Fishers of the World Unite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the conversations continue…

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

 

 

 

In the Belly of the Plastic Whale

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Inside the Plastic Whale

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

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

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

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

Ending a Plastic Civilisation

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

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

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

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

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

Floating on the waves

Plastics from one whale

All these plastics from the belly of one whale

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

The Cuvier whale at Bergen

Unfortunate ending for this Cuvier’s beaked whale

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Healing the Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self

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

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

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

Download the full brochure CURLS 2018 Healing the Earth.

Eco-Instigator #18 goes online!

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

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

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

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

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

Eco-Instigator #18 and read the edition here.

 

Conflicts and the Idea of Land Ownership

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Jens-Petter Kjemprud (Norwegian Ambassador), Pricilla Achakpa (WEP), Nnimmo Bassey (HOMEF) and Jaoji Alhassan (CORET) at the event

Our conception of ownership of any piece of the Earth depends largely on our relationship with the Earth. When land is treated as a commodity, as an article of trade, conflict becomes inevitable. This is the driver of the call for the formalization of land titling and ownership — a means of personal acquisition and dispossession of others based on the strength of the individual’s financial or political strength. In this context the value of land is seen in its geology or fertility.

When land is seen as territory, or through a communal lens, the idea of private ownership or trading of land becomes unthinkable, because, in this case, land is a vital piece of cultural life and not just as an object of exploitation, trade or transformation. In other words, you can sell land, but you cannot sell territory. Seeing land as a non-tradable object consolidates the notion of persons as sons or daughters of the soil, as inextricably tied to their territories in all ramifications – including socioculturally.

Farmers and pastoralists see land in distinctly different ways than speculators and governments do. Consider the idea of laws governing land as a resource. Whereas communities of peoples, whether farmers or pastoralists, see land as an integral part of their lives, economic reproduction and culture, governments see land as a thing that should be appropriated and utilized mostly for its economic value. Nigeria’s Land Use Act of 1978 concretizes this concept and takes the sense of oneness with the soil away from vast numbers of our peoples. With a stroke of the pen, government can disposes and displace individuals or communities from their territories, take over from, or hand over to, others. However, government does not just take over lands. Those who had claims over such territories are compensated for their loss. This compensation is for economic crops or improvements that such persons may have brought to the land.

Improvement or transformation – that is the key. And where nothing of the sort is found on the land, the dispossessed is left with no claim. It is not difficult to see why the Land Use Act is supposedly inviolate in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. To the herder, the fact that he had moved away from a place does not render that place of departure a no-man’s land. To the farmer, the fact that he has left a parcel of land fallow, does not mean there is no improvement on the land as the very act of having fallow land brings about soil improvement.

The matter we are examining today relates to the question of whether we see our piece of the Earth as a commodity or as territory.  It is a matter of our relationship with Nature. Is our piece of the Earth defined by a surveyor’s beacon stone, or is it what defines our lives? Is it what we relate with deferentially or what we cut in pieces and trade as we please? The relationship of humanity to the Earth has brought about much harm, the most critical at this point in time being climate change evidenced by global warming.

Without doubt, the world is fed by farmers, pastoralists and fishers. And these are the small holder or family farmers. Industrial food production, as one world expect, largely feeds industry – maize produced this way goes largely to serve as animal feeds and others into biofuels production. Industrial fishers trawl our seas and harvest species into extinction. In all, 30 to 50 percent of food produced in the world today goes to waste, while over 850 million persons go to bed hungry every day.

Let us emphasize that the impact of climate change gets worse by the day and cannot be wished away. We see the impacts through shrinking water resources (such as Lake Chad), increased desertification and loss of land through coastal and wind erosion. Add to these continued deforestation and massive pollution of our water resources and it is clear that we have a crisis situation. The crisis that takes the headlines, however, is the deadly conflicts between herders and farmers in our country. With a high rate of fatalities and a cycle of attack and counter attacks, the trend seems set to continue. Should it?

Conflicts between herders and farmers are not inevitable. We must agree that this is a recent phenomenon both in Nigeria and in other African countries. If that is so, we have to interrogate the causative factors propelling this unwholesome development. What are the economic roots and what role does careless relationship with the Earth play, especially with regard to the preservation of our forests and grasslands? Why are we not utilizing the symbiotic relationship of animal husbandry and farming – where animals help fertilize the soils of fallow lands that also serve as pasture?

If climate change escalates the movement of herders, is migration the only way to mitigate the impacts? Would better soil and water management impede the rate of desertification in Nigeria? If the Great Green Wall project restores its area of focus, would that reverse the migration and conflicts? What are the lessons, (for example of land restoration techniques used in neighbouring countries) that groups like CORET sharing among pastoral groups across the Sahel and what is the interface with farmers on soil fertility and peace building efforts? Are there cultural practices and political factors that lock in the crises?

We are gathered to share knowledge and contest ideas around issues of climate change, pastoralism, land and conflicts. The cooperation of HOMEF and CORET to bring about this conversation today is the beginning of a series that we will continue to have because we believe that when there is clear understanding between farmers and pastoralists a big part of reasons for conflicts will be eliminated.

This is a unique gathering today. We are grateful to all the herders and farmers in our midst today. We are thankful to the distinguished personalities here today. We do not expect to tease out all the answers at one sitting. We, however, believe that one beginning step is to have a learning space and a conversation.

So, let the conversation begin.

Opening words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) – the ecological think tank – at the Sustainability Academy co-hosted with the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) on 18 October 2017 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

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Resolutions of the 10th Sustainability Academy Themed “Climate Change, Pastoralism, Land And Conflicts” Organized By Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) In Collaboration With Confederation Of Traditional Herder Organizations (CORET) On 18thoctober, 2017, At The International Conference Center, Abuja, Nigeria.

Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) convened the 10th Sustainability Academy on building deeper understanding of the underpinnings of the intense manifestations of conflicts between Pastoralists (herders) and farmers in Nigeria through the lenses of climate change, land and resource access and ownership. The meeting was attended by stakeholders in the sector and included pastoralists, farmers, government officials, diplomatic community, community people, members of civil society and the media.

Discussions on the subject matter were preceded by two presentations which instigated discussions among participants after an overview from the convener, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey who stressed that the gathering was for the sharing of knowledge and finding ways by which the conflicts occasioned by climate change can be addressed.

The first presentation was delivered by Mrs Priscilla Achakpa titled: Climate Change, Pastoralism and Land Conflict: The Gender Perspective, while the second presentation by Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq on the topic climate change, pastoralism and land conflict. was made by Jaoji A. Alhassan on his behalf.

After exhaustive discussions on the issues raised in the presentations, all the participants agreed that climate change is a global threat to human security and it impacts are contributory to conflicts in Nigeria. The Academy noted that pastoralists, farmers, women and children are some of the most vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

Recommendations:

To address the impacts of climate change and prevent incessant crises between farmers and herders that arise as a result of land and other environmental issues, the Academy recommended as follows:

  1. There should be greater engagement of extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists
  2. Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distorts development efforts.
  3. There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existents as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
  4. The fact that climate change impacts differently on different categories of people should be considered in preparing climate actions.
  5. The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate the pastoralist in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
  6. Government should carry out livestock development policy review to align them with regional and international practices.
  7. The Federal Government should initiative actions to produce a detail land use plan for the country.
  8. Youth restiveness should be addressed by all stakeholders through capacity building, mentoring and skills diversification. Development partners have a role to play in this direction.
  9. There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re-orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
  10. Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing.
  11. In the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives, it is pertinent that women are carried along. Their full participation and inclusion should be entrenched in such processes.
  12. Media should engage more in investigative journalism in reporting conflicts rather than stereotyping pastoralists and others.
  13. The Federal Government should create a Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as is obtained in several other African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Tanzania
  14. Climate change is not a boundary-limited issue. Nigeria should approach this issue from this perspectibe in pursuing adaptation, funding, resilience and mitigation strategies in communities.
  15. There is need to take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, fully develop at least one per state in line with the recommendations of the recommendations of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Livestock Development in Nigeria of 2015 and implement the Report of the Presidential Committee on Pastoralism and Insecurity.

Signed

Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq — Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET)

Nnimmo Bassey — Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

 

 

 

Climate Change, Land, Food and Pastoralism

Ikal speaksSoil quality has direct impact on the quality of harvests. Poor soils produce poor yields and climate change affects the quality and availability of soil for food production. We experience this directly when there are floods or droughts. The increasing desertification in Nigeria can be attributed in part to climate change. Poor soil management is equally responsible for incidents of desertification that is sometimes erroneously described as the “southward march” of the Sahara Desert.

Global warming is already having impacts on farming and food supply across the world. Projections for food supply if global warming trends are not reversed, or at least slowed down, are quite worrisome. We are witnesses of the impact of floods on farmers and farming in Nigeria this year, 2017. We cannot forget what flooding has meant in the recent past. In the 2012 floods, 6 million Nigerians were displaced and  over 300 deaths were recorded. More than 100,000 persons were displaced by flooding in Benue State alone in 2017. Several deaths have also been recorded this year as a result of floods in Lagos and Borno States and other parts of Nigeria.

Without argument, change of rainfall patterns and volumes have direct impact on agriculture, including herding activities. Climate change has effects on access to land, as well as water, for cultivation and for pastoral activities. The effects can also contribute to conflicts arising from the shrinking of these and related resources. Drier lands contribute to migration or displacement of populations. The same happens with flooding or coastal erosion. Pastoralists and farmers can work in ways that are mutually beneficial rather than in the current conflict-ridden ways. With herders and farmers gathered in this dialogue today, we have opportunity to share concerns and build solutions.

Degraded land sometimes get labeled as marginal lands thus setting them up to be grabbed and taken away from communities. Global warming may lead to an increase of pests, diseases and post harvest losses. Even small increases of temperature will negatively impact the production of cereals such as maize. In addition, unusual weather variability coupled with extreme weather events also lead to:

  • Damaged infrastructure
  • Coastal erosion and loss of land and fishing grounds
  • Intrusion of salt water into fresh water systems, thus affecting marine ecosystems
  • Possibilities of rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020
  • Reduction in grassland and grains production will adversely affect animal husbandry
  • Increase of family and other social emergencies

Zero hunger by 2030?

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 sets the important target of achieving Zero hunger by 2030. If conscientiously pursued the world would drastically reduce the impacts of global warming on food production. Specifically, among other things, this important SDG seeks to:

  • By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
  • By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed

The target of Zero Hunger by 2030 may seem impossible to attain in the face of climate change, but with suitable approaches and intensive extension services, food supplies can be sustained and farming can help to cool the earth rather than accelerate Global warming. The sort of farming that would do this would enrich soils rather than degrading poisoning them. They would protect soil organisms rather then killing them. This farming method would be agroecological, and deeply climate and culture smart. Culture smart farming works with the best indigenous knowledge and technologies and protect crop varieties. Such indigenous technologies include the zai method used by farmers in Burkina Faso and others to retain water and nutrients and thus maintain and enrich soil quality and thus protect biodiversity.

Culture smart and climate resilient farming are contrary to what is offered by modern biotechnology by way of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When GMOs are presented as being climate smart, there is a willful denial of the massive erosion of species that they represent. There is also a willful denial of the soil degradation by the agrotoxics that are applied in such farms.

Today, we are fortunate to have in our midst a pastoralist from Turkana Region of Kenya. She works with pastoralists and fishermen and women whose livelihoods depend on the predictability of weather patterns. She comes with a rich experience of what it means to raise livestock in a semi arid area and in a region that has both internal conflicts as well as the challenges of oil extraction. Her region in Kenya faces the combined challenges of climate change and oil extraction impacts.

Our hope is that through our dialogue, we will share experiences and pick out lessons that will help us manage our lands better, avoid or resolve conflicts and equally extend the lessons to those who couldn’t be a path of this Dialogue.

Permit me to now step aside and invite Ikal Angelei to take the floor and set the Dialogue rolling.

 

 

HOMEF, CSOs Reject Transgenic cassava application from IITA

Objecting IITA's applicationThe plans to take total control of Nigeria’s food system is moving rapidly on the genetically engineered organisms (GMO) highway. The list of GMOs being pushed in Nigeria includes beans, maize and cotton. Recently the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) teamed up with ETHZ laboratories of Zurich Switzerland to apply to carry out confined field trial in Nigeria of cassava genetically modified “obtain storage roots with lower post-harvest physiological degradation after harvest (thanks to pruning) without any loss of the nutritious starch.”

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, along with 87 other civil society organisations representing over 5 million Nigerians, has sent an objection to the application submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

IITA’s application is to conduct “confined” field trials of the cassava genetically modified using a new gene silencing technology that has never been tested before. In fact, the IITA admits that such an approval has not been given for this GMO cassava anywhere in any “jurisdiction” in the world.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), “The IITA has been a respected institution in Nigeria and Africa on whom farmers depend for good quality and safe crops. Now they have decided to drive on the GMO road, Nigerian and African agriculture face a mortal danger. If NBMA approves this application, we can as well say good bye to food safety in Nigeria.”

Bassey adds, “even if the IITA presents the Frankenstein cassava as a crop for the production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting the GMO cassava for food. We call on the NBMA to do the needful and reject this application outright. We don’t need GMO cassava. We don’t need GMOs.”

Reacting to the multi-front attack of GMO promoters in Africa, AFSA, the pan-African civil society platform championing food sovereignty in Africa, “calls for an immediate ban on the importation into South Africa of Monsanto’s high-risk second-generation gene-silencing genetically modified (GM) maize destined for human consumption. AFSA rejects and condemns US corporation Monsanto’s plan to exploit millions of Africans as unwitting human guinea pigs for their latest genetic engineering experiment. AFSA also condemns the IITA field trial application in Nigeria using this same risky technology to produce GM cassava for the agro-fuels industry.”[1]

AFSA adds, “These GM applications target staple foods of maize and cassava, eaten by many millions of Africans every day. Scientists have reported that the untested gene-silencing effect is able to cross over into mammals and humans, and affect their genetic makeup with unknown potential negative consequences, and have called for long-term animal testing and stronger regulation before this goes ahead.”

IITA has a long romance with cassava. In 2006, the institution issued a statement[2] stating that from their research, for the Nigerian Government to achieve 10 percent ethanol for fuel the country would need to produce about 7 billion kilograms of cassava annually. How would that quantity of cassava be produced without taking farmers off the food production line to start producing food for machines? How would this sort of egregious non-food production be carried out without land grabbing and displacement of poor farmers?

According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, the Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, “Promoting GM crops for biofuels demonstrates the hypocrisy of the biotech giants, who are always quick to summit that GM crops are necessary to produce more food for the growing world population. They make the case that relying only on natural crop varieties would create food deficits and lead to forests being cleared for cultivation, to meet rising food demand. Yet, the same companies think nothing of diverting large areas of arable land for cultivation of crops to develop ethanol for fuel, to feed the voracious machines of the North.”

HOMEF and all the organisations objecting to the application for confined trials of the novel cassava GMO agree with AFSA and demand that the National Biosafety Management Agency should throw out the application and advise them to carry out the test in Switzerland where it was developed.

“If IITA is tired of serving the needs of Nigeria and Africans as they have done in the past, they may as well take their business elsewhere. How can we ever trust them any longer with this extremely dangerous path they are taking?” asks Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener of Nigerians against GMOs.

Read the full objections as submitted to NBMA here: Objection to IITA’s GE Cassava Application

Further information for editors:

  1. The developer of the GMO cassava that IITA is applying to bring into Nigeria is Prof Zeeman, whose work are is mostly on starch metabolism and biochemistry which has now been tried with Cassava. See more at http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/research-pbc/research/research-and-thesis-projects.html.
  2. There is no mentioning of this specific project/application of his technology with Cassava on the website of the developer of the technology. From a related website, http://www.impb.ethz.ch/research/reseach-pb/research-pb.html, it is seen that it is another group that typically works on genetically engineered of cassava or all kinds of plants focusing on nutritional compounds such as iron and Vitamin A.
  3. It does appear that the cassava variety being applied to be tested in Nigeria is a continuation of a PhD project under the supervision of Profs Zeeman and Gruissem.[3] Part of that PhD research was to develop first transgenic lines of starch-altered cassava and they did all the work with one line of Cassava they got from IITA (cv60444) which they grew over the years in climate chambers/greenhouses at ETH.
  4. The applicants claim that there are “no expected changes in toxicity or allergenicity of transgenic cassava clones,” but cites no research to back up the claim. This is highly presumptuous as other scientists have said all methods of crop improvement have potential to cause unintended compositional changes.[4] What makes IITA’s GM cassava different? We are confounded how claims such as these with no evidence to support them can be “scientifically” acceptable. But that is very typical and this application is no exception
  5. GE cassava for biofuel is a very ‘northern’ idea. It will not work in Nigerian context with little to no oversight over production chains and certainly not for small-scale farmers. It hasn’t even worked in industrial countries as all previous dual-use GE crops have utterly failed to this point, with the worst case being with Cry9C maize in the US which was also meant primarily as feed and explicitly NOT as food. Within weeks after the first harvest, even in a country like the US, it was shown to have ended up in all kinds of food products like cornflakes, tacos etc. They took the product off the market within a year but it was still around – and may still be around – for years.[5]
  6. The Applicants said the trial personnel have relevant skills in biotechnology and “will be appropriately trained in biosafety to cope with the requirement of the study.” This assertion suggests that IITA does not already have the requisite personnel to handle the biosafety aspect of this application. Again, this shows that Nigerian is chosen as the platform to roll out this risky experiment probably because they believe that any sort of application would be passed by Nigeria.
  7. The objection also calls on the NBMA not to allow our territory to be used for the trial of risky and unnecessary technologies that add no value to our food systems but rather threaten our agriculture, health and survival of our peoples. This application fails on all layers and levels of consideration and IITA will do well to allow ETHZ to retain their specimens in their laboratories in Zurich rather than become a conduit by which our well-being is threatened. 
Endnotes
[1] AFSA (22 August 2017) OPEN LETTER: Do not allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs for untested high-risk new GM technology. http://afsafrica.org/open-letter-to-african-biosafety-regulators-do-not-allow-africans-to-be-used-as-guinea-pigs/

[2] Muhammed, Hamisu (19 December 2006). Nigeria: Biofuel – Nigeria Needs 7bn KG of Cassava Annually, Daily Trust, http://allafrica.com/stories/200612190564.html

[3] https://www.research collection.ethz.ch/bitstream/handle/20.500.11850/154780/eth-46938-02.pdf

[4] See, for example, Rijssen, Fredrika et a. (2013) Food Safety: Inportance of Composition for Assessing Genetically Modified Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz). http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jf401153x?src=recsys&

[5] Wikipedia. StarLink corn recall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarLink_corn_recall