Forests: Connecting People to Nature

FOREST TOWN HALL RESOLUTIONS: What Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder

Health of Mother Earth Foundation held a Forest Town Hall Meeting on Monday – June 5, 2017 in commemoration of World Environment Day, at Apo Apartments in Abuja. The meeting was attended by 150 people including representatives from forest communities, CSOs, government and the media. At the meeting, it was resolved that we will continue to demand for justice for our environment and communities. The following are the outcomes:

  1. Clarification of the Funding Source of Ekuri Community Forest

The following questions needs to be answered clearly and transparently: where are the funds for the Ekuri Superhighway coming from, what are the conditions attached to the funds and what are the implications for the economic autonomy of the community and state?

  1. Community Sensitization, Mobilization and Empowerment

Any successful community effort will require proper sensitization, mobilization and empowerment. The entry protocol will include identification of the power structures in the community, individually sensitize the opinion leaders, organize collective community dialogues and connect the community with resources to exercise their human rights provided according to the law. This will enable the community negotiate appropriate compensations, where necessary.

  1. Land Belongs to the People

A key bone of contention in environmental issues comes about from the lack of clarity (or wrong awareness) of the ownership of land. It was brought to light that land belongs to the people, according to combined interpretation of the Land Use Act as well as the Constitution of Nigeria. The government is a ‘keeper’ of the land and cannot carry out activities that will infringe on the rights of the people, without their consent.

  1. Regard for the Forest

The forest is more than a collection of trees. The town hall meeting resolved to demand a holistic regard for the forest and the intricate values it provides ecologically, socio-culturally, and economically. A plantation of trees cannot be used to replace a forest and the dependent communities that have existed for hundred of generations.

  1. The Super Highway is Unlawful and Unwanted

The community representative expressed severally that while they are in need of good roads to serve their needs, they require a repair / upgrade of the currently existing road which was abandoned by the previous government, instead of an unjustifiable ‘Super Highway.’

  1. Sustained peaceful protests and campaigns

HOMEF and all its partners belief solely in peaceful methods to creating  change, including the use of all forms of media. Sustained protest and campaigns will continue to create the pressure required for the government to pay attention to the needs, voices and rights of stakeholder communities.

  1. Community Organizing

When there is a desecration of the environment, several communities suffer the impact. It is imperative for communities to come together, work in solidarity and ensure that they combine efforts to get their voices heard.

Group


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at the Forest Town Hall:

What Nature Has Connected

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, Connecting People to Nature, could not have been more apt, considering that humankind has lost the vital connections that make us conscious of our being a part of a community of beings on Earth.

Today we want to particularly look at the disruption of that connection by the politics of infrastructure that is sometimes pursued without recourse to national or even natural laws. We see roads build without drainages and where they are constructed, they are invariably emptied into streams and rivers without any consideration of the wellbeing of the aquatic life in them and of the people that depend on the water downstream.

I once asked the manager of a phosphate factory dumping toxic effluent into the Atlantic Ocean at Kpeme, near Lome, why such a harmful practice was permitted. The answer was that “you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg.” If you ask why international oil companies have been routinely flaring gas in the Niger Delta over the past fifty-nine years, they claim it became “industry practice” because there was no market for the product when oil extraction commenced. Can you seen how low we can sink?

One of the infrastructural projects that has astonished the world and stunned local communities is the 260 km Superhighway proposed by the Cross River State Government (CRSG) to originate from a “deep sea” port at Esighi in Cross River State and rip through the National Park and community forests to terminate at Katsina Ala in Benue State.  This Town Hall meeting will examine what has been lost due to the commencement of the execution of the project without adequate public consultations, before an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and presumably before any detailed site-specific designs had been made. We will also examine what has been saved by the self-reversal of the order by which the CRSG had grabbed an amazing 10km span of land on either side of the proposed highway. That land uptake would have meant the displacement of several communities, conversion of pristine forests, decimation of wildlife and possibly the extinction of some species.

The idea of shaving pristine and protected forests for the installation of a highway of any form indicates a clear disconnection between people and Nature. The farcical community consultations so far carried out underscores the disconnection between the wielders of power and the citizens. The struggle waged by the communities to ensure that they are duly consulted and that their free prior informed consent is obtained before any project execution is an indication that a people connected to Nature would not readily allow any force to disconnect them from Nature on which they depend for livelihoods. This Town Hall will also seek to assure our threatened communities that we are united in the efforts to ensure that they are allowed to live in dignity, enhance their systems of knowledge and that the best interest of all beings is respected.

“We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

The forest dependent communities of Cross River State have shown exemplary commitment to protecting and managing their community forests. In attestation of their excellent performance, the Ekuri people were conferred with the Equator Prize by the United Nations Development Programme in 2004. Forests provide a variety of services to humans and other beings. Forests help to cool the Earth, protect our rivers, maintain soil quality, house wildlife. They provide food and medicine for humans and are home to pollinators. While the communities deserve to have good access roads, building any superhighway through the well managed forests would spell disaster of global implications.

Regrettably, Nature has become to many of us “a thing” that is to be appropriated, transformed and traded. We have gone so far from Nature that one sounds ridiculous to insist that we do not need to attach monetary values to Nature before we can protect her. This is the logic that undergirds the concept of Green Economy and promotes market environmentalism. We have forgotten the intrinsic values of the gifts of Nature and of Nature herself. We believe that all is not lost. We can wake up from the present nightmare and dream of better ways of living, of connecting with Mother Earth.

Today, we have deliberated chosen to mark the World Environment Day by having a Forest Town Hall Meeting. We note that parts of our nation are not being denuded by processes of desertification and the forest regions are rapidly becoming Sahellian.  The transformation cannot be blamed on climate change alone, although it does play a part in the area of desertification. Our disconnection from Nature has permitted us to clear our forests, destroy complex ecosystems, food systems and our social heritage without any reflections on the consequences of our actions. The loss of our forest ecosystems translates to the loss of culture, of ways of life, of possibly irredeemable destruction of species. These loses translate to direct deprivation of livelihoods and the exacerbation of poverty in our forest dependent communities.

We are pleased that the Federal Ministry of Environment has stood ready to review Environment Impact Assessment documents presented by the CRSG and that a nod would only be given when it is clear that all requirements of the law are met, including full consultation of the communities that would be impacted by the proposed project. We look forward to hearing thoughts and experiences from development and environmental experts as well as from representatives of communities threatened by the proposed that project.

I and my colleagues took part in an ecological community dialogue in Akpabuyo, one of the already impacted communities, last week. The lament of the people that still rings in my ear is this: “We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

What was implied is that we must not be disconnected from our land, from Mother Earth. In other words, what Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder.

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

Resilience, Resistance

Building a Resilient and Ecologically Engaged Citizenry. Cross River State is generally seen as a green state, with some of the last tracts of pristine rain forests – some of which have been preserved through community forest management efforts. Some of us believe that what the State needs is an economy creatively built on her bio-economic endowment. Such an approach would release the creative potentials of the citizens in an inclusive manner with inbuilt resilience. The rich soils and biodiversity of the State have however become a compelling pull for plantation or monoculture developers. Their incursions have put pressure on the local communities, especially the forest dependent ones. The incursions also have grave implications for national and global efforts to tackle global warming.

The suggestion that plantations are forests has been rejected by our peoples who insist that forests are biodiversity hotspots and that there can be no mono-cultures without the destruction of biodiversity. Biodiversity erosion degrades the resilience of communities at many levels – ecological, spiritual, economic, social and cultural. Biodiversity destruction can come from many actions including land use changes arising from conversion of forests into plantations as well as from infrastructural projects.

The controversies surrounding the Superhighway project idea have been consistently on rather basic premises. While some ask to know what would be exported at the Sea Port where the highway is to begin, others ask to know if the imported goods would terminate at Katsina Ala or where else they would go and how. These questions skirt the issue of the prime reasons offered for the Superhighway project – the urgent need to open up the State to investors and for development. The clouds over the project have been sustained by the lack of adequate public consultations on the routing of the highway, its necessity, its finance and viability and the trade-offs with regard to the massive community displacements and biodiversity destruction that would accompany it. Non governmental organisations (NGOs) like GREENCODE and Peace Point Action (PPA) have proposed that a railway system would be more cost effective in conveying goods from the seaport to the hinterland, besides having less impact on the environment.

These concerns have led communities and other citizens to demand a transparent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. That process has been unexpectedly tortuous for the Cross River State government (CRSG) because consultants engaged to help prepare the documents could not know, as pointed out by Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), that there are no Chinese alligators, blue monkeys or even dams that would be found on the proposed Superhighway route. The versions so far seen appear to be cut-and-paste documents with scant relevance to the localities to be traversed by the Superhighway.

The CRSG has struggled to listen to public complaints and has reversed itself on the astonishing move it had made to grab 10km on either side of the proposed superhighway in order to create what had been described as a “development corridor”. That land uptake would have grabbed 25 percent of the landmass of the state and displaced up to 180 communities in the process.  Secondly, the CRSG is said to have realigned the superhighway so that it doesn’t traverse forest reserves. The problem with this is that with the route still falls within the fringes of forest buffer zones, the threats of illegal logging and opportunistic poaching remain very high.

Unfortunately, the CRSG has not been able to build the confidence of the public on the gains that the changes could have brought. This situation arises from the fact that while renouncing its initial edict to grab 10km on either side of the Superhighway, as well as sending out signals that the routing has been reconsidered, there have been threats and ultimatums made to the effect that the CRSG would proceed with the project even if the requirements of the law are not met; that they would consider revoking the ownership of the Cross River National Park. Moreover, the new routing of the proposed realignment of the Superhighway is still a conjecture as the revised map is not in the public view. The only maps that are accessible are those produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This speaks volumes about the preparedness of the State for the prosecution of this project in a way that addresses the concerns of the people and the unassailable need to protect our ecological heritage.

Today we are gathered here in Akpabuyo for a diagnostic Community Dialogue on the state of the local environment. We will examine issues including threats to our biodiversity and livelihoods. We will also examine what steps can be taken to preserve and enhance local livelihoods especially under the canopy of our reconnecting with nature, discussing re-source democracy and examining how to promote positive changes in the communities while minimising those with negative impacts. The purpose of our engagement today is to facilitate a process of distilling existing knowledge and bringing out action points that would build an ecologically engaged, resilient and proactive citizenry.

Our series of dialogues cover many ecological zones and have been supported by hosting communities, SGP-GEF of the United Nations Development Programme, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Grassroots International. We thank leaders of Akpabuyo Community for making our dialogue today possible. We are also grateful to all the civil society groups and the media that are with us on this ecological journey.

We are only as resilient as our environment is. Let the dialogue continue.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the Community Diagnostic Dialogue on the theme Building Resilience for Resistance held at Akpabuyo, Cross River State on 30th May 2017

Women, Re-sources, Peace and Matters Arising

 

Nnimmo May 24Although women are rarely those that trigger wars and the arms race, they are often the victims and bear the brunt of the harms that occur during the conflicts. Each International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament gives us a unique moment to reflect not just on what women suffer from the needless primitive conflicts raging in the world today, but on what women contribute to peace building in our world.

Whether conflicts are of the low or high intensity type, people suffer. Women suffer multiple deprivations in conflict situations. They bear the scars of injuries from weapons of war and also of being taken as trophies of war by deviant arms bearing men.

It is a common saying that peace is not necessarily the absence of war. In other words, the fact that there is no war does not mean that there is peace. Can we say there is peace when women are deprived of their rights to own or inherit land and other properties in certain nations? Is there peace when the environment is polluted and livelihoods are destroyed without any sense of responsibility? What about when citizens have no say as to what extractive activities are conducted in their territory or communities? Is there peace simply because deprived citizens do not bear arms?

These are questions that a day like this provides space for us to reflect on.

It is a day for us to pay tribute to women who have made valiant efforts to halt the reign of terror in the world. It is also a day to remember the girls and women that have survived the worst that terror and security forces have thrown at them. On this score, we remember the Chibok girls – released and in captivity. We salute the courage of women who have unashamedly stood up against oppression by adopting the naked option. Here we call to mind that the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors used this method in their protest to the Rivers State Governor’s office and to the Rivers State House of Assembly in November 2010 demanding for action to restore peace to their community.  Others have done the same in protests against the despoliation of their environment by international oil companies operating with recklessness that would not be condoned anywhere in the world. And we cannot forget the Abriba women who a few days ago adopted the naked option peaceful protest in the face of brutal naked power.

These are matters that a day like this provides space for us to think about.

Our women have been outstanding Amazons as they tackle very hostile environmental realities in the Niger Delta. Oil spills, toxic wastes, and gas flares pose unique challenges to the health of our environment and peoples. Climate change adds to the growing list of woes that our women must contend with. These range from the shrinkage of Lake Chad, loss of coastal lands to erosion and unpredictable weather conditions. The impact on food production weigh heavily on the shoulders of our women. And how about the phenomenal conflict between herdsmen and farmers that often manifest in the rape and killing of women?

These are happenings that a day like this provides space for us to chew upon.

Our women have literally built peace with bare knuckles, so to speak, while governments around the world invest on the machines of war – cutting down and shedding innocent blood in their quest for power and control. With climate denialists in high political offices, investment in warfare puts women at greater risks, reduces humankind’s resilience to global warming, makes nonsense of efforts to pursue the United Nations Sustainability Goals. With almost 2 trillion dollars wasted on warfare yearly, whole cities destroyed as though in video games, there is little or no money for climate mitigation and building of resilience.

These are issues that a day like this provides space for us to act on.

In a series of community dialogues and sustainability academies, HOMEF’s instigators will examine how the concept of Re-Source Democracy can be interrogated and implemented to ensure that the rights of Mother Earth are not trampled underfoot and that conflicts related to the use of the gifts of Nature are eliminated as we all reconnect to hers. As we salute our valiant women who have done much to build peace in our part of the world, I invite you to sit back and receive the words that will be coming from the indefatigable Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo and the high achiever, Mrs Joy Akate Lale. We will also today be honouring the excellent legacy of peace built by the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors. We are thankful to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ndowa Lale, and the entire management team of the University of Port Harcourt for providing an excellent space for learning and for the contestation of ideas. We are also honoured to have a great peace activist in our midst, Alyn Ware, winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2009, all the way from New Zealand.

The issue of Re-Source Democracy is worth a peep on a day like this.

Re-Source Democracy by HOMEF is available online at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/resource-democracy.pdf. Let us see an excerpt:

Re-source Democracy requires that we recognise the fact that we do not have to exploit a re-source simply because we have it. Some places must be off limits to extractive activities especially when such re-sources are found in fragile ecosystems or in locations of high cultural, religious or social significance. Lack of respect for certain ecosystems lead to the over-harvesting of re-sources and habitat loss. These in turn could lead to biodiversity erosion and species extinction. There are examples of nations that have decided against the exploitation of certain natural re-source in order to support the higher objectives of clean and safe environments ensure citizen’s wellbeing. Examples include El Salvador where mining has been proscribed and Costa Rica where crude oil is le in the soil.

The benefits of re-source democracy include elimination of conflicts, community involvement in re-source governance and protection based on knowledge and assurance of access. It ensures an integrated and sustainable use of natural re- sources in a manner that is fully in consonance with socio-cultural, religious and political dictates. Re-source democracy ensures that we all join together in acts of solidarity to defend the natural re-sources on which we inevitably depend for our survival. It does this by recognizing the rights of nature to replenish itself, maintain its vital cycles and do so without destructive interventions by humans.

Re-source democracy gives us rights and also responsibilities. It is an inescapable construct in an era where human greed massively damages ecosystems, depletes re-sources and threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Sustainability Academy on Re-Source Democracy/Conflicts on the occasion of International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament co-hosted by the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on 24 May 2017.

 

In the Shadows of the Future (Poem)

In the Shadows of the Future

In a hide-away in Rustlers Valley

Lodged where the EarthRises to meet the mountains
Drawn by the call of caves and waterfalls
Enraptured by the pull of ancestral footsteps
Sucked into the silence of wisdom
Etched in the solidity of memories long grafted in our blood
We knew we were here thousands of years before
Humbled
We stooped
We rose
And beheld far flung horizons
Future Africa etched in a rocky vista
Global and Greengranting
Hope and solidarity
Pole pole

Things start from the bottom
Yet many prefer the summit
With eyes set at the pockets
Ladders kicked to secure lonely spots
Alone, encrusted in gold and diamond debris while
Folks at the bottom drown in acid mine drainage and still
Buffoons in power relish their tango in gilded caskets

In a hide-away in unnamed valleys
Taunted by numerous sunsets men celebrate
Burials in twisted metallic mind-sets
Dozing blinded by blinkers of exaggerated self-glory
Blind to
Soft trees
With roots tucked in stubborn soils
Split rocks
Yes, we are soft saplings
On the edges of the future
Ears pressed to the rocks we hear
Ancient rhapsodies we hear
Unspoken questions wafting in the air
Which is firmer as you ponder this mountain
Grass or rock?

Beholding solid shadows
We hear the oft whispered queries as
Hearts pump as we ponder the mountains of life
Are you ascending?
Are you descending?
What is the spiral locked in your DNA?
Standing in silence we
Untwist our minds as we
Stand at liberty at the feet of Mother Earth as we
Eliminate blinkers of exaggerated self-glory we
Know that saplings
With roots hooked in stubborn soils
Will split the most stubborn rocks
Pole pole

As we ponder the shadows and the cracks
This poem will be finished…
In the valley or
on the mount


(For Jay Naidoo & Stephen Pittam)

11 May 2017

Break Monsanto and Bayer’s Unholy Wedlock

Breaking the Unholy Wedlock between Monsanto and Bayer.The quest for profit in the agro-chemical sector is being pursued through the power game of colonisation of seeds and farming systems. Monocultures literally operate best in command systems where control is concentrated in a cabal or in a few hands. This is what the merger of Bayer and Monsanto seeks to solidify. This is why we resist this merger because its consequences will be dire. This is why citizens of the world reject this quest for the control of global agriculture, the poisoning of our food systems and the erosion of biodiversity. This is why we are extremely concerned in Africa even though this commercial enterprise appears to be between Europe and North America.

Monsanto’s Bt cotton in Burkina Faso failed fantastically when farmers harvested short-fibre cotton leading to economic losses. On 14th April 2016, the government of Burkina Faso make a determined turn around and halted the cultivation of the failed Bt cotton.

We are concerned because right now, big agri-business led by Monsanto and their political backers have worked hard to weaken laws that should protect biodiversity in Africa and ensure biosafety and biosecurity. They have assaulted our political structures and painted horrid pictures of hunger, malnutrition and starvation across the continent, prescribed techno-fixes and refused to interrogate the root causes of the symptoms. The technical fixes such as the products of genetic engineering are patently colonial insults being foisted on Africa. They ignore socio-cultural, ecological, economic, religious and ethical realms of our peoples. They present themselves as innovations, but are nothing more than unwanted tools seeking markets and dominance.

So far, genetically engineered crops are officially planted in just a few African nations – South Africa, Sudan and Egypt. Cultivation of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in Burkina Faso failed fantastically when farmers harvested short-fibre cotton leading to economic losses. On 14th April 2016, the government of Burkina Faso make a determined turn around and halted the cultivation of the failed Bt cotton. From that time farmers in Burkina Faso began to cultivate non-GE cotton and are already boasting of excellent quality cotton, rise in outputs and better financial returns.

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The critical situation for us in Nigeria is that in the dying days of our previous government, a very defective biosafety regulations law was signed into force. Within a year of the coming into effect of that law, Monsanto applied for and obtained three permits to introduced GE crops into Nigeria – two maize events and the same variety of Bt cotton that failed woefully in Burkina Faso. Two of those permits where obtained from applications that Monsanto made jointly with a National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) which is a member of the board of the regulatory or permitting agency. Our struggle in Nigeria is multi-layered. We are struggling to overturn the legislation that has conflicts of interest embedded in it. We are also struggling against a food production system that would see our peoples and environment doused with toxic carcinogens, such as the ones peddled by Monsanto. We are resisting the destruction of biodiversity through industrial agriculture that will worsen land-grabbing on our continent with the related displacement of small holder farmers. We are resisting a system that will lock in hunger and malnutrition and raise the spectre of the enslavement of our peoples through obnoxious labour and commercial practices.

With our staple crops such as cassava, beans, bananas and maize being targeted by the GE and chemical companies, the merger of Monsanto and Bayer will spell doom to our smallholder farmers. It will destroy our indigenous species and pressure our farmers to adopted a few dominant technological packages. It will mean destruction of our farming patterns of mix-cropping, colonise our seeds, expose our farmers to high costs of seeds and greatly hamper our food sovereignty – the right to safe and wholesome food. We cannot accept the merger of these two sellers of toxic technologies. When we reject this merger and the technologies and chemicals bringing them together, we are resisting the conversion of Africa into a dumping ground of obsolete technologies, unwholesome foods and the erasure of our biodiversity. We are standing against yet another attack on the survival of our peoples – a war now fought through seeds rather than bullets.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for solidarity. That you for excusing my inability to be with you today. We are in this struggle together. Until Victory!

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Talking points used in virtual presentation at the Town Hall meeting at University of Koln on 27.04.17

 

Biosafety is No Gamble

Biosafety is No Gamble: Dead people cannot speak against judicial or other decisions. Likewise, Dead people cannot be compensated if their demise was triggered by some poison they unknowingly ingested. These and several other considerations are markers on the pathways of justice. They underscore why we cannot shut our eyes to the laws that leave yawning gaps for transgressions. They illustrate the reasons why we cannot and should not stomach permissive laws that endanger our food and agricultural systems.

The Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act came into force on 18th April 2015 after the then President Goodluck Jonathan put his signature on it. On Thursday 28th April 2016, NABMA wrote a letter to HOMEF and ERA/FoEN (Ref: NBMA/ODG/050/1/68), acknowledging receipt of our copious objections to the applications from Monsanto and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) to conduct confined field trials of two maize events and of another application from Monsanto for commercial release and placement in the environment of GMO cotton. In the letter of acknowledgement of receipt of our objections NBMA said they have “noted” our objections and pledged to “review the application holistically and take the best decision in the interest of Nigeria, to avoid risks to human health, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The socio-economic impacts would also be well considered before taking final decision on the application.” The agency then thanked us for our views.

Two days later, on Sunday, 1st May 2016, NBMA issued permits to the two applications made by Monsanto and its government agency partner. It is clear to us that our objections were not considered.

Two things. We have an agency that approved applications for introduction of GMOs into Nigeria in less than a year of its being constituted. The speed with which the new agency approved Monsanto’s application breaks all records of similar processes anywhere in the world. The speed of approval raises questions over the readiness of the agency to tackle the delicate and serious issue of modern agricultural biotechnology – a contentious technology that has foisted tales of woes on citizens as well as farmers in other climes, a technology that opposes the basic tenets of our agricultural and food systems. Secondly, the speed shows a disdain for public consultation and participation in the serious approval processes. These are some of the issues that we have invited you, legal luminaries to examine in this roundtable.

As we discuss the issues surrounding biosafety, we hope you will focus particularly on the NBMA Act 2015 and see if the Agency as constituted is wired to serve the best biosafety interests of Nigeria or if it should be dramatically reviewed or even repealed. In particular, we hope that you, as legal experts, consider if there are issues of conflict of interest in a setting such as that of NBMA where board members are promoters of the risky technology and are also applicants that have benefited from the very first application to have come before the Agency. We wish to be advised if such a construct does not obstruct avenues for justice, fairness, probity and equity in our collective struggle for a food regime that ensures that we are not turned into guinea pigs by those pushing to colonise our food systems and expose us to avoidable risks.

As we engage in our dialogue, let us all keep in mind that this matter has implications that is intergenerational and lapses have consequences for Nigerians yet unborn. Laws are not cast in concrete. The right to safe and nutritious food is a universal right. GMOs challenge that right with its creation of novel organisms, dependence on toxic chemicals and abridgement of the rights of farmers to preserve and share seeds and to stay free from contamination by genetically engineered seeds.

A defective law cannot provide justice. It cannot protect our biodiversity, ensure biosecurity or secure our very life. We cannot gamble with our biosafety and biosecurity.

We have come to the roundtable. Let the dialogue begin.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at a Lawyers Roundtable on Biosafety hosted by HOMEF at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 25 April 2017