- thus constricting the market space for local farmers. We believe that it is time that our people begin to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, no matter who is presenting the gift.

The argument that Africa needs GMOs in order to feed her population is nothing but a commercial narrative that on scrutiny holds no water. For more than two decades that GMOs have been around they have not halted the upward rise of hunger in the world. Indeed, the yield from GMOs do not surpass those of natural crops. Instead of reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides, GMOs have created super weeds and super bugs requiring stronger doses of the toxic chemicals.

Dearth of Expertise

The absence of adequate biotechnology expertise in the development and regulatory sphere makes it inescapable that the biosafety discourse is shaped to suit the preferences of the actual developers who stand to gain from the technologies. The genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603)) varieties for which Monsanto got permits were not developed in Nigeria. The Bt cotton that has been approved for placement in the market was not developed in Nigeria. The GMO cassava being field tested at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan was developed in Switzerland. All the GM maize and soybean being approved for various purposes in the country were developed elsewhere. In addition to being developed elsewhere, the required risk assessment before they are brought into Nigeria is perfunctory exercise.

Mute Food Safety Controllers

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) that should safeguard the foods on our market shelf is busy playing the ostrich while the land is flooded with the products. Indeed, NAFDAC is expected to give a bill of health to any GMO product or seed before importers can apply to bring the GMOs into the country. At present it is doubtful if NAFDAC is providing such a cover for Nigerians. We say doubtful because the agency us yet to respond to an enquiry HOMEF sent to them on 1 February 2018 seeking to know if they granted a clean bill of health to enable NBMA issue permits to WACOT Nigeria Ltd to import genetically modified maize for feed and processing. The murky process through which the permit was issued to the company raises red flags over the entire regulatory architecture demanding closer scrutiny.  WACOT’s application was based solely on the fact that certain genetically modified maize varieties had been approved for use in the European Union (EU). However, it is our position that the approval of anything in the EU does not confer automatic endorsement for entry into Nigeria. Biosafety requires case by case risk assessment in each jurisdiction that any of the artificial organisms are taken.

Counting on The Law

LawyersRoundtable4

As legal experts, the Nigerian people need your help in fashioning out means of ensuring that we are not ambushed into eating anything without knowledge of their makeup and safety. Our people require your help in ensuring that our food system is protected and that our biodiversity is protected. Our people will be happy to receive an understanding of the provisions of the law governing biosafety in Nigeria as well as if what exists is sufficient to protect them. We also hope that you will keep an eye on unfolding events in other jurisdictions where for example, Monsanto has been asked by a court to pay $289m to a citizen of the USA for cancer attributed to the use of that company’s weed killer, Roundup.

In all, Nigerians want to know the legality or otherwise of the roughshod march of the GMO train in our land.

 

——-

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Round Table with Lawyers on Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 26 September 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria

Is There Biosafety in Nigeria?

Group work..mediaIs There Biosafety in Nigeria? At a recent HOMEF dialogue with farmers, most of the participants declared that they have never heard of anything called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  When they got to know what GMOs are, they all declared that genetically modified crops are bad for our agriculture and overall environment.

Despite huge financial outlays in modern agricultural biotechnology roadshows, the people remain unaware of these commercially and politically driven organisms that are rapidly being released into our markets and environment. Without free and clear knowledge of these artificial organisms, it can be said plainly that the right of our people to safe food and safe environment is being officially breached with crass impunity.

As we speak, the promises of the first-generation GMOs that are being promoted in Nigeria are unraveling – with persistent failures being recorded around the world. Herbicide use has increased rather than reduce – of course the toxic chemicals are made by the makers of the GMO seeds. Pesticide use has not waned even though Bt crops (crops inserted with gene from the organism, Bacterium thuringiensis) are essentially engineered to act as pesticides themselves. Farmers are trapped in debt in the cotton fields of India because of the seeds-chemicals trap traceable to GMO Shylocks. GMO infested South American countries are reeling from chemical poisons on farmworkers and in farm-fence communities. In the United States of America, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m in damages to Dewayne Johnson after a jury found that the company’s Roundup weed-killer caused him cancer. There are over 4000 similar cases in the USA. The safety of GMOs and the claim that GMOs yield higher than normal crops have not been proven.

The old GMOs are now being joined by more extreme variants known as Gene Drives. That target whole populations, involve gene editing and do not involve cross-species gene transfers. They pose special and unique dangers to Nigeria and Africa. The first danger is that our regulators are gullible and tend to be remotely controlled by forces that promote untested technologies. The second danger is that even the dangers and risks are known, they are happy to allow experimentation and expose our people, communities and environment to be used as guinea pigs.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

Two cases to buttress this assertion relate to biotechnology experimentation in Burkina Faso. Firstly, was the failure of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in that country that led to the phase out of the GMO from Burkina Faso. The same GMO cotton that failed is now to be released in Nigeria, the second testing ground for an unnecessary and failed product. Of course, the local experts serving as midwives or middle men of the technology in Nigeria are celebrating that they can release the varieties into our environment without check, without questions.

Secondly, modern biotechnology entrepreneurs like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding Target Malaria to release 10,000 gene drive mosquitoes, in a village in Burkina Faso without our relatives there being truly aware of the what would be biting them. The gene drive mosquitoes are designed to crash the population of female anopheles mosquito species that transmit malaria parasite. Risks of this untested technology include the fact that they could have unexpected ecological problems, could be used as a weapon of war and is deployed without real prior informed consent of the poor villagers. This is another technofix to tackle a problem that has roots in poor sanitation and socio-economic inequities, among others.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

We need to interrogate not just the technology but also the regulation of the technologies. We need to ask why an application from a company like WACOT Ltd was approved when the only backing document, as published on NBMA’s website was a sheet of paper showing varieties of genetically modified maize approved by some European countries. This application was approved although there has been no risks assessment in Nigeria and even though approval in the EU does not in any way confer automatic acceptance of those things in countries outside of the jurisdiction within which they were approved. The application did not state that about half of EU countries do not allow these varieties of maize into their countries. For Nigeria, anything goes because everything is safe for Nigerians no matter how toxic they may be to others.

A grave problem with this approval of genetically modified maize for production of feed by WACOT Ltd is that the company sought and obtained the approval after being adjudged to have imported the GM maize without due approval and had been asked to repatriate the maize to Argentina from where it was imported. A further issue that cannot be ignored is that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had been notified of the impounding of the illegal and unauthorized transboundary movement of the genetically modified maize into Nigeria. According to reports, the FEC was also informed that the offending company had been asked to send back the illegal shipment. Yet, the same illegally imported grains were approved for release and use by the company. The repatriation order proved to be a mere smokescreen. The company was further licensed to import the supposedly EU approved GM maize over a period of three years.

Media trainingAs you all know, Health of Mother Earth Foundation along with 16 other civil society groups filed a suit challenging the granting of permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd for the confined field trial of genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603)) as well as commercial release of Bt cotton earlier mentioned. We challenged the permit based on strong scientific, sociology-economic, environment and administrative concerns. We also drew attention of the court to the fact that the approvals were granted on Sunday 1 May 2016 a mere one working day after the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) acknowledged that they had received our copious objections and promised to consider them. They obviously did not consider the views expressed in our objections. The judge eventually struck out the case based on the technicality of the case being statute barred. In other words, the case was struck out because we filed the suit more than three months after the permits were granted. The GMO promoters of all shades, both local and international, have crowed that the decision of the court equals an open door for any sort of GMOs to be brought into the country. That is an absolutely specious understanding of the court’s decision. The judge clearly stated that case was not struck out for lack of cause but because the particular action was statute barred. No time for celebration, Monsanto chiefs!

We will go into more details concerning the reasons Nigerians have to worry about the state of biosafety in the country. There is certainly time for that. Although we may no longer waste our time and resources sending objections to a regulator that disdains public opinion, we will not shirk our responsibility to demand safe and suitable foods for our peoples.


Welcome words  at a Media Training on Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 25 September 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria

Small-scale Farmers Feed the World

IMG_1866Small-scale or family farmers feed the world. This is an incontrovertible fact. This fact is unfortunately often overlooked. The willful rejection of the truth that small-scale farmers feed the world has persisted because accepting the truth would compel policy makers to refocus attention where it matters rather than pumping resources into industrial farming that create ecological and socioeconomic problems, and is vastly inefficient when outputs are compared to inputs. Small scale farmers use less than 30% of arable land and resources and feed 70% of the population while the  reverse is the case with industrial farming.

Scare tactics of ever-growing population has been used as an excuse to force the diversion of public funds into private industrial agriculture as well as the introduction of genetically engineered crops into Africa and other parts of the world. Again, the fact that the world currently produces enough food to feed almost double the current population is ignored in the conversations. For Nigeria, our country, we are told that we will have the third largest population by 2050, surpassing the United States of America (USA) among others. In fact, the United Nations projects that the population growth rate in Africa will “at least double” by 2050. Lineal population growth may be possible if African countries deepen socioeconomic disparities and do not improve on social indices and if disease, poverty and illiteracy persist. It is time to re-examine the statistical basis of Nigeria’s population otherwise the shame will be on us when we become the most populous nation on earth and the people cannot be found!

Concerned medical doctors and religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Another fact that begs for acceptance is that people are not hungry because there is no food in the world. About 30 percent of food goes to waste. In addition, industrial farming thrives on monocultures and is the major supplier of feed stock, as expected, for industrial processes. The assertion that people are not hungry due to lack of food in the market is also buttressed that most of the people that go to bed hungry are actually farmers. This happens because farmers have to sell their produce so as to meet family needs – such as housing, medicals, transportation and school needs of their children.

Farmer to farmer exchanges are vital for the sharing of ideas, farming practices and ways for preserving seeds and our overall biodiversity. Meeting to have dialogues between farmers provides a platform to diagnose the challenges facing small holder farmers as they struggle to meet the food requirements of the population.

Dialogue spaces also provide platforms for examining the quality of seeds available to farmers and the special threats posed by opening of the flood gates to genetically engineered crops into Nigeria.

We continue to demand for a radical revision of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 and the installation of a neutral Biosafety Regulatory Agency that is totally different from the extremely pro-GMO one currently in place. In fact, today it is hard to distinguish NBMA from National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) – an agency expressly set up to promote GMOs even before any biosafety law was in place in the country. We are experts at putting the truck ahead of the truck pusher and once on the wrong path we stubbornly refuse to step back, except in rare cases like that of our Nigeria Air.

Today, respectable research institutions have bought into the GMO train making it difficult for farmers to know when they are being sold genetically modified cassava, beans or maize. Even if farmers were to know that they are being sold suspect seeds, once the seeds get into the food market, consumers have no way of knowing what is being sold to them. There is no way anyone will label akara, moi moi, ogi, eba or similar foods made from genetically modified seeds. In other words, Nigerians are on the wrong bus already.

Concerned medical doctors, religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

We will proceed to dissect, debate and consider the risks to our health and biodiversity, not just for our sake but for the sake of generations yet unborn. We are concerned that unproven assertions are presented as truths by GMO promoting agencies in total disregard of the globally increasing call for ban of cancer-causing herbicides that are already in our markets and will be more extensively used in the cultivation of crops genetically modified to withstand them.

Today we assure our farmers that you have strong allies in the GMO-Free Nigeria alliance and that we will stand with you in the struggle to ensure that technofixes are not presented as cure-all in our agricultural sector. We will stand with you and demand justice for us all. Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

Farmers do matter and must be listened to.

——————————-

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Farmers’ Dialogue – Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 21 September 2018 at Ugbiyoko, Benin City, Nigeria

 

Choking Soot + Climate Change

8292E5AE-DAB8-4EB5-A3FE-9C920433480BTogether we confront humanmade ecological challenges. Our ecological challenges are widespread and suffocating. The clearest for those of us in Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta at large, is the visibly polluted and unhealthy air that we have been forced to breathe.

We applaud our brothers and sisters that have championed and continue to champion the Stop the Soot campaign. This is one campaign that has been backed by research, competence and high-level articulation of the health and debilitating impacts of soot, or black carbon, that citizens have been condemned to breathe. The petition that has been raised on this matter should be endorsed by all citizens of Nigerians, not just residents of the Niger Delta who breathe this toxic air.

The soot is the manifestation of insidious atrocities that have gone on unchallenged in our environment. It is one that cannot be swept under the carpet. Our creeks have been dastardly polluted, indeed coated by crude oil and we have silently continued to drink the polluted water. Our lands have been heavily contaminated, our crops have wilted, rotted and we have gone home empty handed at harvest time, yet we eat our rotted tubers and continue to fall into the grip of disease. Sixty years of gas flaring has secured huge profits for oil companies and limitless revenue for politicians to fight over, but for poor communities these have meant cancers, bronchitis, asthmas, skin diseases, birth defects and acid rain, to name a few.

Our people on the coast line are continuously losing land to coastal erosion. Inshore and offshore fishing grounds are being lost to oil pollution and ocean acidification daily. We must ask the question: what have we gained from sixty years of crude oil extraction?

Today we are gathered to examine two issues at this summit. One is soot. The other is climate change. Our determination is to stop the soot. Our plan is to tackle the climate menace. Their root cause is one. To achieve the results, we need to and must aim at the root. That root is well known: fossil fuels.

It has long been determined that for the world to have a reasonable chance of keeping to a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise above 1750 or pre-industrial levels, at least two thirds of known fossil reserves must be left in the ground. This is a scientific fact attested to by relevant global scientific and expert bodies. We cannot wish this away. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. We have no luxury of choice on this matter. Delay will be like the case of the emperor that was dancing shaku shaku while his domain was burning.

Some Nigerians think that if new oil or gas fields are not opened our economy will collapse. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is not about new oil fields, it is about stopping oil theft and reckless oil pollution. It is known that industrial scale oil theft is ongoing in our nation. If we consider estimates of stolen crude that we have heard from government officials over the years and combine these with the amount of oil regularly being spilled into our environment, we can safely say that, indeed, our oil output would almost double if the stealing and the spilling are stopped.

Is it oil that is keeping our economy afloat? Now that we are pumping oil at full throttle, how many of you have public electric power supply? Our gas flares or furnaces burn without ceasing, but our people still cook with firewood. If oil is boosting our economy, how come many in the formal sector go for months without wages and over sixty per cent of Nigerians eke a living in the informal sector? Why is virtually every building having a shop at the frontage? Where is almost everyone one sort of petty trader or the other?

The soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The sources are well known, even though officials are shy to agree. These sources include: the aged refineries, the gas flares, the bush refineries, oil spills and stolen crude that are set on fire by security forces.

We cannot emphasise this loudly enough: the soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The soot is choking us and our children. The solution is for us to choke the soot. We can only choke the soot by choking all the sources of soot. Stop the gas flares. Stop the ancient refineries. Stop the burning of spilled crude as well as stolen crude and illegal refineries.

We must rise and take real climate action. This is an emergency. We cannot afford any more delay. Stop the soot. Stop the pollution. Let us think, and think hard. The old mindset will not get us out of the pit. Whether we like it or not, the petrol age is drawing to a close. We must quickly close the chapter of crass pollution. Now is the time to think. It is time to act. It is time to prepare for life after oil.

———

Statement by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (www.homef.org) at the #RiseForClimate and #StoptheSoot Summit held at Emerald Hotel, Port Harcourt, Nigeria on 11 September 2018

Fish is More Valuable than Crude

 

Fish is More Valuable Than Oil. When we say that fish is more valuable than oil, we are staying a plain fact. Fish are living organisms whereas crude oil comes from fossils or long dead matter. Fish support our life with necessary protein. It is estimated that about 63.2 percent of Ghanaians depend on fish for animal protein. Marine resources provide the backbone of the economy and social life of many coastal communities. They employ millions of peoples across the coast lines of Africa and in both Great and small lakes on the continent.

The economic value of artisanal and small-scale fishing includes the big population of processors and sellers that are mostly women. To these must be added the families that depend on them and the income from the sector. With these considerations and in comparison, to the negative impacts of oil exploration and extraction in our waters, the fishing sector is more valuable and needs to be consciously protected.

Before the arrival of oil and gas rigs in our territories we enjoyed pristine waters and we could fish freely in the deep offshore and on the inland shores. Our people could literally pick sea foods from the shallow waters and from the creeks. Oil activities in our waters have raised serious security concerns, with large areas around oil installations becoming off limits to fishers. Sadly, oil fields have notoriously been found in areas with endemic fish species. Besides oil spills from offshore oil operations, they also pollute the oceans with drilling muds, pipeline leaks, produced water and deck runoff water. These have considerable impacts on the fish, coral reefs and water birds in the short and long terms.

When the seismic ships arrive, trouble knocks. Oil companies invest a lot in their search for oil reserves. Governments readily back these searches because both corporations and governments benefit from huge reserves as the market value of an oil company rises as their reserves rise. Governments that belong to a cartel like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can press for higher production quotas depending on how much reserves they can show that they have. While their reserves rise, so do the pains and poverty of the fishers.

A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

Seismic testing is often carried using multiple air guns that emit thousands of high-decibel explosive impulses to map the seafloor. The engineers repeat the blasts from the seismic air-guns every ten seconds and all through the day and these go on for days and weeks at a time.

These activities are known to disorientate marine mammals such as whales and other marine life. This happens when the sensory organs of these aquatic animals are affected causing them to lose their sense of orientation as well as ability to track food sources.

You are witnesses to the many whales that have died off the Ghanaian coasts in recent years. Right here in Keta, a dead whale washed onshore at the Tettekope beach on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

In South Africa, as exploratory activities intensify off the coast of Durban, concerns have risen over the fate of the highly valuable marine ecosystem there. Just this week a dead whale washed onshore. Before the beaching of the whale, scientists were worried that a particular fish species that has survived millions of years including the ice age, without much change, may not be equipped to withstand oil pollution. Last week a baby whale washed onshore on the coast of Delta State, Nigeria. These incidents have become more regular in recent times.

Oil drilling is a resounding tragedy to marine life forms, killing and injuring them. It is a threat to the natural heritage of our coastal communities. It is time for our nations to ban extractive activities and reckless fish exploitation by local and foreign fleets in our waters, create marine parks and protect them. Our fishers are getting tired of going all night in search of fish and returning home only with polluted nets.

Our FishNet Dialogues provide spaces for us to interrogate changes in the state of our marine environment and to map actors negatively impacting our marine ecosystems, and to proffer actions that must be taken to halt the harms. In the course of our conversations today, we will ask ourselves some questions. Such questions will include whether crude oil is in anyway more valuable to us than fish. We will compare how many persons work in the oil sector to the number that work in fisheries. We will also ask which of these supports our local livelihoods, natural heritage and sociocultural activities.

As you will see, we are not here to give or receive lectures.  We are here to have a dialogue, listen to ourselves, ask questions and collectively seek answers. We are here to seek ways we can work together and extend the webs of solidarity to other fishers who could not join with us today.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation is pleased to collaborate with Oilwatch Ghana and our fishers here in Keta to make this gathering happen. We also welcome FishNet Alliance members form Togo to the gathering. Let the conversations begin!

IMG_1338 3


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the FishNet Dialogue held at Keta, Volta Region, Ghana on 23 August 2018

 

 

 

 

Beyond Fossil Fuels

Beyond Fossil Fuels – OILWATCH AFRICA’s LAMU DECLARATION Oilwatch Africa network members, Lamu community representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) met in Lamu Kenya, on 7th and 8th August, 2018 at a conference on the theme: Beyond Fossil Fuels. The conference considered the politics of fossil fuel extractions, the impacts of fossil fuels on the continent and the strategy to unlock Africa’s power using alternatives to fossil fuels energy systems that are environmentally friendly and socially just.

The participants of the conference considered also the implications of the proposed LAPSET project (Coal power plant, deep Sea Port and Oil extraction) by the Kenyan Government on the socio-economic lives of the people of Lamu, including the impacts of these project on their culture, agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods of the people. After listening to the Save Lamu movement experiences, the conference noted that Lamu is an example of similar dirty energy and mega projects being pursued on the continent without full consultations with the people and without their free prior informed consent.

The conference analysed:

  1. Africa’s energy needs and the politics of a just transition;
  2. The challenges that fossil fuels funding in African countries, including the issues of debt and the resolution of disputes under a jurisdiction different from the involved country;
  3. The way Africa should go about renewable energy in relation to land tenure and land use;
  4. The political corruption and abuse of political power as a major problem faced by the people
  5. The destruction of livelihoods and local economies by the polluting activities of fossil fuels industries
  6. The issues of land grabbing, displacements and the marginalisation of communities in Africa due to fossil fuel industry activities among others

The conference declared:

  1. Full support for the demands of the Save Lamu movement;
  2. Opposition to the use of public funds to subsidize fossil fuels;
  3. That land tenure systems on the continent must respect community ownership as dictated by culture and tradition
  4. Communities must give their free prior informed consents for projects proposed for their territories while retaining their right to say NO
  5. That governments should urgently transit to renewable energy for all, owned and controlled by people
  6. African governments must urgently diversify national economies away from dependence on fossil fuels, exploitation of peoples and the destruction of the gifts of nature.

This declaration was issued on the 7th of August, 2018 in Lamu, Kenya

Participants at the meeting were drawn from Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Uganda.

 

 

 

Re-Connecting to Mother Earth

VerdantThinking about re-connecting to Mother Earth brings up one of my fondest memories of my late father. Those were moments moments when we stood at the back of our home and gazed at the verdant valley rolling off our garden and on to the sculpted hills that fade off as far as our eyes could see. Those were the moments he told me stories of life. The stories close to his heart. And each time we stood there he told me the same stories. Although I grew weary of hearing the same tales over and over again, I always looked forward to those precious, private moments. Today, older and hopefully wiser, I understand the power of looking across valleys and over hills.

Memories. Life. Hope.

There was a time when I got really agitated and angry if anyone responded with the phrase “no problem” when asked “everything okay?” The phrase, “no problem”, indicated to me that the respondent was not attentive to the objective realities around him/her. My emotions have been so moderated that I can stomach that response these days. I would only extend it: “no problem that cannot be overcome.”

Some of the problems confronting humankind today have been constructed by our greed, naivety and indifference. Humankind has arisen as a unique species when it comes to exploitation without responsibility and appropriation of the gifts of Nature without appreciation. Commodification of Nature has not ended in the transformation of the physical elements around us to the marketing of intangibles and things only grasped by imagination. Think of the fact that our major medium of exchange is the imaginary promissory material called money, for which individuals compete, kill and destroy. Is it not surprising that many people measure their worth by this weightless imaginary means of exchange?

The assault on Mother Earth has tested her patience. She was here before humans arrived. She will be here after we have left. How shameful that we could imagine that we own Mother Earth or a piece of her!

Market Environmentalism and Loss of Memory

The commodification of Nature has been built on the false notion that Nature can only be protected or defended if it has a monetary value. This extremely contentious idea has become mainstream in neoliberal thinking and drives policy discussions in official bilateral and multilateral spaces. Not surprisingly, serious harm has resulted from the market environmentalism and the loss of sense of the intrinsic value of Nature. These harms have not only arisen from the unrestrained exploitation of Nature without thought being given to the repercussions, it has permitted the crimes of ecocide and even genocide as tolerable inevitabilities.

It is this thinking that made a Chief Economist of the World Bank to write that Africa is under polluted and that it made economic sense to ramp up pollution on the continent. In his words,

“…I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted.”

We see in this position that the market dogma can permit the twisting of logic and the willful poisoning of whole populations without compunction. In this statement, Africa is not only presented as nothing but a waste dump, she is also presented in a narrative that permits abuse.  Here we refer to the notion of some African countries being under-populated. Although most African countries are actually under-populated, the popular narrative, and one that permits aggressive birth control proposals for the continent, is that Africa is overpopulated and is plagued by a threatening youth population bulge.

The logic of being under-polluted gives a good explanation of why international oil companies operating in the communities of the Niger Delta, Nigeria, can maintain an uninterrupted oil spilling and gas flaring for sixty years. As we speak, there are ongoing oil spills and unquenched gas furnaces raging in the communities. Raised as totems of development, the activities of oil companies have rendered the environment hostile to human survival. Oil activities have not only instituted militarization of the region and the attendant human rights abuses, the installation and transportation of extractive facilities have led to severe habitat loss and fragmentation occasioning the decline in biodiversity as well as threat to sustainable livelihoods of rural communities according to Prof. J. Ekpere in a foreword to HOMEF’s Report. Fragmentation of habitats in some communities come through the laying of oil and gas pipelines. In coastal communities, fresh water systems have been experiencing salinization due to canals constructed to allow movement of equipment inland. The result of turning fresh water brackish is a severe loss of biodiversity as well as loss of access to potable Water.

With water, soil and air assaulted with toxic elements, it is no surprise that human life expectancy has dropped precipitously to a mere 41 years in the region.

On the other hand, the idea that Africa is over populated is hinged on to encourage manipulation of plant genetic material in ways that are harmful to human health as well as the environment. Products of agricultural biotechnology are accompanied with heavy doses of toxic chemicals which degrade soils and run off to pollute water sources.  This technology which is portrayed as the silver bullet to agricultural challenges puts livelihoods of millions of small scale farmers at risk while it favours a large-scale farming system that is driven by the profit motive and thrives on market monopoly.

Meanings and Actions

In a foreword to a report by Health of Mother Earth Foundation(HOMEF), Beyond Oil – Re-imagining Development in the Niger Delta, Alberto Acosta reminds us that, “serious environmental damage caused in the name of ‘modernity’, development and progress, the bastardization of concepts such as “sustainable development”, the persistence of false solutions such as the “green economy”, make it necessary to look no longer at alternative developments, but rather at “alternatives to development” and indeed alternatives to capitalist society. Such limitations should not lead to catastrophic conclusions. In various parts of the world, and in the Niger Delta itself, there are communities that re-imagine their lives over and over again.

“They have understood that they cannot follow the mantra of development and progress imposed by colonial and neocolonial invasions, whether military or conceptual. And from these readings many communities give concrete answers honed from their own daily life in response to their demands of life. Breaking with the false promises of oil, people’s alternatives emerge in this region of Africa, such as training, learning and re-learning programs; breeding poultry and chickens; integrated sustainable farms; community microcredit schemes; economic diversification programs; banana plantations without chemicals or transgenics; fish farms; own telecommunication and transport systems; communal farms to produce rice; use of renewable resources …”

Latching on the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu, Acosta points out that the needed alternatives are practical and hold the promise of “a decent life for many communities but, in addition, they are projected into the future, because they possess a strategic horizon of action. These alternatives are based on an ethical position: an assumption that a human being must not only take care of him or herself, but others as well. A person is understood to become a person by looking through the eyes of others; thus, human beings have to act with the consciousness of being interconnected with the rest of humanity and other living beings. Such a way of life involves caring directly for the environment and working for life in harmony with Mother Earth.”

It is dangerous to assume that simply because we speak to one another we have a common understanding of the terms and concepts that we use. It is rather the interrogation of terms such as modernity, development, progress, sustainable development and green economy that reveals whether we are on the same track or if indeed we are heading in divergent directions.

Things labeled modern are superficially seen as superior to things that are labeled primitive. Can this position be routinely correct? It cannot be assumed that simply because weapons of mass destruction are modern then they are superior to weapons of war that date back to thousands of years. Neither can we say that the fossil fuel dependent automobile is superior to a bicycle, outside the concept of speed. Even then, is moving faster an ideal if one is headed in the wrong direction?

Green is a Colour

Concepts such as carbon trading, green economy and even clean coal so readily capture attention. An oil company like Shell publishes an annual Sustainability Report. How sustainable is the extremely polluting extraction of oil and gas? Consider that other mining companies and governments project ideas of sustainable mining. How can extraction be sustainable. Extraction by definition is subtraction, a taking away, a hacking away at Mother Earth. In the same vein, sustainable development as a concept is an oxymoron. It is only when there is an agreed definition of development, including a base line that shows what is developed, underdeveloped or developing, that we can say if what is so defined is realistic in a finite world and if the conditions that led to that state of affairs can be replicated.

Green economy evokes an image of life, but in reality it places life on the chopping block. Built on the concept of commodifying Nature or keeping tabs of natural capital, it places value on so-called environmental services, including the job done by rivers and even the value of pollination by bees. It is doubtful that anyone can gauge the true value of the gifts of Nature in a way that would produce an equal ecological exchange.

By creative or selective accounting, efforts to internalize environmental costs in the price of commodities has not gained traction. This willful amnesia ensures that vulnerable workers, communities, territories and nations bear the hidden costs of extraction and production while the oligarchs smile to the bank with their bounties.

 There is a global rejection of subsidies doled out to fossil fuel industries. We applaud the need the remove those subsidies, but that is not going far enough. When shall relief come to the communities/territories that are subsidizing the cost of extraction by bearing the brunt of environmental costs? When will Mother Earth enjoy a relief from these unending despoliations? When, indeed will the call to Keep it in the Ground become a binding rule and not just a slogan mouthed by the polluters and their supporting neoliberal institutions? When, indeed, will we demand an end to pollution and not merely demand that polluters pay?

The Measure of Progress

After the lecture

After the Lecture

What development or progress birth well being? Efforts have been made to measure development and progress through a variety of indexes including the notorious Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which has been described as Gross Domestic Problem (Lorenzo Fioramonti, 2013). It has been shown by many analysts that the GDP of a nation has no correlation to the state of well being of the citizens. Yet other indices include Measure of Economic Welfare (MEW), Total Income System of Accounts (TISA), Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), Human Suffering Index (HSI) and Ecological Footprint.

Writing on the quest for statistical measure of economic performance, Joseph Stiglitz said, “Just as a firm needs to measure the depreciation of its capital, so too, our national accounts need to reflect the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of our environment. Statistical frameworks are intended to summarize what is going on in our complex society in a few easily interpretable numbers. It should have been obvious that one couldn’t reduce everything to a single number, GDP. The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress will, one hopes, lead to a better understanding of the uses, and abuses, of that statistic.”

Some politicians and statisticians are stuck with the GDP because it offers flattering pictures of their economies. As a compilation that is built mainly on imagination and sleight of hand, the GDP stubbornly marches on despite the arrival of other measures such as Human Development Index (HDI) and the Gross Happiness Index (GHI) that are closer to reality and do indicate a correlation to reality and the hopes of citizens.

Consider how Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy in 2014. Nigeria’s GDP was said to have grown by 6.81 percent in the third quarter of 2013. But this and other optimistic GDP projections mask the lived reality of ordinary citizens on the ground as evidenced even in official statistics. For example, a joint study conducted by the World Bank (WB) and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on poverty in Nigeria. A blog on the report opens with an oblique statement that “The World Bank and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have recently completed an in-depth analysis of Nigeria’s last set of household survey statistics, which were compiled in 2010 but until recently were not fully understood”. Why did it take the WB and the NBS so long to get to the point of comprehending the real situation? The stumbling block obviously is the stark contradiction between the huge growth rates in the nation and the “stubbornly high” poverty rates.

Reporting on the sudden jump of the Nigerian economy, the Economist (8th April 2014) tackled “How Nigeria’s economy grew by 89% overnight.” It explained that the base year for previous computations was 1999, but the government decided to change that base to 2010. The opening paragraph of the report makes a clear statement about GDPs. Here: “ON SATURDAY, April 5th, South Africa was Africa’s largest economy. The IMF put its GDP at $354 billion last year, well ahead of its closest rival for the crown, Nigeria. By Sunday afternoon that had changed. Nigeria’s statistician-general announced that his country’s GDP for 2013 had been revised from 42.4 trillion naira to 80.2 trillion naira ($509 billion). The estimated income of the average Nigerian went from less than $1,500 a year to $2,688 in a trice. How can an economy grow by almost 90% overnight?”

Waging War with GDP

The GDP as an economic measure goes back to the 1600s and has its roots in war efforts. It began when a physician of the British army, William Petty, was asked to conduct a systematic survey of the country’s wealth in order to aid in the redistribution of land among the soldiers. In order to position both land and labour for taxation, Petty tried to place market value on them. In the process, Petty got to increase his financial assets significantly.  He acquired land from soldiers cheaply in lieu of salary and as such lands were declared “unprofitable.”

During the great depression of 1929 and 1941, it was found that market forces could not stabilize the economy quickly enough.  The then president of USA needed a means of stimulating the economy and statistician Simon Kuznets started to work on the conceptualization and measurement of national income in 1932. His aim was to condense all economic production by individuals, companies and the government into a single number. The method developed by Kuznets finally came together during the Second World War (1939-1945) and the GNP was used a main scorecard for the design and implementation of national economic policy. The GNP accounts turned to be a powerful instrument used to estimate militarization costs and to calculate the speed at which the economy needed to grow in order to ‘pay for war’. Instructively, the government aimed to get citizens to increase consumption in order to be able to pay for the ammunitions used in war. It should be noted that Kuznets reportedly had reservations on the GDP right from the start. See Has GDP Outgrown its Use? 

How could war or use of hard drugs be counted as activities that add to human welfare?

In the words of Lorenzo Fioramonti, “GDP was designed as a war device. That war did not end in 1945 but has continued ever since. It turned into an endless war against social equilibria, natural environments and non- renewable resources, in which consumers become the new foot soldiers; ultimately, a war against our own future on this planet”.

Humility and Defiance: Looking across that Valley

Sulak sculpted

Memorable: Visiting Sulak Sivaraksa (RLA1995) with Hans van Willenswaard

Saying No to mining and Yes to life is not a decision taken lightly. It is an inescapable objective reality when one has seen and experienced widespread ecocide in communities and territories that happen to harbour the gifts of Nature. Humans have no doubt developed tools through the transformation of Nature. However, the shift into a throwaway system of production where obsolescence is inbuilt, so as to promote inordinate consumption, is indefensible. The sure way to living well is by respecting Mother Earth and ensuring that our actions do not impede her right to maintain her cycles.

Standing on the lips of the valley behind my father’s house, it becomes clear that living well is possible for individuals, communities and the larger society. Living well happens when we are at peace with ourselves and with other beings and see them as our relatives. Living well happens when solidarity trumps competition and reckless wars. Living well occurs when we do not compete about whose car or house is bigger. Not even about who has the larger or more destructive nuclear button.

As my mind’s eyes wander beyond the horizons, it becomes clearer that well-being is not a private affair. It may begin as a personal quest but is only actualized in our connectedness. It is consummated in the commons, in our collectives, in our cooperations and in our undying trust that we can recover our memory. A recovered memory reminds us that the Earth does not belong to us, but that we are children of the Earth. Calling ourselves sons and daughters of the soil states a deep truth. As Vandana Shiva stated, we are the soil!

We are stewards bequeathed with gifts that have generational responsibilities. It is time to see the gifts of Mother Earth as re-sources perpetually calling on us to re-connect to her.  True reconnection provokes healing and at the same time eliminates divisive instincts, and the dispositions that promote exploitation, domination and destruction.

The complex ecosystems around and within us yearn for an understanding of the intricate connections in the webs of life. Living with this consciousness and practice is Ubuntu, true liberation, true healing of both self, society and Mother Earth. We are individuals, yet we are community. This reality calls for both humility and defiance. Humility to accept that the tiniest being, even those invisible to our naked eyes, and the most complex ones need each other. Defiance by the essential need to oppose irresponsible exploitation of the gifts of Nature, ecocide and war.

The power that will tilt the ecological balance in favour of the health of Mother Earth, respecting the rights of Nature, will come through broad based mass movements joining forces, building common understanding and forging global solidarity of peoples.

In conclusion

We are at a crossroads. The Chinese saying advises that to get out of a hole you have to stop digging. Now is the time to make the transition to a post extractivist world. Extractivism has had its day and has driven many species to extinction. It has yielded what may euphemistically be termed a plastic civilization. Now is the time to move to the back of our homes and take a long gaze at the remains of what we have not yet destroyed.

It is time to gaze at the valleys and hills and re-connect and re-encounter Nature as a critical priority that cannot be postponed.  We simply have to terminate models that situates humans as external to Nature. We are children of Mother Earth and it is time to wake up, regain our memory and return home. For healing to begin and be sustained we have to put a halt to the harms.

poetry time

Connecting the heart through poetry