GMOs, Herbicides – Ambush in the Night

Moi moi

Moi moi wrapped in leaves, not plastics!

The tide of GMOs and deadly herbicides creeps on unsuspected consumers as they are literally being ambushed in the night. Twenty countries, including Togo and Malawi, have placed a ban on the use of glyphosate containing herbicides based on health and environmental concerns. Togo recently joined the ranks of countries that have banned the herbicides after two years of intense debates. According to that country’s minister of Agriculture, the such herbicides already in the country must be used up or destroyed within 12 months.

While we regret that the ban ought to have meant an immediate halt to the use of the herbicides, we believe there is a lesson to be learned here by Nigerian authorities. Glyphosate, as an active ingredient in herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready which is widely used as a weed killer around the world, have been named a cancer-causing agent. Thousands of plaintiffs have sued the makers of these herbicides due to impacts suffered through exposure to them. Probably the most well-known case is that of Dewayne Johnson who was awarded US$289 million that was later reduced to US$78million for harms suffered.

In many of the cases, the key arguments include that the manufacturers of the harmful herbicides did not adequately warn consumers and users of the associated cancer risks. Concerns raised in Nigeria as NBMA opened the avalanche of GMO approvals was initially met with the explanation from Monsanto that the chemicals are safe if used according to specifications. It can readily be seen that the caveat was given with the knowledge that the average Nigerian farmer is not likely to read the fine letters on the packages or to wear space suits before spraying their farms with the poisons.

While Togo has declared a total ban of herbicides with glyphosate, such herbicides are quite commonplace in Nigeria. They are freely sold and some even have certification from NAFDAC.

Nigerians should worry because certain crops approved in Nigeria are genetically engineered for the application of the cancer-causing herbicides.

Ministers of Agriculture appear to be stepping up to the challenge concerning the threats posed by harmful chemicals and the genetically engineered crops necessitating their production. The position of the Togolese minister and the government on these glyphosate-based chemicals must be applauded. The position will not only protect farmers who are bound to be directly exposed to the chemicals but will also protect consumers who would eat crops with the residues of the chemicals.

The other minister that stepped the plate is that of Ghana. With a bold headline, “National well-being wins over foreign interests as gov’t ditches GMOs, a report announced that the government of Ghana, through the Minister of Food and Agriculture announced the terminating of imposition of GMOs on farmers in the country. The minister was paraphrased to have said that “the nation has capable scientists who could use traditional breeding methods to produce high yielding varieties and disease resistant plants for cultivation by farmers and no need for GMOs in the next 100 years in Ghana.”

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

Peasant farmers and civil society groups responded to the declaration by urging institutions, persons and groups “benefiting from proceeds from Monsanto to promote GMO in Ghana to rather join Ghanaian scientists and farmers to promote the local seed industry”

While Ghanaians celebrated the “defeat” of GMOs in their country, a major civil society group in the country, Food Sovereignty Ghana, cautioned that the battle is not yet over. They hinged this position on the fact that government is still defending the impending release of Bt cowpea, GM rice and Bt cotton in court. The next hearing on the case comes up on 30 January 2020. Food Sovereignty Ghana and others had sued the government of Ghana represented by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the National Biosafety Authority and the Attorney-General’s Department to stop the commercial release of these crops.

When the case against the release of the genetically engineered cowpea (beans) first went to court in Ghana in 2015, no country in the world had authorized the release of the variety for human consumption. The promoters of the GM beans declare that they cannot be visually distinguished from their natural counterpart and point to this as a mark of substantial equivalence. It is not rocket science to know that things may look alike without being the same. They may indeed have special genetic characteristics that makes their patentable as unique, as the situation with the GM beans is. Promises of labelling is trash when we consider our socio-cultural context, especially in terms of processing, storage, marketing and consumption of local foods. Selling the idea of labeling GM beans and other local crops can be compared to accepting to be ambushed in the night (apologies to Bob Marley).

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walk Back from GM Beans

Not on our Plates!

Nigerians are not ready for GM Beans or any GMO for that matter. The commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) beans has been celebrated by the purveyors and promoters of the artificial variety. The Pod Borer-Resistant Cowpea (PBR-Cowpea) also known as Vigna unguiculata is modified to express the Cry1Ab protein expected to “confer protection from certain lepidopteran insect pests of cowpea, principally the pod borer (Maruca vitrata Fabricius).” Although the insecticidal beans has been advertised as the first genetically modified (GM) crop to be released into the Nigerian environment, and for consumption, it is actually the second crop. The first crop was GM cotton whose application for commercial release was approved by the NBMA in 2016.

Most people see cotton as a crop whose use is only in textiles. However, the truth is that cotton seeds are used in making cotton cakes as well as cotton oil. Cotton is eaten by our peoples in one form or the other. We are emphasizing this because some GMO promoters tend to wave off complaints on possible health impacts of the crop on the false claim that it would not enter our food chain.

Seeing the promoters of GM beans celebrate through press conferences, announcements and meetings is quite understandable. The approval for confined field trial of the variety was first granted in 2009, six years before Nigeria had a biosafety law. Another application for same purpose was approved in 2018. After spending over a decade working on the variety and having a system that authorizes its release into the environment and unto our food bowls, any scientist should be proud of the achievement. But the duration of an experiment does not suggest that the product is needed.

In assessing the application for release of the variety into the environment and market, the National Biosafety Committee decided that the beans was more or less the same as the natural counterpart. They also claimed that “The characteristics and factors affecting survival, multiplication, gene expression and dissemination are not different from those of the unmodified counterpart.” They further claimed that “Interactions with the environment are not different from those of the conventional counterpart, except in the insect resistance trait for which the product was modified.” They also claimed that the GM beans is substantially equivalent to the natural variety. In fact, the only queries on the GM beans application are basically on typographical errors.

A section of the report of the recommendation document speaks to the socio-economic considerations regarding the GM beans. This is what they said: “The introduction of the Bt Cowpea will not stop the continued use of unmodified farmer preferred varieties by any farmer who chooses to do so. The use of the Bt cowpea will increase farmers’ wealth from increased yield and reduce Farmer investment in pesticides, it will reduce environmental pollution by the insecticides due to reduced amount of total insecticide sprayed, it will reduce farmers’ health challenges from insecticide exposure. Introduction of Bt Cowpea will translate to improved food security in the entire country due to availability of much higher amounts of cowpea. This will also translate to higher incomes due to export of the commodity, because less residual insecticide means higher acceptability of Nigerian cowpea in the international market.”

There are a number of contentious ascertains in the above quote. First of all, this GM variety will likely contaminate natural varieties through cross pollination, although beans are usually self-multiplied. There is a possibility that even where a farmer chooses not to grow the GM variety, the preferred natural variety could be contaminated. The release of the GM variety thus poses a threat to the preservation of natural species. A loss of natural varieties would mean that rather than promote food security, Nigeria could be stepping into an era of uncertainty, of unpredictability and food supply instability.

The declaration also claims that farmers will earn more income because the beans would have “less residual insecticide” and would thus be more accepted in the international market are questionable. Apart from the fact that the GM beans is actually an insecticide, it is very doubtful that there will be much international market for genetically modified beans, unless their identity will not be declared in such markets.

Although the Nigerian Biosafety Act requires labelling of genetically modified organisms, we have said repeatedly that our socio-cultural and food systems do not lend themselves to labeling. This is obvious with the way our foods are prepared, packaged, presented, served and eaten. It means that regulating our food systems must take our context into consideration and much more care should be taken than may be necessary elsewhere. We are in a situation where the NBMA and the GMO promoters are ambushing both the farmers and the consumers through the release of these needless varieties into our environment and food system.

It is important to note that there are natural innovative strategies to solve the problem of pests including the Push and Pull method and biological control which have proven effective. The rush to adopt a technology immersed in so much controversy and linked to health, environmental as well as economic problems is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful.

We have had reasons to warn that the NBMA’s process for GMO approval is stacked against contrary opinions and objections. This position has been strengthened by the Recommendation reports posted by the agency on the website of the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). Two of the reports relate to applications from the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. One is for GM Beans, while the other is for “confined field trial of maize genetically modified for resistance to stem borer insect and for drought tolerance.” The NBC members that signed the recommendation document for the GM maize application include vested interests represented by prominent and frontline promoters of GMOs in Nigeria. We cannot expect rigorous evaluation and assessment of applications when the promoter is saddled with the task of such assessments.

Considering the above, it is imperative that the risky beans are recalled before it is too late. It is never wrong to retrace your steps when you find that you are on the wrong track. No matter how far you may have gone.

When Pain Speaks

Gas flare by Igbuzor

Gas Flare in the Niger Delta. Photo credit: O. Igbuzor

The colonisation of the Nature persists in its raw form and tends to be intensified as time goes by. The intensification of the colonisation of Nature increases as resources that humans have learned to transform for the preservation of current civilisations run out. The dearth of resources to be exploited should have been obvious to humans since we live on a finite planet. The race for what can still be reached has thrown up situations where governments are not necessarily defined by political ideologies but by their stance towards dependency on revenue and materials from extractive activities and on corporate forces that support their electoral needs.

The range of political leadership we see in the world today tends to be birthed by alignment of perception of populations on which leadership promises to bring back the good old days. The factor of nostalgia has sometimes been spiced with a promise to bring about change. Common in all situations is the fact that the voters do not question the past that they desire and do not interrogate the promised change. The result has been that the disappointing reality sets in very quickly when the promises turn to dust.

The thought pattern that offers Nature as something to be exploited has become so ingrained that we only wake up to ask questions when the environment is thoroughly degraded and where damage can no longer be compensated for. The heavy loss and damage tied to the extractivist model has gone so deep that financial compensation cannot sufficiently pay for the harms. This shows clearly that the remedies must be sought on the altar of justice. Humans need to seek a reconciliation with Nature of which we are an integral part. One pathway towards this reconciliation is through the acceptance of ecocide as a crime punishable under national and international laws. The acceptance of ecocide as a crime will greatly incentivize good behaviour by ecological devourers.

The abandonment of social responsibilities by governments is one of the reasons for the spate of protests going on in the world today. And it does appear that the protests will continue until governments wake up to the fact that they are elected to govern and not to babysit corporations and otherswho profiteer from the misery of citizens.

Reconciliation with Nature will take both physical and cultural actions. It will require an acceptance that carrying out so-called corporate social responsibility acts are blatantly hypocritical when the harm done is irreversible. Beautiful concepts like benefit sharing should be seen as drawing in victims as accessories to crimes when the ecological harms done in the process of resource exploitation cannot be remedied. Talks of good governance and transparency stand out as scaffolds for continued irresponsible exploitation in many cases when it is known that the baseline for assessing transparency is not in existence in the first place.

The cultural actions that require immediate consideration have to do with our mindsets. For too long, policies have been based on ideas formulated to ensure that the oppressive and exploitative systems persist. We accept concepts such as green or blue economies without question. Some policy makers even swear that the blue economy is Africa’s chance to enter the development train. We do not even pause to question the origins of the concept of development and the classification of nations as developed, developing or underdeveloped. So unthinking have we been that there was a time nations competed to be classified as poor and highly indebted nations so as to qualify for loans and prescriptions that would actually ensure their poverty.

And, have you considered the concepts of cash cropping as a major means of foreign exchange earning by governments? Where did the idea that you can literally cultivate crops for cash and not for food take root in our psyches? Think about that.

The pursuit and accumulation of cash has become the reason for living by many. Those who are not able to raise enough cash to cover more than their daily needs are seen as poor and as failures. Humans have accepted the notion that collective organisation provided by government should only be for the purpose of propping up corporate interests and the powerful forces behind them. People readily mouth the falsehood that governments have no business in business and extend that to mean that citizens must pay for everything. Allowing citizens to swim or sink has become the creed and this further opens the scope for exploitation of the helpless.

Governments pursue revenue generation and do all they can to ensure the enlargement of the space for ease of doing business. You don’t hear of ease of survival for citizens of nations. No, there are no measures for that. We speak up against child labour, but we have normalized poverty and force kids to work in order to support parents whose labour cannot pay their bills. So we have children buried in mines for hours, digging up metals that end up adorning the rich and the powerful. We see artisanal miners breaking their backs and getting buried in unsafe mine pits across the African continent. And, then we point our fingers to accuse these struggling citizens with notions that poverty drives ecological degradation. No one asks to unearth the roots of the calamitous circumstances that we live in and the extent to which the planet has been wreaked.

The abandonment of social responsibilities by governments is one of the reasons for the spate of protests going on in the world today. And it does appear that the protests will continue until governments wake up to the fact that they are elected to govern and not to babysit corporations and otherswho profiteer from the misery of citizens. And we should add here that laws like the proposed Hate Speech bill in Nigeria cannot stem the tide of pains that must be voiced.

 

 

 

 

Infernal Gas Flares

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ground level gas flare

The gas flares in the Niger Delta are absolutely obnoxious. When 2020 was set as the deadline for halting gas flaring in Nigeria it seemed like ages away. As 2019 rolls towards its terminal point, 2020 is already placing its foot in the door. While launching the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP) in 2016, the indication was given that the nation would pursue a 2020 flare-out date. The nation also signed unto the Global Gas Flaring Partnership (GGFP) principles aiming at a flares-out date of 2030.

It is interesting to note that the Federal Government of Nigeria has been pursuing two deadlines on the same objective. Given our laziness about meeting deadlines, it was obvious to observers that 2020 was a smokescreen and could not be a date to bank on. Nevertheless, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, was particularly insistent that the year was sacrosanct.

The reasons for such optimism included the fact that up to 800 companies had submitted bids for the management of 176 gas flare sites in the Niger Delta and of the 800 bidders, 226 had paid stipulated fees as part of their expression of interest to manage the gas flare sites. Needless to say that as 2020 rolls in, that target has quietly evaporated.

We should remind ourselves that gas flaring commenced in the Niger Delta in the 1950s. We should also remind ourselves that gas flaring is inevitable in any oil field that has gas associated with the crude oil being extracted. Such gases are usually vented or flared in order to avoid uncontrollable build up of pressure in such installations. The flares are occasionally lit and then put off until when pressure mounts again. However, the gas furnaces that have ravaged the Niger Delta are not lit to relieve pressure from the oil fields, they are simply lit to waste the gas, as if no one would ever complain over the waste or poisons. This sort of burning of the resource is termed routine gas flaring. This routine flaring is the permanent insult that operators have relentlessly piled on our peoples and the Niger Delta environment.

We were told that President Muhammad Buhari is totally against gas flaring in the Niger Delta and was doing everything to ensure that the infernal flames are snuffed out for good. That position seems plausible considering the fact that the decree outlawing gas flaring came into force on 1st January 1984, during his tenure as a military Head of State. Secondly, in 2018 the government issued the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulation.

… the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Notable features of the 2018 Gas Flare Regulation include the fact that the Federal Government now owns all the gas flares stacks and all the flared gas. That sounds rather funny, but the reason the claim is made can be assumed to have arisen from the fact that investors were denied access to the flared gas by operating oil companies. It is not clear whether government would still expect oil companies to pay fines for flaring gas now that government has claimed ownership of the gas flare stacks. Or will the government now be the offending party? By reason of owning the gas flares, access to flared gas to be utilized for commercialization or otherwise is now to be obtained from the Petroleum Minister, who in this case is the President.

The Regulation also requires that the producers are to maintain a daily log of gas flared. The interesting point here is that government agencies are unable to measure or meter the volume of gas flared in the country. Neither are they able to measure the actual volume of crude oil extracted on a daily basis in the country. So, when we say that 8 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually, we are simply throwing out a guesstimate. Government agencies depend on oil and gas companies to declare the volumes of gas extracted and flared.

This brings us to another point in the Regulation which stipulates that the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) may demand for gas flare data from the operators. It also adds that the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Back to the flares-out deadlines. In the 1960s noises were already made about the need to halt the obnoxious act of gas flaring. As already mentioned, the first deadline was 1 January 1984. That deadline was shifted to 2007 and to 2008 and 2010 and then to 2020. These shifting goalposts have been made attractive to the oil companies because the Decree or Act outlawing gas flaring allows companies to flare gas provided they had obtained a permit to do so from the Minister of Petroleum. Besides obtaining a certificate to flare the harmful gases, they are to pay a fine. In 1979 that fine was pegged at 0.003 US dollars per million cubic feet of gas flared. By 1988 the fine rose to a handsome 0.07 dollars. In January 2008 the fine was set at 3.50 dollars for 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. From report, this figure was simply ignored. In 2018 the fine was pegged at 2.0 dollars per 1000 cubic feet of gas flared.

The gas flare game has continued due to the sort of Joint Venture arrangements in place in the country. The operators call the shots, including with regard to measuring the gas produced and flared as well as oil produced, spilled or stolen. The recent report by Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initative (NEITI) suggesting that an outrageous $11 million worth of crude oil is stolen daily in Nigeria did not raise a significant number of eyebrows, beyond making news headlines. Some observers believe that although the figure shared by NEITI may be conservative, it does suggest that the malfeasance in the oil and gas fields fester on an industrial scale and we should stop blaming the victims.

The entire petroleum sector architecture needs to be urgently deconstructed and reordered, including by stopping gas flares by 2020, by all means necessary. Thirty five years after outlawing gas flaring, and fourteen years after a High Court declared the act an assault on our human rights, we have no reason to further kick the deadline down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon: Oil Spills in Bauchi

pondering

Oil Spills in Bauchi- coming soon. Crude oil is sometimes called the black gold and has an allure that almost makes it irresistible to speculators, corporations, governments and those who believe that wealth does trickle down from such exploitations. Whatever is the case, crude oil births dreams. It also aborts them.

Nigeria ranks among the top 20 crude oil producing nations in the world today, with its position hovering around the 16th. Africa contributes 9 per cent of global crude oil production and half of that comes from Angola and Nigeria. About a quarter of the crude oil production in Nigeria happens onshore, while the rest are extracted offshore. That ratio may change if the oil find in the region of  Bauchi/Gombe proves to be in commercial quantities.

A number of factors combine to make the nation a high risk territory for sourcing for the resource. One of the factors relates to the impact on communities of the ecological despoliation that accompanies its extraction in the country. Others include the social discontent and conflicts generated by the destruction of livelihoods, contamination of food sources and the general rupturing of support structures for healthy living. For Nigeria, vesting in further oil exploration and extraction is risky in a world that will soon shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Is the continued search worth the budget?

The extent of crude oil pollution in the communities of the Niger Delta is simply mind boggling.  With at least one flare point popping up at the new oil find location, it seems that oil pollution may finally be seen and understood by a larger number of Nigerians. The celebratory tones of the find on social media has been comparable to the drumming, dancing and hopes that burst out in Oloibiri and other communities in Ogbia area of Bayelsa State when oil was found there in the 1950s.

The celebrations in Oloibri did not last long before it turned sour as hopes of “development” were dashed and what stuck in its place was untold environmental devastation. Today,  the first oil well, drilled in 1956, sits in a hut and has been designated a mere monument. Other abandoned wells in the Ogbia bushes are yet to be decommissioned and try not to be ignored by occasionally dripping crude.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria have justly earned a bad reputation from the local population and on a global scale. They built that reputation from scratch, including from when they started flaring gas associated with crude oil extraction on the flimsy premise that there was no market for natural gas in the 1960s and flaring became a convenient company practice. It may be said also that because oil companies were not immediately held to account for oil spills when they reared their ugly heads in the Niger Delta, pollution became acceptable corporate practice. They were ignored and rose to the levels of ecocide that we see today.

In the heat of the fires set by their corporate misbehaviour, transnational oil companies operating in Nigeria have devised the strategy of supporting “backward integration” or encouraging the entrances of local entrepreneurs by selling off some of their onshore assets and clawing deeper out into the sea. And, the locals, often being “sons and daughters of the soil”, are given the benefit of the doubt and are readily accommodated by local communities since it is believed that the accruing wealth will trickle down to them and that local companies would not permit dastard ecological harms. Such sentiments do not take into account the pattern of accumulation by despoliation and dispossession inherent in the DNA of reckless capitalist production. The oil spills under local hands are as deadly as when they drip through foreign fingers. This is already happening.

In any case, the multinational oil companies prefer to dive into deeper waters, because they can escape close scrutiny and because the deeper you go, the amount the Nigerian government receives as royalties gets  progressively smaller. Who would not choose the deep water option if doing so brings more profit and less responsibilities?

The National Oil  Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) must be stretched to the limits by the spate of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The agency must literally be chasing after new spills and those that are ignored on a daily basis. Over the years, it has been agreed that about 240,000 barrels of crude oil gets spilled into the environment annually.

Researches indicate that between 1999 and 2005, up to 17.04 percent of the spills were attributed to mechanical failure. Corrosion caused 15.56 per cent and unknown causes accounted for 31,85 31.85 per cent of the oil spills. Operational error accounted for 12.59 per cent. These four categories, or 77.04 per cent, can be summed up as industry responsibilities. For that period, 20.74 per cent was said to be from third party activity. What happened at 2005? What changed?

These days, most of the incidents are attributed to third party interferences. At one level, the current situation appears to be the result of very well orchestrated campaign by the oil companies to change the narrative by getting fingers to  point at poor community people as the source of the ongoing ecological terror. The campaign succeeded due to the highly advertised violent actions in the creeks and oil thefts that continue to escalate despite the crude beingstolen from high pressure pipelines and other structures. This state of affairs allow crude oil to be made available for the running of the obnoxious “bush refineries” that are contributing massively to the degradation of the environment. These illegalities run on the subtly induced obnoxious sense of entitlement or ownership, that encourages the horrible situation where poor community people engage in extremely dangerous slave labour of cooking and distilling petroleum products at the pleasure of evil barons.

All said, the beneficiaries of the ecocide in the land are the oil companies. As the ecological crimes intensified, they simply stepped up their media game, conducted helicopter pollution tours for local and international media and continued to wash their oil soaked hands off the debacle they orchestrated. The outcome is that today, many believe that the pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by third parties without asking questions about who constitutes this infamous third party? The other questions to be answered include why they do what they do and how. Could these third parties be embedded in the industry, security and political structures?  It is imperative that the so-called third parties are identified and adequately sanctioned.

The people also need more information about the harmful nature of crude oil. The belief that the noxious material can be used to treat convulsion or other health situations must be debunked in clear terms. Government should urgently embark on an environmental assessment of the entire Niger Delta using the Ogoni assessment as a guiding template. The oil fields should be adequately metered so that the nation may know what quantity of crude oil is actually being extracted, how much is being exported and how much is stolen or dumped into the environment. As for the new oil find, detailed ecological baseline studies should be conducted in the oil exploration areas so that when the spills begin, what is lost will be clearly known and there will less difficulties knowing who to hold to account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival of Extreme Technology

architectureTechnology is defined as the application of  scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Oftentimes industry is related to the transformation of nature or raw materials in factories. The word, technology has roots in  Greek: tecknologia,meaning systematic treatment, itself derived from  teckne— art or craft. The meaning of the term has obviously been evolving over time as is the case with other words and concepts. For example, industry does not just mean “factory” or “manufacturing”. It also means hard or focused work.

Technology was not always about the transformation of nature, but was more of working with it as evidenced in the development of agriculture. Today, technology often aims to make nature more efficient or to subvert it. The subversion of nature has manifested in a series of innovations that have fundamentally shaped the character of societies. Such milestones include the invention of fire and of projectiles probably initially for the hunt and later   predominantly for killing other humans and not just other animals.

Efforts at enhancing the efficiencyof nature, such as experienced in the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s, has led to the loss of species through the focus on enhanced production per unit of land area. The new green revolution seeks to further narrow down what is left and intentionally drive the extinction of others. The Green Revolution was based largely on monocultures, which affected not just crops or animals, but also human minds.

Technology has also been developed to entrench certain industrial and socio-economic pathways that has generated catastrophic outcomes including climate change. Such anthropogenic interventions spiked in the dawning industrial revolution with the atmospheric carbon budget quickly gobbled up through the burning of fossil fuels, land conversion, chemical/energy-intensive agriculture, manufacturing and others. Interestingly, rather than retrace their steps since realizing the wrongheadedness of such actions, humans strive to offsetsuch socio-ecological misbehaviours through technological or engineering means.

Traditional wisdom teaches that digging further down any pit of error is  hardly the best way to get out of it. Turning this basic wisdom on its head has led to concentration of efforts in locking in business as usual in the interest of profit and at the expense of the wellbeing of both people and the planet. In the sphere of climate discourse, the pursuit of geoengineering is carefully cloaked in the language suggesting that technological solutions hold the key to decarbonizing economies. The challenge is that, outside computer modeling, the determination of the efficacy of most types of geoengineering can only be tested on mega or indeed planetary scales, with the potential of astonishing success or cataclysmic failures. Technology is not just about experimentation for the pursuit of beneficial solutions, they are great tools for concentration of power, for dominance  and for control.

The other streak of technological advancement that we will consider is in relation to food and agriculture. Traditional biotechnology has been practiced by humans from time immemorial. However, the application of modern agricultural biotechnology, specifically the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms is barely three decades old. While three decades may not be sufficient to study the impacts of these artificial organisms, scientists have moved on to produce population-scale genetic engineering driving for intentional species extinction.

Easily weaponized technologies are being promoted by vested interests in the military and philanthropic-capitalist circles. These risky and largely unregulated technologies are set to be unleashed in the world’s favourite laboratory, Africa, where we are all considered expendable guinea pigs. Bioterrorism is a real threat, especially in regions best seen as storehouses of raw materials for global technological production.

To make this incursion unassailable, Africa is projected as the continent of hunger, malnutrition, stunted children, blind adults, disease and population explosion. The logic builds on the supposition that mechanistic solutions are the last hope for humanity since our social fabric is so broken that only automaton with curtailed human agency can fix it.

We keep pondering why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. To be sure, some nature-based solutions can indeed be technological, but they simply have to be techniques that are pro people and planet and not disruptive of our rights to thrive within the cycles of nature, as part of the intricate webs of life. Nature-based solutions must never be a route to the marketization of nature.

We must school ourselves to recover and retain our memories. The idea that technologies can only come from outside Africa is untrue and problematic, as the development of African and general human societies have shown. Schooling ourselves to decolonize the narratives that drive us into the vice-grip of exploitation and on the pathways of catastrophe is pertinent . It is also our duty to hold to account public agencies that insist that untested and risky technologies are safe. Such official fetish addictions and superstitions must be debunked in the interest of the present and the future generations. And in the interest of the planet and other beings.

Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats

540AB3D7-FB76-4690-8CE4-6FB3F3D8CB50I would rather not be Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats. No doubt science has meant advancement in many areas and has helped in the fight to overcome many problems. Science has also been the cause of many problems, some of which may prove to be almost intractable. The major problem is that science does not only tackle known problems, it can create new ones. It can also affect our minds and can become a religion. When folks develop the mindset that every problem has a technological solution, that elevates technofixes to becoming religious fix.

The trouble is that simple solutions to complex problems get ignored on the altar of profit, control and exploitation. A case in point is the needless pursuit of genetically modified mosquitoes to address the malaria problem. The fact that malaria kills thousands every year, and that Africa remains disproportionately exposed to this malaise, does not in any way mean that the less invasive solutions are inadequate or useless. Statements such as the one recently made by Abdoulaye Diabate who works with Target Malaria that “The conventional tools that we have at our disposal today have reached their limit,” underscores the tunnel vision of divers of extreme technofixes.

Target Malaria is running an experiment in Burkina Faso and have released 5,000 genetically modified male mosquitoes into Souroukoudinga, a village in western Burkina Faso as a precursor to the release of gene drive mosquitoes that aims to eliminate an entire species of anopheles mosquitoes. The project is being pursued by Target Malaria with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Philantropy Project and the US Military. That experiment is throttling ahead despite the fact that as a major issue, prior informed consent has not been gotten in the territory that will potentially be impacted by these genetically modified mosquitoes. A documentary, A Question of Consent: Exterminator Mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, produced by the ETC Group exposes the falsehood of claims that there have been adequate consultation and prior informed consent. The matter of free, prior and informed consent cannot be toyed with.

A meeting in 2018, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) set stringent conditions for the environmental release of gene drive organisms. These conditions require that “the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ or ‘approval and involvement’ of potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities is sought or obtained” before any release of gene drive organisms.

Of concern here is that the National Biosafety Management Agency Act of 2015 has been enlarged to include definitions of gene drives, synthetic biology and other emerging technologies by the National Assembly and signed into law by the president. Ordinarily one would not be concerned by having expanded definitions in any law as that could be a good thing. However, in a system rigged against public opinion and the concerns of citizens, this is a crack in the door through which trouble can either creep or even swagger in. It can be a grave danger to grant authority on regulation of these largely unproven technologies to an agency that is an authority unto itself and operates with scant oversight or accountability.

Sadly, some parts of the world, including ours, have become dumping grounds for obsolete equipments and products. Toxic pesticides such as DDT can still be found in some places. In the USA, thousands of lawsuits are being waged against glyphosate based herbicides that are being fingered in cancer cases. In Nigeria, glyphosate based herbicides are gleefully sold in the market and are duly certified as safe by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This adds to the spate of suicides by drinking Sniper pesticide.

Contemporary global technology fetish makes it difficult for citizens to question anything techie. With the rapid arrival of jaw dropping advances, the tendency is to bow and praise these creations. However, wisdom requires that we question these arrivals and accept them, if we may with full knowledge of the risks and uncertainties involved. And, in fact, we cannot accept all of them. Climate science, for instance, warn that continued dumping of greenhouse gases will inexorably result in increased temperatures and freak weather events. Yet, there are technologies being developed for scrapping more crude oil from previously abandoned or decommissioned oil wells. There are new technologies for extreme extractivist endeavours such as fracturing rocks to push out fossil gas or oil. There are more machineries being built for deep sea mining irrespective of the impacts that such activities will have on marine ecosystems. At a time of impending mass extinctions, should humans be engaging in extinction technologies such as gene drives?

We have to ponder on why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. Even if humans are in an age of unique unipolar disorder, we are not bereft of common sense. And, come to think of it, mosquitoes have been eradicated in parts of the world through improved sanitation, social infrastructure and without the use of genetically modified varieties. A recent report in Nature revealed that genetically modified mosquitoes earlier released in Brazil have interbred with local mosquitoes, confirming the existence of wide gaps in the claim that laboratory produced “sterile” mosquitoes would not impact local ecosystems in this manner.

Permitting Africa to be turned into a laboratory for experimentations for profit and with tools that can easily be weaponized is both a betrayal of trust in leaders and unethical in all senses. With full, prior, informed consent it will be seen that our peoples will rather not be bitten by genetically modified gnats no matter who markets them.