Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana

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Photo: Joyce (from FB)

Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana – Interconnectivity of struggles – part 2

 

Sometime in 2017 Kenya will begin to pump crude oil in commercial quantities. For some years now prospecting companies have been poking holes around Turkana, Kenya, looking for the so-called black gold.  One of the places the oil companies planned to seek their treasure is Lake Turkana, a UNESCO heritage site and the largest desert lake in the world. Many writers have written about this lake – famous for appearing blue from the sky, but greenish when viewed from the ground. I once read an article in which the writer compared the Lake Turkana environment to a lunar landscape. I always wanted to dip my feet in that lake.

It was a fortuitous coincidence that the Kenya Airways plane that would take me from Lagos to Nairobi was named Lake Turkana. As we fastened our safety belts, the pilot spoke briefly about the lake and what a significant water body it is in Kenya, in Africa, in the world. And that was where someone wishes to drill for crude oil? Well, the good news is that the government of Kenya has agreed that oil exploration and exploitation will not happen in this national treasure. As we winged our way towards Kenya I struck a conversation with one of the cabin attendants, mentioning how interesting it was that I was flying on Lake Turkana to visit Lake Turkana. She was thrilled. She knew of the lake, but she has never been there.

I later found out that most Kenyans have not been to Turkana. When I returned from Turkana to Nairobi at the end of my visit, a friend there asked to know how my time up there was. And then the million Shillings question came: do they wear clothes there? Perhaps the question could have been framed differently: did you wear clothes there? If that had been the question my answer would have been, ‘yes, whenever outdoors.’ The nights were so warm it did not make sense dressing up to sleep. And I noticed, as I travelled in the region, that the houses had louvered fenestrations that ensured a steady inflow of air/breeze into the houses even when all doors were shut.

I was in Kenya on the invitation of Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT). How appropriate. On arrival in Nairobi at night I checked into a hotel on Mombasa Road. Early next morning I dashed to Wilson airport where I was met by Andrew Orina of FoLT, who soon provided me with more information about the trip and what to expect. From now onwards I was in the hands of FoLT. Breakfast at the airport, check in formalities and it was time to jump on board a light aircraft for the 90 minutes hop to Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County. Sitting next to me on the flight was Doris Okenwa, Nigerian journalist and PhD researcher whose thesis is examining negotiations of entitlements and the ways diverse actors/stakeholders lay claims to state resources in the context of oil exploitation. She has been living in Lokichar, the oil city of Turkana, about 3-4 hours away from Lodwar. Deeply respectful of the culture, she had plenty of good things to say about the hospitable Turkana people. As we took to the sky I saw that Wilson Airport is actually sitting on the edge of a games reserve. I could not help thinking how traumatic it must be for the animals.

The modest airport at Lodwar has become rather busy as the status of the county as an extractive Eldorado increases. What the airport lacks for grandeur is made up for by a huge statue of Jesus Christ atop the nearby hill, mimicking the famous Rio de Janeiro iconic statue.

Thanks to activists like Ikal Angelei, director of FoLT, the challenges of petroleum extraction in a fragile ecosystem such as Turkana has not been swept under the carpet. When two opportunities to share experiences of communities in the Niger Delta on live radio programmes came, numerous listeners called in to express deep fears about what would befall their beautiful land.

On arrival in Lodwar I was quickly checked into the St Teresa Pastoral Centre before heading to the offices of FoLT. Ikal was busy at work, as expected, and I loathed having to be a distraction. But how could that be avoided. We hadn’t met for years, so a quick catch up was in order. There after we had a short meeting with some civil society folks and a media officer from Tullow, the oil company sinking its drilling claws into the soil here. The Tullow guy spoke on how environmentally conscious they were and to illustrate that he mentioned that their enterprise had the endorsement of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World bank. At that point we reminded him that the IFC and the World Bank are notorious for supporting fossil fuel extraction and dirty energy projects and could not, by any means, be the measure of good environmental practice.

After the meeting it was time to see Lake Turkana. Fifty-five Kilometres away it took all of two hours of driving along the road to get there. The road to the lake had once been tarred, but it is now in such a bad shape that it was much smoother to drive alongside the road, meandering on sandy paths rather to hobble along on the crater-filled road. Reminded me of many roads I know in Nigeria- except that you would not have the luxury of driving along the road as is possible in this semi-arid environment.

Arriving at Lake Turkana was a sacred moment for me. With me were Daudi Emase – a brilliant young activist, and Joyce Lukwiya – a media officer with FoLT. We waded into the water, drank in the views and soon headed back. Along the way we came to a collection of sculpted rocks, some sort of stone monoliths, that legend says were humans who heard a sound from heaven and turned into stones. Be careful what sounds you listen to!

I had to see the Turkana Cultural Festival that was ongoing at Lodwar. Joyce took me there and it was quite a fair. Exhibitions, music, dancing and plenty of food. Politicians also used the festival as a veritable platform to sell their ideas. I was stuck by the dressing of the Turkana men. Their armbands are sharp metal rings that serve as ornaments and as weapons. Most men invariable carried their stools and staffs as you would probably tot a handbag. The stools are so low that when you sit on it you appear to be squatting on your hunches. Interesting thing is that wherever a man goes he has his seat with him.

Driving to Lokichar the next day was another stint of driving along or off the road. It was a four solid hours ride on a beautiful landscape dotted with shrubbery, hills and mountains. Towering anthills in the landscape presented a different design from what we have in the Savannah region of Nigeria, indicating that the termites of Turkana were of a different architectural school. Fascinating.

The meeting Lokichar took place at a community centre built and donated to the Lokichar community by Tullow, but located in Tullow’s gated compound where details of every visitor must be carefully documented before entry is granted. Calling that building a community centre requires a peculiar understanding of what that name means. It also indicates the corporate social responsibility concept of the oil company. Once inside the building, it was clear that this was, to all intent and purposes, Tullow’s seminar or training room, with laptops locked on the tables and multimedia projector handing from the ceiling. Some Tullow officials attended the meeting.

After brief introductions, the video documentary, Nowhere to Run- Nigeria’s Environmental and Climate Crises produced by Yar’Adua Centre, Nigeria, was screened. Thereafter we had an interactive session with the community folks. The documentary had many points of intersection with the realities of Turkana – the semi-arid environment, pastoralism, agricultural challenges. They were particularly interested in what may become the impacts of petroleum extraction in their land.

Among the key questions raised was how pastoralists would be compensated when their lands are taken over for oil extraction, pipelines or other facilities. Ikal explained that this worry was very acute because oil companies tend to think that lands with no human settlements or farms were empty or no-man’s lands. She explained the deep connection of nomads to their lands and the careful ways they manage such lands, returning to them from time to time to graze their goats, sheep, camels and cattle.

A case of toxic water left in an abandoned Tullow camp site was mentioned by a community person who stated that livestock became sick on drinking the water. A Tullow official explained that the camp in question had been properly decommissioned and that the pit with the toxic water was fenced off and with warning signs posted. According to him it was the people’s fault to allow their livestock access to the facility. He also added when they throw away plastic used to line the toxic waste pits some community people ‘steal’ them from the bush thereby exposing themselves to danger. This specious transfer of responsibility to the victims was roundly rejected by participants. It raised a spectre of more corporate carelessness and dangers to come.

That night, sitting under the clear stars-filled Lokichar sky, Doris treated us to a sumptuous dinner that included my much beloved ugali. Thereafter we retired to our hotel – Another Chance Guest House. This hotel has a story behind it which I may relate at a future date.

My interpreter at the community meeting in Lokichar, Hosea Gogong, was introduced as a school teacher. However, when I went to the Maranatha Faith Assemblies church, a shouting distance from Another Chance Guest House, the following day (Sunday), it turned out that he was also a pastor. I noted the intersection of faith and activism.

Three hours on a gravelly road that had never been surfaced and we arrived at Lokori, Ikal’s hometown. As we went along it occurred to me that most of the pastoralists had herds of goats rather than those of cattle that are prevalent in Nigeria. Why? Goats are more adapted to the tough semi-arid conditions here. Then closer to Lokori there were more camels. To my shame I could not bring myself to be excited about a dish of camel meat that was being proposed for the following day. The camel, and the donkey, appear to be as animals that provide assistance for transportation and do not hit me as items on a dish. If you wish to know, please don’t serve me a giraffe, zebra, rhino, hippo, elephant, lion, tiger, jackal and the like either.

The meeting here was held at a school hall with discussions following the screening of Nowhere to Run. The interactive sessions ranged from the situation in the Niger Delta and the challenges they were already facing in the area from the arrival of the oil men. The youths bemoaned a lack of jobs, poor access road and fears that their community may turn into another Niger Delta. They all resolved to train themselves in environmental monitoring and to set up teams of ecological defenders. They will not be taken by surprise by oil.

Driving back to Lodwar was a huge experience. The journey should have been accomplished in four hours, but with the night setting in and with no signage and with endless forks on the road we lost our way a couple of times but managed to return somewhere, somehow.

A few days in Turkana and I was absolutely enraptured by the place and the people. I felt at one with a people about to feel the routine disappointment that communities routinely experience when oil extraction takes its toll on their territory. I heard that politicians have promised access roads before crude oil flows out of the region. Would that happen? I invited my friends to visit the Niger Delta to see the evidences with their own eyes.

Soon before I left Lodwar, Ikal met with me at the airport and handed me a great treasure – a Turkana stool. What a gift! When you see that I don’t rush to take a seat at any forum do not be surprised that I may have my own seat tucked under my armpit.

Deconsecrated for Coal

Deconsecrated for Coal: Interconnectivity of struggles – part 1img_2326

One of the most jolting statements I have heard in recent times was at a Climate Camp, and Summer School on Skills for System Change, in Rhineland, when someone said, ‘anyone that accepts authority is at same intellectual level as a horse.’ I know you may be saying that was an insult to horses! But let us ponder on that statement for a while. Horses accept human authority to work or to go where the driver decides it should go. Is that all we do when we accept authority? Whatever the basis for the formulation of that statement maybe, one thing is clear, whether horse or human, when we accept authority we surrender our sovereignty to such authority. This surrender can be voluntary or it could be extracted by force. It can lead to the gains of the common good or it could lead to deprivation of liberties.

We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

The climate camp was held literally on the lips of the insatiable jaws of a coal mine that is dislocating communities and emptying out others to make way for the gigantic teeth of metal excavators. One poignant information was about a church that was earmarked for demolition along with other building and infrastructure at Immerath. The town turned a ghost town as thousands of people were moved and the dead got relocated to a new cemetery. The church had been consecrated for use at the time that it was built. Now that it is to be put into disuse and demolished so that coal may be extracted from the rocks beneath it, the community had to hold a solemn deconsecration service to, for want of a better word, desecrate it so that a holy structure should not be torn down. If that concern for the sacred had been orchestrated by the mining company one would have decried its hypocrisy. As it were, this was the desire of the people, to make the building unholy so that an unholy act could be perpetrated. We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

Still at the climate camp, I attended a workshop on anarchism. The key points I came away with was that anarchism is not an absence of organisation, but rather that anarchists work with nature and take part in social movements with the aim of bringing about transformation. That is revolution. The anarchist may well be ready to take action when others are far from ready. At one level, the anarchist could be engaged in insurrectionism. A significant point in anarchists toeing the eco-communism part is to overturn the Darwinian concept of survival of the strongest. How is that? Simple: when the weak come together, the can defeat the strong. Coming away from that workshop got me wondering how many folks aren’t anarchists.

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Graphic recording by Jakob Kohlbrenne

My input to the battery of conversations across the camp came in a session where I shared the platform with Sheila Menon who was part of the Plane Stupid struggle against the expansion of Heathrow airport runways. We stressed the fact that the global nature of the environmental and climate changes require a recognition that we must work to bring about the consolidation of movements across obviously interconnected struggles. We stressed the need to reframe the climate narrative, build resilience in diversity and the truth that adapting to a crisis cannot be a solution to that crisis. We also stressed that in our various struggles, although targets may differ, the overall objectives remain broadly the same. From that perspective we underscored the fact that local resistances to bads are valid starting points, as they expose injustices and focusses the analyses of traumatised citizenry facing diffused dictatorships of various kinds – corporate and political. However, these need to be connected to others in order to overturn the rapacious system of exploitation, expropriation and consumption.

Following the climate camp, I was privileged to meet with and learn from activists and friends engaged in diverse sites of struggles on climate and extractive issues – from Kenya to Mozambique and Uganda. These experiences will come up in the next couple of blogs. Stay connected.

Only tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF

NABMA ogaOnly tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF 

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

The attention of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has been drawn to the response of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), through its Director General (DG) at a recent press conference, to the fears of Nigerians as to the presence of genetically modified (GMO) rice in the markets here. While trying to allay the fears of Nigerians, the DG was reported as stating that “there was no iota of truth in the report” and that no GM rice has either been imported or released officially into the country.

“The DG missed the point,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF in reaction to the NBMA response. “The clarification the agency should make is whether there is GMO rice in Nigeria even if such were brought in illegally. It is also not enough to say that since there are no known commercially grown GMO rice in the world and no legally released GMO rice in Nigeria, or since there is a ban on the importation of rice, therefore there is no imported rice in Nigeria. That argument cannot stand. The job of NBMA is not only to approve GMOs or to track only approved products. The Biosafety Agency has to oversee everything biosafety in Nigeria, illegal or not.”

On whether GMO rice has been commercially released anywhere in the world, we wish to recall that illegal LibertyLink variety 601 GMO rice was tested for and found in the Nigerian market by Friends of the Earth Nigeria in 2006 as well as in 2007. 

“I was part of the team that collected rice samples and we tested rice from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon,” says Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty campaigner of Friends of the Earth Africa/International. “That illegal rice variety was approved for release in the USA in November 2006 after complaints of its contamination was raised around the world. Indeed, at that time, the illegal rice was pulled off the shelves in some countries in Europe. Unless, and until, tests are conducted the assurances are mere talks.”

According to Gbadebo Vivour-Rhodes, ” the matter of GMO contamination of our foods cannot be waived off by hosting a press conference. NBMA should talk less and get to work on addressing fundamental deficiencies manifest in the regulatory system and ensuring that risky technologies are not allowed into Nigeria.”

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

“If NBMA has the laboratories and capacities it prides itself to have it should immediately audit all suspected food products in the Nigerian market, including those distributed to IDPs. Once suspicion is raised, it is results from laboratories that we want to hear about. The risk of contamination is always there and cannot be wished away,” Bassey added.

HOMEF reiterates its call for the urgent repeal or drastic review of the highly permissive NBMA Act 2015 to assure Nigerians of protection of our biodiversity and safety of our food systems. We also repeat our call for the withdrawal of permits hastily granted to Monsanto to conduct field trials of GMO maize and to grow GMO cotton in Zaria and neighbouring areas.

 

Cadmus Atake

Project officer

HOMEF 

 

For more information contact: cadmus@homef.org and home@homef.org

A Vote Against Genetic Extinction Technologies

Open letterGovernments and NGOs Vote Against Genetic Extinction TechnologiesPotentially Dangerous Genetic Engineering Tool Rejected by International Group of Scientists, Conservationists, and Leading Environmental Advocates

OAHU, HAWAI’I — As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are sounding the alarm about the use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to intentionally cause species to become extinct. In a digital vote release August 26 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, scientists and government representatives voted overwhelmingly for IUCN and its commissions to adopt a de facto moratorium on support or endorsement of research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes. News of the vote comes as an important open letter is published on the topic.

Scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe  have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation. Announced today, a long list of environmental leaders, including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental justice advocate Nnimmo Bassey and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman, have lent their support to an open letter, “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.” The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, President of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives. One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them. Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds. The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aims to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” explains Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“To lose sight of the problem of biodiversity loss in favor of false solutions and short-term techno-fixes such as gene drives is a dangerous path,” said Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth. “There are real community-based conservation efforts that are truly sustainable and should be scaled up and supported. We are very concerned gene drives will drive forward destructive agricultural practices or be used for military purposes — speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Some of the signing organizations will be holding a Knowledge Café event as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress at 8:30 am (HST) on Monday, September 5. The event will be live streamed at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives.

In response to upcoming proposals to release gene drive organisms in Hawaii, the local organization Hawai’i SEED will be hosting an educational session on gene drives in the evening on Tuesday, September 6.  See http://bit.ly/2bwZEuG for details.

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Note to editors:

  1. A short briefing outlining concerns about gene drives prepared by the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/2016/08/reckless-driving/. A copy of the letter “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation” and a complete list of signatories is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives-letter/.
  2. The organizers of the letter are inviting other organizations to join as signatories. Additional organizational signatures can be sent to: genedrives@synbiowatch.org.
  3. More details about the Island Conservation Project to release gene drive mice are available in this article: http://baynature.org/article/re-coding-conservation/. Plans to develop gene drives for Hawaii are being developed by the lab of Dr. Floyd A, Reed of Hawaii University: http://hawaiireedlab.com/wpress/?p=2270.
  4. The IUCN Motion on Synthetic Biology and Conservation (motion no 95) was supported by 71 Governments and 355 NGO’s (out of a total of 544 votes cast). It includes the following amendment on Gene Drives: “CALLS UPON the Director General and Commissions with urgency to assess the implications of Gene Drives and related techniques and their potential impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as well as equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources, in order to develop IUCN guidance on this topic, while refraining from supporting or endorsing research, including field trials, into the use of gene drives for conservation or other purposes until this assessment has been undertaken”. A breakdown of the vote was today made available to IUCN members.

Expert contacts: Dana Perls, (925) 705-1074, dperls@foe.org; Jim Thomas, (514) 516-5759 jim@etcgroup.org

Communications contacts: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org; Trudi Zundel, (266) 979-0993, trudi@etcgroup.org

Further contact: You can also reach us at home@homef.org for more information

Nigerian Biotech Experts Met

Biosafety Act reviewWhen Nigerian Biotech Experts Met. If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

Three Nigerian ministries had top level representation at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Experts Meeting at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja on 15 August 2016. The Minister and Minister of State for Environment were present. So were the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the Minister of Science. Interestingly, rather than the Minister of Science making remarks at the opening session of this meeting, he ceded the space to the Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

In his remarks, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, asked, ‘Who will educate the politicians?’ That quote, he informed the gathering, was from a one-time president of the USA, Richard Nixon.  He then went on to say that genetic engineering is about science but that it had a cloud of fear, doubts, sentiments and political agitation hanging over it. He pointedly stated that at the end of the day ‘science will prevail.’ Probably because his comments were brief, he did not expatiate on what he meant by that statement. He, however, said that the truth lay somewhere between the fears and the facts.

When the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, took the floor she emphasised that the meeting was a starting point from where further conversations would be held and the larger public would have the opportunity to weigh in. She stressed the need to invest in knowledge and to strengthen the nation’s biosafety policy. She also touched on the communication gap between the scientists and the public. According to her, the wide store of indigenous knowledge must not be ignored in the building of broader understanding of the issues at stake. She generally called for healthy debates on the issues.

time-goldenrice-228x300
GMOs Prime poster: 2000 Time Magazine cover

The progress of golden rice is not hampered by Greenpeace but by its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises.

The outcome of the meeting has been presented to the public as being a plan by the Federal Government to sensitise Nigerians on the benefit of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). To some of us that were at that meeting we would not endorse such a summation. Why do we say so?

The meeting, although jointly called by the three ministries mentioned above, was driven by Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), a biotech industry (non governmental?) organisation headed by an assistant director in NABDA and deeply embedded in NABDA. Indeed, before the meeting started, a continuous stream of video clips were used to serenade participants with the success stories of GMOs and the wonderful process that gave birth to Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Act 2015 and the National Biosafety management Agency (NBMA). When the Minister of Science gave way to the Director General of NABDA, she took the stage to sell GMOs to the crowd of mostly converts to the technology. Those of us with strong doubts and who reject modern biotechnology as the panacea for Nigeria food issues were a token sprinkle you could count on the fingers of one hand.

The Director General stated that GMOs started from the time of Adam and Eve in the Biblical Garden of Eden. Imagine modern biotechnology as old as Adam and Eve. She further on cited the roundly discredited letter signed by 109 Nobel Prize laureates that claimed that Greenpeace was hampering the adoption of the so-called Golden or GMO rice engineered for enhanced levels of vitamin A. The truth is that the rice in question is yet a failed project and is not hampered by anyone other than its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises. The Institute of Science in Society and the Third World Network had this to say of the Golden Rice: The ‘golden rice’ – a GM rice engineered to produce pro-Vitamin A – is being offered to the Third World as cure for widespread vitamin A deficiency.[Our] audit uncovers fundamental deficiencies in all aspects, from the scientific/social rationale well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry. The scientific/social rationalization for the project exposes a reductionist self-serving scientific paradigm that fails to see the world beyond its own narrow confines. The ‘golden rice’ is a useless application. Some 70 patents have already been filed on the GM genes and constructs used in making the ‘golden rice’. It is a drain on public resources and a major obstruction to the implementation of sustainable agriculture that can provide the real solutions to world hunger and malnutrition.

There were three panels, all of which had a paper presenter followed by panel discussions. The first panel was on the Socio-Economic Effects of GMOs and the lead presenter was Prof Ishyaku Mohammed, a key player in the development of GMO beans in Nigeria. The second panel was on Strengthening Biosafety Institutional Framework with Jeremy T. Ouedraogo – Head of NEPAD West African Biosafety Network Regional Office of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise. The third panel looked at Strategies for Effective Education and Communication. The lead presenter here was Prof. Diran Makinde, Senior Adviser, African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE).

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

The good thing about this meeting was that there were some voices on the panels speaking up on the known socio-economic, health and environmental dangers of GMOs and citing examples of countries that have banned agricultural/food applications of the technology. The biotech promoters used the platform to characterise food sovereignty campaigners as acting out scripts of supposed funders in exchange for a life of luxury in air-conditioned officers, cars and what not. The response to that was that this was cheap blackmail that would not deter opposition to risky technologies.

In the panel on strengthening biosafety institutional framework, the lead speaker mentioned two errors that National Biosafety laws could fall into were either being too permissive or being too restrictive. A close look at the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 shows that it is highly permissive and was couched for easy entrance of GMOs and related products in Nigeria. We gave examples. First is the fact that the Governing Board of NBMA is populated by biotech promoters, besides the statutory membership of federal ministries. The only slot for NGOs is conditioned on the representative being from a conservation NGO. Membership of the Board includes NABDA, an agency set up to promote GMOs in Nigeria. This agency teamed up with Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited to apply and receive permission to conduct confined field trials of two GMO maize events in Nigeria. This shows a clear case of conflict of interest and we duly called for the removal of NABDA from the board of the Biosafety Agency. If NABDA partners with Monsanto we need to be convinced that they are depending solely on funds from the Ministry of Science for the discharge of their duties and that they are working under undue external influences.

Neither farmers nor consumers are represented on the NBMA board. Indeed, the Biosafety Board as presently constituted by the Act can be seen as an old boys’ club. If, as was agreed at this meeting that, the Biosafety Act is basically not to stop GMO, we need to know if it is NBMA’s duty to promote GMOs.

We also stressed that there should be a board that would consider recommendations of the Biosafety Agency before permits for GMOs are granted or rejected. At present decisions by the leadership of the Biosafety Agency with regard to applications are not subject to any form of oversight in the Act. This must be redressed. Recommendations should be subjected to consideration by either the Agency’s Board or preferably by an inter-ministerial committee. It is too risky and utterly dangerous to place the food safety and future of Nigeria into the hands of one person. The GMO approvals given to Monsanto and their partner NABDA, were approved within a few months of the filing of the applications – a record of Olympian proportions.

The present Act allows for the display and receipt of comments on GMO applications to be made within only 21 days. In the case of the approval for Monsanto’s GMO cotton, the application was displayed only at Zaria and Abuja. There was no public hearing or consultation before the approval was given. The Agency was acting as empowered by the clearly deficient Act. This must be rectified to ensure that sufficient time is given for submission of objections/comments and that there are public hearings before decisions are made. Such applications must also be displayed at accessible locations across the nation and where possible in language that the public can understand.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s review and comments of the Nigerian Biosafety Act identifies many loopholes that raise red flags about the Act and thus demand action.  http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/national-biosafety-act-homef-review.pdf That is the Act that one of the lead presenters declared is so robust it requires no review!

Knowing the trend in development of GMOs – veering towards extreme biotechnology such as gene-editing and what is termed gene drives, scientists are working to overturn nature, avoid the sharing of traits that happens in natural reproduction, and instead pass on a predetermined trait in every reproductive event, to the extent that wiping out species through having offsprings that are of same sex becomes a possibility. The danger in this trajectory is that for some organisms a release of just one engineered individual could wipe out all relatives in the environment over a short period of time. Experiments are ongoing on utilising this technology to fight rats on an island.

If the public requires sensitisation, what is needed is to inform the public about the Biosafety Act, so that Nigerians can judge for themselves whether GMOs are the solution to food shortages in Nigeria. It is also essential so that the public would know their rights or lack of rights in the biosafety administration in Nigeria.

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

It cannot be the duty of government to sensitise Nigerians about the desirability of GMOs. Government has a duty to assure Nigerians that we have a sound and truly robust Biosafety Act that they can depend on for environmental and food safety. The biotech promoters should campaign for funding from government to carry out their experiments in their laboratories and continue to build knowledge and expertise. We are fed by smallholder farmers and experts assure that it will remain so into the future. GMOs are not silver bullets that solve all problems. Our farmers need extension services, rural infrastructure and access to markets. We must learn from the failure of GMO cotton in India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso (watch the video) and elsewhere. Having experts make excuse for a failing and risky technology cannot be said to be the best way to do science.

If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

 

 

 

Wicked Genes

gene drivesWicked Genes

Have you considered the many techie graveyards littered with DDT, Agent Orange and all?

Peddler of wicked genes, will you slide on gene drives?

Knocking out, annihilating traits and yellowing all fruit flies?

Have you considered the many techie graveyards littered with DDT, Agent Orange and all?

Malaria will not be an excuse for you to unleash wahala on our already broken backs

You create a poison and sell the antidote

You create a virus and market anti-virus

Don’t crush my cultural webs, ecosystems and bio diversities

Just because you can spit in Mother Earth’s face

Trample on Genesis

And flaunt genetically modified technocrats

HIV-AIDS, Ebola, Zika…

Scratch your pouch and unleash some more

We see through your shady genetic scissors, errors and terrors

Your hypothetical benefits drowned in oceans of unquestionable risks

Time it is to break your addiction to crooked technofixes cause our DNA is not for sale,

Nor are we guinea pigs for your gene driven exterminator technologies

Will Ogoni Breathe Fresh Air Again?

todayFive Years after UNEP Report – Will Ogoni Breathe Again?

As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

August 4, 2016 marks the 5th anniversary of the submission of the report of the assessment of the environment of Ogoniland to former President Jonathan by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report etched for Nigeria and the world, the damning levels of hydrocarbon and other toxic pollutions in Ogoniland. The report more or less indicated that a state of environmental emergency should have been declared in Ogoniland. Nothing much happened, and each passing year, since the submission of the report, has witnessed more groaning and sighing by the people that have no option but to live in the horrendously polluted environment.

The first inkling of action by government was on the eve of the first anniversary of the UNEP report. That was on 24th July 2012 when the government hurriedly cobbled together what was known as the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP). The name was quite anachronistic, but it was aimed at calming nerves of locals who were getting impatient that a year was rolling by with nothing being done with the report that showed that they were living in an environment that was killing them. The first visible actions of HYPREP included the mounting of huge billboards in Port Harcourt denouncing oil theft and tampering with oil pipelines.

While this was going on, the people were drinking water that has been shown to be laced with hydrocarbon pollutants and at places with carcinogenic benzene. They are still drinking such water. On 26th July 2016, after a monitoring training of a team of Ecological Defenders of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) we decided to visit one of the community leaders at Ogale, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni. Our host turned on his electricity generator and pumped water up from a borehole he had sunk. As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

Another sign that the recommendations of the UNEP report have been seen by HYPREP is the ubiquitous sign posts in Ogoniland erected at polluted creeks, streams, rivers and boreholes. They all warn citizens not to drink, fish or swim in the contaminated water. Besides the water trucked in by the Rivers State government at that time, the people have largely been left to cater for themselves as best as they can, or to wallow in the toxic waters.

A meeting of rotten oil facilities, oil spills, third party interferences and oil theft give the best example of how to brew environmental disaster. Visits to Bodo, K-Dere, B-Dere, Ogale, Goi and other polluted in Ogoniland literally leaves one breathless. And angry.

Efforts to commence the clean up of Ogoniland took a more determined turn under the current leadership of the Ministry of Environment. To begin with, HYPREP was decoupled from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, a ministry deeply complicit in the polluting of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. The project is now domiciled in the Ministry of Environment which should provide a more credible platform for the tasks that need to be done.

The ceremonial flag off of the clean up of Ogoniland (with expected expansion to other highly polluted parts of the larger Niger Delta in mind) took place on 2nd June 2016 at the Numuu Tekuru Waterside, Bodo. Several questions have trailed the ceremonial flag off. Is the government sincere about the exercise? Is there a budget for the clean up? When would the structures to oversee the clean up be set up? What roles would local people play in the exercise? Will this be another avenue for dispensing political patronage?

One of the best responses to the situation has come by way of a briefing prepared by Social Action, titled Cleaning in a Vacuum: Framework Gaps in the Implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland (July 2016). The Briefing pointed out among other things that HYPREP did not receive the approval of community and civil society groups because what UNEP recommended was the creation of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority whereas HYPREP had a mandate that covered the entire Niger Delta. The embedding of HYPREP in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources did also not gone well with many. Same with the lack of transparency in the operations of HYPREP. Social Action believes that HYPREP would face serious hiccups unless it has an enabling legislation establishing it, especially because the clean up will be a long drawn process transcending many administrations. The group, and other stakeholders, would also like to see a clear roadmap for the planned clean-up.

Some of the issues flagged by Social Action also emerged at the HOMEF training of 26th July 2016 and we quote:

  • There is need for a comprehensive health impact assessment which should detail the health impacts of pollution on people who reside in pollution impacted sites.
  • The process of consultation and sensitization should be intensified and carried on throughout the stages of the clean-up implementation process to ensure that communities understand what each stage entails and what is expected in order to avoid possible confusion and misunderstanding which could result in conflict.
  • Inclusion of all segments of the society, including consideration for women, youths and people living with disabilities in the clean up processes.
  • Clear and verifiable milestones should be established to ensure an active and healthy feedback cycle with all stakeholders.
  • The training of community members to act in different capacities in the clean-up, must be instituted as a critical means of community inclusion.

As yet another anniversary comes, we note that the much vexed issues of reviewing the structure of HYPREP and the setting up of the structures for the clean up have been done. We hope that Ogoni will one day breathe fresh air again.

Super Evacuation Highway

thumb_IMG_1104_1024 2Government says the Superhighway is essential as an evacuation route for the proposed deep sea port on the Atlantic coastline. What we are not told is where the goods (or indeed, what goods) would be evacuated to!

Will the Superhighway be used to evacuate imported goods to Katsina Ala or would it be to evacuate timber from thousands of trees to be felled to destinations outside of Nigeria? That would be the an historic fantastically super-timber-evacuation-highway.

Watch a report back during HOMEF’s forest Community Dialogue at Old Ekuri on 10 June 2016 here: 

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Watch Aljazeera’s visit to, Old Ekuri, one of the threatened communities at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BveWIzyCEs

 

Eco-Defenders Resolve to Monitor Ogoni Clean-up

Work

Eco-Defenders Resolve to Monitor Ogoni Clean-Up

On the implementation of the clean-up, the consultative meeting noted that the Federal Government has demonstrated significant commitment in commencing the clean-up of Ogoniland in response to the recommendations of the UNEP Report. The meeting was, however, worried that there were many cases of ongoing pollution in Ogoniland thus making the proposed clean-up rather complicated.

On Wednesday the 26th of July 2016, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) held a training and consultative meeting for community environmental monitors, with specific emphasis on the planned clean-up of polluted sites in Ogoni. The meeting held at the Aluebo Town Hall, Ogale, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni. Attendance was mostly from environmental monitors who had previously been identified and trained from the four Ogoni local government areas in Rivers state, as well as civil society activists, community activists and the media.

After presentations and deliberations in plenary and workgroups, the consultative meeting/training noted that the soil, air and water pollution which the people of the Ogoni area have been exposed to have adversely affected crop yield for farmers, fish yield for fisher folks and generally reduced the people’s ability to generate income and provide for their wellbeing. This fact has in turn exposed the community to unprecedented levels of poverty, destitution and deprivation.

The meeting also noted that air, soil and water pollution in Ogoniland has manifested in serious health problems which the people have had to deal with for many years. Some of these challenges ranging from various form of respiratory disorders, heart deficiencies, lung related illnesses, problems with the outer epidermis, reproductive disorders including stillbirths, foetal malformation etc., have not been appropriately studied or documented in any detailed manner.

On the implementation of the clean-up, the consultative meeting noted that the Federal Government has demonstrated significant commitment in commencing the clean-up of Ogoniland in response to the recommendations of the UNEP Report. The meeting was, however, worried that there were many cases of ongoing pollution in Ogoniland thus making the proposed clean-up rather complicated.

The consultative meeting also noted that while the government has held several meetings with various interest groups on the clean-up process, the process of consultation still requires further work. It noted that the multifarious expectations from the clean-up process is evidence that many people expect that process to become something it isn’t, and this could lead to a problem of unrealized expectations, which could seriously undermine the process. Similarly, the meeting noted that structures have not been instituted which makes the people part of the process as monitors of milestones and standards as well as actual agents of the clean-up. The meeting expressed fear that if this is not done, the type of community ‘buy-in’ and ‘ownership’ which is required for a smooth implementation process may be lost.

IMG_2099

Communities should do everything possible and necessary to create the enabling environment- devoid of rancour and conflict – for the smooth implementation of the recommendation of UNEP.

Resolutions

Based on the above, the consultative meeting reached the following resolutions and presents them as recommendations thus:

  1. Residents of pollution impacted sites in Ogoniland should immediately be provided with alternative source of drinking water in line with the emergency measures recommended by UNEP. The people have continued using and drinking water from contaminated sources since 2011 after the UNEP Report was made public.
  1. All ongoing sources of pollution in Ogoniland should immediately be brought to an end. These include active bunkering activities which continues unabated in the Ogoni area; as well as the practice by the Military Joint Task Force of setting tankers impounded with stolen petroleum products on fire. The latter is an emerging major source of air and soil pollution with immediate devastating health impacts.
  1. Given the fact that pollution has continued 5 years after UNEP released its report, it is recommended that the report be updated to reflect current realities. It is believed that the levels of pollution recorded between 2011 and 2016 may have changed the original findings significantly, necessitating a review of the report to establish new and more realistic baselines.
  1. A comprehensive health impact assessment which should detail the health impacts of pollution on people who reside in pollution impacted sites should be carried out. This process will be a first step towards documenting the known and unknown health impacts of hydrocarbon pollution and planning remedial actions.
  1. The process of consultation and sensitization should be intensified and carried on throughout the stages of the clean-up implementation process. This is to ensure that communities understand what each stage entails and what is expected in order to avoid possible confusion and misunderstanding which could result in conflict.
  1. In all stages of the lead-up and actual implementation of the clean-up, care must be taken to ensure that the different components of the stages reflect the inclusion of all segments of the society, including consideration for women, youths and people living with disabilities.
  1. In planning the clean-up, clear and verifiable milestones should be established and done so in such a way that all stakeholders are able to understand each stage of the milestones and when they have been met. This will ensure an active and healthy feedback cycle with all stakeholders.
  1. In establishing milestones, the training of community members to act in different capacities in the clean-up, must be instituted as a critical means of community inclusion. The already established and trained group of Ecological Defenders drawn from the various Ogoni communities should be considered a component of this milestone.
  1. In order to ensure that the clean-up activities enjoy the support of all current and future government establishments, an executive Bill proposing the establishing legal frameworks for the structures and funding of the clean-up process should be immediately sent to the National Assembly for consideration.
  1. Communities should do everything possible and necessary to create the enabling environment- devoid of rancour and conflict – for the smooth implementation of the recommendation of UNEP.

Signed:

Nnimmo Bassey- Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

Celestine AkpoBari- Ogoni Solidarity Forum

Ken Henshaw- Social Action

Emen Okon – Kabetkache Women Development and Resource Centre

Martha Agbani – Lokiakia Centre

Kentebe Ebiaridor – Oilwatch Nigeria

This is the Report/Resolutions of Ecological Defenders Consultative Meeting and Training held at Aluebo Town Hall, Ogale, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni on the 26th of July 2016.

What can go wrong has gone wrong

Let the Clean up beginWhat can go wrong has gone wrong

Environmental monitoring is often carried out to ensure that standards are maintained to ensure environmental and human health. In other words, we monitor to ensure that nothing goes wrong, and so that we detect when anything goes wrong. That is the standard idea of environmental monitoring.

In the case of the Niger Delta, the matter is not about what may go wrong; the situation is that everything that can go wrong has already gone wrong. What do you do when what can go wrong has gone wrong? Are we preparing to fight a losing battle? No.

We have chosen the location of this training very carefully. We are gathered in a community whose ground water was found to have 8 cm layer of refined petroleum products floating on it. We are gathered in the territory where UNEP found the water our people drink to be polluted with benzene, a known carcinogen, at a level 900 times above World Health Organisation’s standard. We are gathered here to say that our present must be detoxified and our future must not be poisoned.

Things have gone wrong. Yes. The environment is so polluted that the Niger Delta has gained the unsavoury reputation of being one of the most polluted places on earth. We are saddled with historical, current and continuing oil spills, gas flares and toxic dumps. We have the task of monitoring to ensure that the tide of despoliation is halted. This requires physical observation. It also requires social engineering.

We are the eco-defenders determined to ensure that enough of pollution is indeed enough and now is the time to clean up and stay clean.

Physical observation can be easy when you have the right tools and the right knowledge. It is doable when you know what you are looking out for and how dangerous these could be. In essence, you are spotting the blight and at the same time keeping safe. This is one of the objectives of our monitoring training. We are also training to monitor the process of environmental remediation of Ogoni and the wider Niger Delta environment. When the clean up eventually begins in earnest, we want to be sure that milestones are known and that progress is measured against these milestones. We will keep our sights on national and environmental standards and insist that these are adhered to. We want to be sure that when the environmental is said to have been cleaned that it has been cleaned indeed. This is a key objective of our monitoring trainings.

The social engineering aspect of our training is not physical but is extremely important. It has to do with our mind-set. We have to agree that a clean environment should stay clean. We have to agree that a cleaned up environment stays clean. We have to agree that a clean environment is intrinsically more valuable that receiving cash pay-outs while remaining stuck in the mire. Staying clean is not only good for humans, it is good for other species. And many species have been decimated already and it take some lifetimes for them to recover.

Fish not oilWe must all agree that pollution should not be come from the actions and inactions of any of the stakeholders in the Niger Delta – not the oil companies, not the contractors and not the citizens. Our mind-set must be one that accepts that a polluted environment is a threat to our health and well being as well as those of future generations. This mind-set understands that a clean environment is a living environment and supports life, promotes health, peace and dignity.

That is what monitoring means to us. We are the eco-defenders determined to ensure that enough of pollution is indeed enough and now is the time to clean up and stay clean. Each training is a seed sown for a harvest of a future of hope, a future that thinks beyond today. That is the basis of our commitment. That is the basis of our call to everyone to look beyond today and even beyond tomorrow.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Community Monitoring Training – Fish, Not Oil: Let the Ogoni Clean Up Begin on 26th July 2016 at Ogale Town Hall, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni