Conflicts and the Idea of Land Ownership

IMG_8837 2

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.

===========================================

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

 

FishNet Wisdom at Makoko

Group work2

Group conversation

FishNet Wisdom: Fish not Oil. There must be a time when we sit back to reflect on the things we take for granted in order to avoid being taken by surprise when such things disappear.  No one bothers to answer a question on what one would do if the water well runs dry. Probably, the answer would be to dig another well. If that one dries up too, you simply keep digging new ones. The colour of the question changes when we ask what would happen if the ground water over an entire territory is polluted and you set about digging wells there. The answer is that no matter how many wells one digs, one would end up with polluted water.

Today over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in fishing. Most of these fisher folks live on riverine communities along our 850km coastline – without public utilities, no schools, no health centres. Is that situation different here in Makoko? Was it different at Otodo Gbame before the bulldozers set in April 2017 and set hopes and dreams on fire? Was it any different in Maroko before the fisher folks were forcibly displaced in July 1990 and exclusive neighbourhoods emerged from the swamps?

Oil has been found offshore Lagos. As is the case with every offshore location around our continent, security forces bar fisher folks from getting anywhere close to the oil platforms.

The offshore locations in the Niger Delta are very active – with productive oil fields and rampant oil spills. As we speak, fishing communities at Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State are lamenting the impact of yet another oil spill. They complain of fishing grounds being damaged and their fishing equipment being destroyed by the spill.

The combination of security cordon and oil spills places our fisher folks at a very disadvantaged position. The only option for many fisher folks is to go into the high seas before they can hope to have a good catch. The question is, how many fisher folks can afford the boats and equipment needed for fishing in the high seas? How many can tango with the toxic combination of sea pirates and illegal international fishing gangs out there?

Today we are examining the state of our environment and the gifts of Nature around us. We are looking back at what living and fishing here was like some decades ago. We are also looking at the situation today, noting the changes that have taken place, identifying those factors that brought about, or are bringing about, the changes. Finally, we will prepare an action plan by which we hope to recover our ecological heritage and preserve same for future generations.

There must be a time when we realise that we cannot win all battles fighting alone. We must come to the point when we organise and connect to others in similar situations like ours. That way, we get to share ideas, pains, hopes and strategies.

FishNet

Today is such a day. Fisher folks recently came together at Okrika Waterfront in Port Harcourt while others came together in kribi (Cameroon) and Durban (South Africa). The circle gets wider. Our FishNet Dialogues are opportunities to forge strong ecological collectives and to show the world that we have the adaptive solutions to the ravages of climate change. Our floating homes are pointers to the future of Lagos as the seas reclaim the land that land speculators stole form the sea. We are the people. We are the solution, not the threat.  The threat is our dependence on crude oil – the very resource that is firing global warming. Today we present a simple wisdom: it is time to keep offshore oil untapped. Today we present this simple incontrovertible wisdom: our wellbeing and that of the planet will best be preserved when we unit and say: Fish, not Oil.

 

 

A Hard Superhighway to Travel

Superhighway Map

Map of highway in EIA vision 4. Road to be realigned to avoid key forests

A Hard Superhighway to Travel. The Superhighway project has been controversial from the day it was first announced publicly for many reasons. First, it was routed without regard to the negative impacts it would have on the Cross River National Park (CRNP) and a number of community forests in its path. The path chosen initially for the 260 kilometres Superhighway was carved out in a manner reminiscent of how Africa was partitioned at the Berlin Conference of 1884 – probably over tea and coffee, or as men hunted for game, and for territories. The path showed a disregard for the unique biodiversity of the region and was equally mindless of the climate impact that would ensue from the massive deforestation that the project was bound to cause. There was also no clarity about how the CRSG would ensure that this is not a white elephant project that would only promote the harvesting of timber from the forest and leave a scarred environment and impoverished communities in its wake.

The 23 conditions attached to the approval of the Superhighway project underscore the fact that development must be relevant to its context and must be in the interest of the people and the environment.

The superhighway as initially proposed met stiff resistance because it appeared to have been poorly thought out and directly threatened over 180 communities, water sources, endemic plant and animal species and lacked clarity about what goods would be conveyed from the proposed “deep” sea port at Esighi to Katsina Ala. It also refused to acknowledge that there is an existing highway that is crying out for refurbishing and would very much serve the purpose of linking the end points of the proposed superhighway. What is the allure for this project? Could it be the label “super” attached to it or are there yet to be revealed intentions?

Four Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submissions down the line, it is now hoped that all stakeholders have learned valuable lessons in project inception and implementation. It should indeed be a sobering and humbling moment with nothing to celebrate for the proponents of the highway that has foisted unnecessary controversy over the supply of a rather basic infrastructure. The 260 km Superhighway has now elongated to 275.344 Km due to the need to avoid the Cross River National Park as well as community forests including the one at Ekuri.

One of the most vexatious impacts of the proposed highway at a point was the revocation of ownership of lands stretching a whopping 10 km on either side of the highway. 10 km on either side of the proposed highway! This was an extremely and ridiculously colonial idea treating the territory literally as a no man’s land. This idea was thrown in the trash bin by the CRSG after receiving much condemnation locally and internationally. We are pleased to see that the Federal Ministry of Environment is insisting that the CRSG should gazette the nullification of that revocation and restrict itself to 70m only as the permissible right of way. This will protect the communities that faced imminent displacement by that attempt at incredible and obnoxious land grab. We also note that one of the conditions is that those that have suffered harm from the project should be compensated. That is the way it should be. The task now is for all stakeholders to monitor and ensure that there is strict compliance with this condition.

The 23 conditions that the Federal Ministry of Environment requires CRSG to fulfil before they would receive the certificate of approval of the EIA necessitates careful study by all stakeholders. It should be carefully and critically examined by communities through which the highway would pass. They also provide civil society and other stakeholders with a template for the detailed monitoring of the overall highway project. Having a conditional EIA approval should be a call on the CRSG to return to the drawing board and get herself ready for the Herculean task of delivering a 275.344km highway that could have been avoided if only she had considered fixing the existing dilapidated Calabar Ogoja highway.

The insistence of the Federal Ministry of Environment that the right thing must be done will eventually help the CRSG to deliver a project that is sensitive to the needs of the people, is not too disruptive of the ecosystems and that will eventually do more good than harm. That is the whole essence of the EIA process. The process has never been political and the resistance by the communities and civil society has been strictly in line with the law.

The conditions require that the Cross River National Park must not be violated by the highway. It also requires that the highway must not tamper with the Ekuri Forest and others. It requires that those whose properties have been tampered with or may be destroyed by the project must be compensated. The gazetting of the cancellation of the revocation order on the 10km stretch on either side of the highway before the project proceeds will ensure that no one’s land is grabbed by stealth. The condition states that the CRSG must “gazette the reversal of revocation order on the acquisition of 10km on either side to the 70km span of the road corridor as well as the gazetting of the boundary of Cross River National Park within two weeks (2) of receipt of this letter.”

Superhighway Lessons

The conditional EIA approval is a win for everyone – the Federal and State governments as well as the forest communities and the planet as a whole. With the new routing of the Superhighway, there will be less deforestation and thus lessened climate impacts.

The lesson of the conditional approval of the EIA for the superhighway is that it took four attempts at EIA submission before the proponents of this project could come up with something close to passable. Stakeholders note that the CRSG took many decisions without adequate consultations with communities and other stakeholders. Communities were treated with disdain by aristocratic public officers who preferred monologues to dialogues. At a recent Community Dialogue at Akpabuyo, the community people all said they just woke up one day to see bulldozers destroying their crops, land and properties. In other words, they were not consulted. And they were not compensated. One of the conditions given before the EIA would be fully approved is that this anomaly must be corrected. This is a stiff rebuke for a behaviour that should be avoided in future.

We are also pleased to note that CRSG is to ensure that the updated maps in the new EIA must show that the “re-routed road corridor takes cognizance of the boundary of Cross River National Park and Ekuri Community Forest as well as conform to international best practices on setbacks for highways in critical ecosystems such as the proposed corridor.”

The conditional approval is also a stern rebuke for EIA consultants who believe that the exercise is perfunctory and that they can produce a cut-and-paste document with scant relevance to specific project locations. The entire process speaks volumes about the professionalism and quality of service being provided by officers who are saddled with the duties of watching out for the public good. This is where a huge gulf appears between those at the Federal Ministry of Environment and those at the ministry in the Cross River State. The superhighway saga provides a good opportunity for honing of needed skills, engagement with communities and other stakeholders and rebuilding the Cross River brand as a State that benefits from and is deeply appreciative of her cultural and ecological heritage, and acknowledges the intrinsic value of Nature and her gifts. It must also be kept in mind that projects of the size of the proposed highway have present and intergenerational implications. Even if we assume that we don’t owe ourselves an obligation to do the right thing, we cannot avoid a debt that we owe the future.

 

 

We are no GMO Guinea Pigs

We are not Guinea Pigs. Unjust, unsafe, unsustainable. These are the three key words that can be used to describe food systems based on genetic engineering and other chemical based agricultural systems that seek to pollute the environment and to overturn local knowledge, local food culture and local economies. Unjust because they are often introduced surreptitiously or illegally and without adequate information to the public. Unsafe because they are unnatural and because of the very process and nature of genetically engineered or modified organisms including by the inherent allergenicity of some of the organisms and the fact of some of them being basically insecticides. Unsustainable because they operate as monocultures and would eventually subvert African food systems, disrupt local economies, build dependency on agrotoxics and on monopolist seed companies.

The public needs to be repeatedly reminded that there is no evidence to assure the world of the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Products of modern agricultural genetic biotechnology are a real threat to our biodiversity, soils and ways of life. Pesticide crops do not only kill target pest but other beneficial organisms, including pollinators and those in human guts.

To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations

We must never forget the fact that once GMOs are released into the environment they cannot be recalled and would persist, contaminate and literally poison our environment. There are proven agricultural systems that require government support through the provision of extension services, research, rural infrastructure and linkages of farms to markets. These are where our governments must step up to the plate. Literally.

We are talking about our right to know what is on our plates and our right to choose what we eat. It is worth saying again and again that what we eat must not eat us. We cannot allow forces that are against our best interests to drive our agricultural narrative and suggest that nutrition can only be manufactured in modern biotechnology laboratories. We must uncover every surreptitious effort to contaminate our agricultural and food systems. It is time to monitor our imports including those that come as food aid.

It is time to march against poison! Yesterday the world paused to think about our global environment. The theme for the day was Connecting People to Nature. The world resolved to Stand with Nature. GMOs do exactly the opposite – they don’t only disconnect us from Nature, the fight against Nature.

GMOs have been spectacular failures in Africa. GMO cotton failed with small scale farmers in South Africa’s Makhathini Flats. The crop recently failed and was banned in Burkina Faso. Investment on GMO cotton experimentations in Ghana have just entered the pause mode with the purveyor of the failed technology, Monsanto, withdrawing financial support.

It is incomprehensible that the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) would permit the commercial placement in the Nigerian environment of a crop that has failed in a resounding manner just across our borders. This is the time for Nigeria to retreat from the GMO path before more damage is done. Populist propaganda for the technology will never eliminate the fact that GMOs are marketing tools designed to secure profits for corporate entities and to secure political control for neo-colonial and imperial forces. GMOs are the current epitomes of colonialism via the gastronomic route. They are being pushed by external political and commercial interests into Africa and the Nigerian government and her agencies should not play the willing tool to be used as the window through which Africa would once more become enslaved by forces ranged against her interests. This must be stated very loudly because the public has a right to know. If the current government inherited a dangerous programme from the previous government it should be bold enough to distance itself from it. Environmental corruption is infinitely more deadly than monetary thievery. The fight against corruption must include against the corruption of our food systems, socio-cultural and ethical codes.

We reiterate that we have a right to know that GMOs are against our interests, including in the health, economic, social and cultural spheres. We have a right to know that the threats that GMOs pose to us are real, present and dangerously intergenerational. We have a duty to state categorically that there are tested and successful and viable farming practices that are safe and should be promoted. That route is provided by agroecology, a system that is independent of controlling political, agrochemical and seeds corporations.

We have a duty to insist that the weak biosafety laws being pushed across Africa, and in contradiction to existing African Model Law on Biosafety, are not in our best interest. They are laws set up to permit atrocious assault on our health, agricultural and food systems. The NBMA Act 2015 is a prime example of a law begging to the drastically revised or repealed outright. The law is replete with provisions that block public information, promote conflict of interests promotes vested interests and restricts avenues for adequate punishment for harm caused.

To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations. This understanding should place a responsibility on all of us to demand food safety and reject attempts to force our peoples to become guinea pigs in needless and dangerous experimentations.

——-

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Stakeholders Workshop on GMOs held at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 06 June 2017

 

 

 

Unpacking Re-Source Democracy

 

 

Interrogating Re-Source Democracy. Progress has been measured by how much humans are able to transform Nature and increasingly this has been seen to be directly related to how exploitative of Nature and how polluting a nation or corporate entity can be. Clearly, the environmental crises confronting the world is inseparable from the economic crisis.

The current system denies reality. That is why the president of arguably the most powerful nation on Earth can wake up and exit from a global effort to fight a common challenge: climate change. That is when power trumps good sense. This myopic power denies science and even defies reasonable self-interest.   Although the Paris Agreement is largely inadequate, the pulling away of the USA, the second largest greenhouse emitter, from the global climate space, as outrageous as it is, only confirms that power only respects primitive, even harmful, self-interest.

The quest for materials and their transformation over the years have led to slavery, colonialism, autocracy and diverse socio-cultural corruption and manipulations. It has led to forceful dispossession of persons, communities and nations of their heritage through wars and other violent confrontations. This exploitative pathway, in which we have chiselled and drilled into the belly of the Earth, polluted our rivers and atmosphere, mowed down mountains, chopped down forests and poisoned our food systems, has taken humans further away from Nature over time.

Humankind’s quest for the control of Nature has led to the waging of unwinnable wars over natural forces and manifestations. Rising consumption and wastages have led to massive extinction of species and severe environmental changes – some of which may well be irreversible. Progress is largely measured by uniformity of products that yield to mass production, transportation and consumption. We seem to have forgotten that Nature thrives in diversities. This psychological and physical drifting from Nature is proving unsustainable as planetary boundaries and limits are being reached and exceeded.

The current global economic crisis will not go away as long as the current basis of relations stay. A capitalist economic system respects neither nature nor environment or peoples. It is based intrinsically on exploitative, competitive and non-regenerative relationships and cannot be sustained in perpetuity. When you don’t regenerate, you are not restorative and your actions are firmly planted on the path of degeneration. Even the accumulation of wealth by the 1 percent has reached its peak and the only way forward has to be down.

The current system denies reality. That is why the president of arguably the most powerful nation on Earth can wake up and exit from a global effort to fight a common challenge: climate change. That is when power trumps good sense. This myopic power denies science and even defies reasonable self-interest.   Although the Paris Agreement is largely inadequate, the pulling away of the USA, the second largest greenhouse emitter, from the global climate space, as outrageous as it is, only confirms that power only respects primitive, even harmful, self-interest.

Sustainability is not just a measure of a thing being available or useable in perpetuity. It also connotes its staying recognisable in form and speaks of intergenerational justice and responsibilities.

Re-Source democracy calls for a re-turn to the source, a re-connection to Nature. It calls for a recovery of memory. It calls for a dream of our preferred future or even multiple futures. It calls for the recognition of the fact that humans are just one of the species on Planet Earth and that we are a part of a system whose survival depends on interrelationships and solidarity.

To ensure Re-Source democracy, we have to be immersed in the defence of life and staying in the battle line against inequality as well as political and social injustices. We have to build a future that promotes cooperative and collaborative behaviours. That is what creates shared abundance, the good life or eti uwem. Scarcity is promoted by competition and that breeds all sorts of social and environmental misbehaviours.

Nature is self-regenerating, but human and corporate activities have brought in disruptions of those circles and cycles of life. Examples include the utter degradation of our environment by oil spills, gas flares, toxic wastes, industrial effluents and the like. It includes the exploitation of re-sources without prior informed consent of citizens in the territories. We have to pause to ask what the Niger Delta will look like by the close of the century. What would be the situation of the far North if desertification is not checked? What would be the case of our territories if gully erosion and deforestation continue unabated?

Environmental degradation disrupts our linkages to Nature, shrivels our humanity and throws us into unhealthy rivalry and struggles for whatever goods remain. It alters our thought patterns and social relations. It makes the unacceptable appear attractive and even acceptable. How would anyone drink water that is visibly polluted or eat foods that are clearly known to be toxic? How would we accept these without major uprisings?

What would make Nigeria stay in the present unsuitable unitary national architecture fabricated by military adventurers to suit their command structure? How could we dream of building a democratic and federal nation on the basis of autocratic and dictatorial military scaffolds? More questions can be asked, but let us restrict ourselves to the way we have treated Nature’s gifts to our nation. The arrival of crude oil and petroleum resources literally poisoned and damaged our environment, economy, politics and socio-cultural relationships. Agriculture got ignored, manufacturing got side-lined and all eyes got riveted on US dollars flowing into the national pot. We became captives of voodoo economics. Do nothing, grab everything.

Re-Source Democracy requires that we train our eyes to see what Nature has presented to every community and to what extent the communities are involved in decisions that affect the exploitation, protection or use of the re-sources in their territories. It requires that no one gets killed or colonised simply because of such endowments. It requires that we question how what we have is utilised and on what basis. It is about our right to life, freedom from contamination and respect of the Rights of Mother Earth.

We have hopes that unpacking the concept of Re-Source Democracy will provide us with ideas on how to redirect the nation from divisive and exploitation pathways and provide the platforms for truly democratic relationships with each other and with Nature – one that is built on local knowledge and wisdom. It should help us cultivate mutual respects between the many groupings in our nation. It should above all help encourage us to handle the gifts of Nature with due deference.

The Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Uyo provides an excellent academic environment for the interrogation of this existential challenges. And we are happy that you have welcomed us to be part of this conversation and probably many others to follow.

—-

Remarks by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the Sustainability Academy on the theme Unpacking Re-Source Democracy held at Bath Ebong Hall, University of Uyo on 2nd June 2017