NOT ON OUR PLATES! Nigeria does not need GM food

Not on our Plates!Nigeria does not need GM crops to satisfy its food and agriculture needs. We know exactly what we have to do and the Nigerian National Conference[i] of 2014 raised the caution with regard to then draft National Biosafety Bill. We agree with the concerns raised by the Conference and urge that the NBMA Act should be critically reviewed or repealed.[i]

The few crops commercialized during the past decades were mostly composed only of two traits, and their area of cultivation has been limited to a handful of countries. Over 90% of GM crops concentrated mostly in five countries– USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Canada, with the USA accounting for 40 per cent of all GM global area.[i]

In any case, after two decades of GM crops commercialization, up to 95% of the staple crops which have been commercialized are insect resistant or herbicide tolerant. The push for the introduction of these type of GM staple crops has been led either directly by the big biotech corporations that developed the product or their subsidiaries.

None of these traits, however, provide any benefit to the consumer, and none of them as of today has managed to win the heart of the majority of the consumers. For instance, even in the US, the cradle of GM crops, a poll conducted by the New York Times in 2013 concluded that three-quarters of Americans expressed concern about genetically modified organisms in their food, with most of them worried about the effects on people’s health.[ii] In The reality of such scepticism has forced the biotech industry to desperately seek to widen its market into Africa. The claim that Europe is influencing Africans to reject GMOs is grossly erroneous.[iii]

Download here and read the full Not on Our Plates…

[i] Alessandro Sorrentino, et al. October 2016. “Regulatory Policy and Economic Implications of GMO in Agriculture: A review.” See at https://www.aur.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SORRENTINO_BRANCA_-Food-governance_GMO.pdf

[ii] Allison Kopicki. July 27, 2013. Strong Support for Labeling Modified Foods. New York Times  https://www.nytimes.com/by/allison-kopicki

[iii] http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1339024/european-union-policies-detrimental-africa

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism. Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

The need to interrogate what patriotism means in the context of the challenges of the push of modern agricultural biotechnology into Nigeria and Africa has been instigated by an article by a “Lagos-based research scientist” titled “Biotech agencies NIREC report and unpatriotic activism.” That article opened with this claim: “Recently, a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) issued a press release with the intention of misleading the public and pursuing an alien agenda.”

I have personally not seen the “statement” that was supposedly released by NIREC and probably would not have learned of the publication in Daily Trust, but for the strident responses from the government agencies and their proxies. I also have strong doubts that the Daily Trust publication was a press release “from a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).” The source of the story, however, is not our concern here.

Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

For an immediate modern day example by which we can examine the puerile claim that government (agency) worship is equal to patriotism, we only need to look at the current resistance to the travel ban proposed by the president of the United States of America. The president proclaimed a ban, the world was aghast, legal challenges were instituted, the government lost and a revised ban was issued. As we write, a court has blocked that new presidential order. It is our guess that those who object to the travel ban can be labelled unpatriotic, after all the orders were issued by a president. No applause for such logic. We must ask ourselves why biotechnology proponents find it hard to accept that their ideas can be questioned and that they could be wrong, as they often are. The falsehood of the myths of the biotechnology industry have been demonstrated continuously and shown for what they are. Moreover, Nature repeatedly trumps the myths – through super weeds, superbugs, etc..

Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events. We know they would not flip their script.

Let us linger a bit more on criticism as lack of patriotism. What is patriotic about foisting on Nigeria a technology that has failed woefully in Burkina Faso, a neighbouring country? How come we are wishing away the fact that the quantity and quality of cotton harvests in Burkina Faso has picked up since they escaped the GMO hoax?

What is patriotic about forcing down our throats, a system that was sold as revolution for small scale farmers in Makhathini Flats, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa in 1998 but failed woefully?

We will look at other issues in the article written by the Lagos-based scientist who apparently must be an insider in one or both of the agencies defended in the article. The scientist appears to have the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau.

The argument that anyone opposing GMOs is doing so for pecuniary reasons, or is acting as someone’s stooge, is laughable. That same argument can be extended to those of us opposed to criminal oil pollutions, toxic dumps and the like. The same can be said of those of who fought against military dictatorship in Nigeria, against apartheid in South Africa or slavery in the USA. It is a weak, poor and worthless argument that does not even merit a response. What would the Lagos-based scientist say of the web of actors and sponsors that are openly funding and pushing for the deployment of GM crops in Africa?

The committee that NIREC set up to review the GMO situation in Nigeria was an advisory one made up of academics, researchers and people of faith. To my knowledge, apart from secretariat support, members were/are not part of NIREC. The committee invited the two key institutions promoting or overseeing the “deployment” of GMOs in Nigeria.

Finally, the Lagos based scientist stated in the article under reference and we quote: “Nnimmo Bassey was an active player in the processes that cumulated in the establishment of the NBMA, so to turn around and say that the Agency is a brain child of NABDA questions his credibility and integrity.” (our emphasis).

Let us go back to what we wrote in the article that drew the ire of the Lagos-based scientist. Here is it: “A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination.”

Note that I used the word “purportedly” and then added that I did not imagine that curious supposition. The fact is that the disclosure that NBMA was a brainchild of NABDA was stated by the official that represented one of the agencies when they appeared before the NIREC committee. We do not think it is important to say who among the two made that incredible claim. But if anyone really wants to know the information it can be shared. This writer did not imagine, claim or say it. The revelation unveils the foundational flaw of the GMO scaffold.

In any case, those who promoted the NBMA Bill have their logos printed on the back of the document that was distributed at the Public Hearing on the Biosafety Bill Organised by the Joint Committee on Science and Technology and Agriculture, ABUJA, 9th December 2009, at the National Assembly. To suggest that this writer ever endorsed what was signed into law by our former president is an incredible distortion of the truth. When we recognise that we have a bad product, two of the ways to respond is dropping it or reviewing it. One of the organisational flyers of NBMA carries the names of individuals, including those from CSOs that are totally opposed to GMOs but attended one of the meetings in the preparatory stages of the bill that has become law. Why are those names listed on a promotional flyer? To gain credibility? To silence opposition? Did their attendance indicate that they endorsed the bill? Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events.  We know they would not flip their script.

In conclusion, let us just state that no law is cast in concrete, although even concrete cannot last for ever. No matter what the current GMO promoters say, believe or defend, the fact remains that a defective piece of legislation ultimately will be reviewed or jettisoned. The same will be the terminal point of a technology whose obsolescence is already appearing.

 

 

 

[*] Nnimmo Bassey is Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

Standing up for the Trees!

Monitoring-ProtestCommunities stand up for the trees! Communities are best placed to monitor their forests because they live in the forests, depend on forest resources and readily notice threat and changes that occur in such forests. When the communities, such as yours, are especially dedicated to preserve forests, monitoring becomes a top priority. It is with this understanding that Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) is engaging in the training of forest monitors in your community. This exercise is a follow up to our earlier forest dialogues and training on forest EIA. We believe that you will further train other monitors so that we build a strong network of forest watchers and defenders.

The monitoring training is developed in modules covering aspects including what forests are, the laws and regulations cover our forests, the health impacts of forest degradation, tools and methods for forest monitoring, reporting and ecological defence. In the training process, we will also stress the fact that a plantation is not a forest. This is something you know very well because a plantation is an enclave of monoculture and cannot provide the services that forests provide. Moreover, plantations are often out of bounds to communities except for individuals sometimes employed to provide cheap labour on them. The expansion of oil palm plantations in this part of the country is already impacting on the Cross River National Park (CRNP) and community forests. This monitoring training will equip communities to document changes, unauthorised entries/encroachments and duly bring such to the attention of relevant government authorities.

This effort is being conducted with the support of the Small Grants Project of the Global Environment Facility (SGP/GEF) and is targeted at ensuring that the pristine community forests of Cross River State, Nigeria, as well as the CRNP are not degraded, destroyed or converted through any action or activity inimical to the interests of the people and the planet. The immediate threat to the forests in the Cross River State is the proposed six-lanes Superhighway project that is supposed to stretch over a distance of 260 kilometres and connect a proposed sea port to Katsina Ala town in Benue State, Nigeria.

As the WCS stated in one of their reports, “the listing of the small Indian mongoose and Chinese alligator [in the EIA] is truly shocking and strongly indicates that the consultants may not be competent or qualified to undertake a project of this magnitude and importance.”

The Superhighway project met local, national and international outrage because of the threat it poses to the last tracts of rainforests in Nigeria and because the government also revoked your occupancy rights and that of individuals and other communities in the area lying within 10 km on either side of the proposed highway. The proclamation that the record-breaking land grab was for the purpose of creating a development corridor was not bought by you or by other communities and the general public. HOMEF applauds your resilience and defence of your forests and our collective heritage.

Rally 2It is salutary that the government of Cross River State has announced that the revocation order has now been annulled. This is the sort of outcome that we can expect from frontline ecological defenders such as you in the affected communities. We use this opportunity to call on CRSG to issue a gazette affirming the annulment of the revocation order and declaring that the community forests and the CRNP must not be assaulted by any act of land use changes or infrastructure development. This is the way to protect our biodiversity for our good, for future generations and for the overall good of the planet.

We also call on the CRSG to assure the world that their threat to continue with the Superhighway project without an approved EIA was a grave error that would not be carried out. A situation whereby a state government flagrantly breaks the law would spell disaster for resource governance and could lead to a breakdown of law and order as the government itself would not have the standing to demand that project proponents within the state obey any of the state’s environmental regulations.

We also note that the EIA in question has been shown to be unacceptable by the Federal Ministry of Environment and noted experts and groups including the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). As the WCS stated in one of their reports, “the listing of the small Indian mongoose and Chinese alligator [in the EIA] is truly shocking and strongly indicates that the consultants may not be competent or qualified to undertake a project of this magnitude and importance.”

We reiterate the call that the Superhighway should be realigned away from forests or, better still, the government should simply repair and expand the existing dilapidated highway. Above all, it is your commitment as forest dependent community people that can decisively stem the forces of forest degradation.

You are welcome to this training. We will have more of trainings and dialogues here and in other communities. We pledge to stand with you at all times to ensure that our heritage is not abused or destroyed for any reason.

Until victory!


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF, at the Community Forests Training held at Old Ekuri, Cross River State, Nigeria on Saturday 11 March 2017

NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins

thumb_img_0764_1024NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins: Recently there was a news report that the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) cautioned the Nigerian government with regard to permitting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) foods into Nigeria. That significant report may have escaped many Nigerians. However, the strident denial by the directors general of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that they were not members of the NIREC committee on GMOs helped to bring up the report again. Both officials are right to say that they were not members of the NIREC committee because they were not. I was a member, so I can testify to that. They were invited to share information and respond to questions on GMOs with the committee set up by NIREC. And the director of NBMA did while NABDA was represented by Dr Rose Gidado, an assistant director of the agency. A disclaimer published by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Nigeria (OFAB) on behalf of NABDA opens with these words: “On the Daily Trust publication below (NIREC cautions FG against GMOs), the OFAB Nigeria Coordinator, Dr. Rose Gidado whose name appeared as part of the Committee wishes to state that she was called to answer questions at the Committee meeting but was never part of the Meeting not to talk of being part of the approval process of the final report that was produced.” She met with the committee as a representative of NABDA.

They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination. It is alarming because the NABDA as the name implies is a biotechnology research, development and promotion agency. Their job is to ensure that GMOs are placed on the dining tables of Nigerians whether we want them or not.

The fact of one being the brainchild of the other was revealed at one of the sittings of the committee. The inseparable nature of the two agencies was also illustrated before my eyes in the studios of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) where their two heads were invited to the Good Morning Show to which I was, unfortunately, also invited. They would not consider sharing the precious space with someone who would speak against their positions. They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

NABDA and NABMA work hand-in-hand in a manner that is unacceptable. A true regulator would be an impartial umpire on biosafety and GMO issues. In his rebuttal to the news report that erroneously stated that the two biotech leaders were part of NIREC, the head of NBMA stated that he was assuring Nigerians that his agency will supervise the safe deployment of GMOs in Nigeria. First, he takes the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria as a given. Why would a biosafety regulator consider himself as a supervisor of GMOs? Can we tolerate a referee, in a soccer match, who celebrates whenever one side scores a goal? Secondly, when he talks about the introduction of GMOs he used a militaristic terminology, deployment, probably signifying that the battle lines are drawn against Nigerians who are suspicious of any GMO hemlock.

The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria.

However, when NABDA blames the NIREC committee of bias and in another breath claims that the NIREC committee endorses GMOs, that is a figment of the agency’s imagination. It simply is not true. The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria. With the attitude of brooking no dissent, it was curious to hear the chief of NABDA accuse the NIREC committee of bias, because, according to her, the committee did not have GMO promoters on it.

thumb_img_0761_1024-2The committee was at pains explaining to the two agencies that, in carrying out their work, they must understand that the critical baseline is the interest of Nigerians and our environment and not that of any commercial or political interest– no matter how powerful. The two agencies could not convince the expert committee that they had enough tools to adequately carry out their tasks. Among other things, the committee also saw that NABDA was functioning more as a GMO advocacy agency rather than engaging in useful research, while the Biosafety Management Act itself requires urgent radical review.

System Change Will Not be Negotiated

nbSystem Change will not be Negotiated[1] — We frequently hear calls for system change at public mobilisations, in conference halls and even in negotiation halls. The calls come as slogans, they come in anger and they come as a strong rebuke to the systemic scaffold on which our pains, exploitation and denial of voice and rights are hung.

Sometimes one gets the impression that this system that must be changed is chameleonic and could stand for any system that one may be grinding against. In other words, it lends itself to being used as a broad slogan that could swing in any direction. We can understand this in the sense of a manipulator and beneficiary of a crooked system presenting himself or herself as an agent of anti-establishment. Obviously, this is not what we are concerned about.

The necessity of system change is inescapable because the present system is dependent on the extreme exploitation and enslavement of nature and labour while denying its inherently unjust core. We are in the dying days of a civilisation driven by fossil fuels. This end is not coming merely because of the recorded and predicted severe species extinction, or by peak oil. No.  Its end is being heralded by a looming climatic catastrophe and by the reawakening of social forces realising that slavery persists as long as the enslaved is unaware of his state. Our urgent task is to reclaim the future and this will not be attainable if the current system persists.

We borrow the words of Oilwatch International to further highlight the unacceptable realities that necessitate system change: There are similarities in the current pattern of resource exploitation in countries of the Global South, and affected peoples in the rest of the world which reflects historical legacy of disempowerment of peoples, plunder of natural resources and destruction of environment, [we] considers the recognition of the right of peoples to self-determination and cultural integrity as primary in the resolution of environmental problems.[2]

Green Capitalism

Green was once a colour. Now it is a market tool! Today it has turned into an anaesthetic or a silencing code that ensures that harmful market mechanisms are foisted on Nature and we are generally lulled to accept that Nature cannot be protected unless financial value is placed on her. Market environmentalism has thrown up a plethora of instruments such of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), REDD plus, emissions trading schemes (ETS), clean development mechanisms (CDM) and the like.

The Rio + 20 summit of 2012 served as a platform for the elevation of the concept of Green Economy as a major plank for global environmental governance, especially including with regard to climate change. The concept permits the financialization of everything including very basic cycles of Nature such as pollination. With climate change action boxed as a matter of means of handling carbon emissions, the world conveniently ignores the root cause of the crises: the origins of the emission. And so, all focus has been on symptoms rather than the cause. This is why anyone would accept that “a tonne of CO2 not only equals any other tonne of CO2 no matter where it was emitted but that other greenhouse gases can be counted in CO2-equivalents.”[3]

Climate change negotiations offer us a clear lens of seeing that market environmentalism approaches are merely means of escape from responsibility and measureable action. They push the duty for climate action into the realm of bad fiction. A look at the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 reveals that the major cause of global warming, fossil fuels utilisation in production and transportation is not recognised in the process of tackling global warming. And as noted above, the notion that any carbon emitted anywhere can be offset by carbon absorbed anywhere else has led to the rise of the concept of net emissions and may offer polluting nations the ultimate escape hatch through which they would keep their levels of pollution and consumption, while grabbing lands, forests and water bodies elsewhere to compensate for their bad behaviour.

Green economy is a neo-liberal idea that hoists the financialization of Nature and carbon offsetting as ideal tools for nature protection. Truth is that it has been cooked up to entrench current capitalist production modes and power relations where might is right. Poor, vulnerable and cash strapped nations that contribute little or nothing to global warming are made to see the trickles that drop into their empty bowls from market mechanisms, while citizens are displaced from their territories and are literally forced to bear a disproportionate level of real climate actions. This entrenched unjust situation is neo-colonial and imperialist. It upturns every notion of justice, including the very basic common but differentiated responsibilities anchor of earlier climate negotiations such as the ones that threw up the Kyoto Protocol that is now literally on tenuous life-support.

A just climate regime ought not to scratch for funds to tackle the emergencies already throwing up climate refugees. A clear solution for climate finance based on the overall premise of social engineering for system change was agreed to by peoples of the world at the Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Peoples Agreement reached at the Cochabamba conference demanded that countries cut their emissions by at least 50 per cent at source in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013–17), without recourse to offsets and other carbon trading schemes. In terms of finance, the Peoples Agreement demanded that developed countries commit 6 per cent of their GDP to finance adaptation and mitigation needs. It was also affirmed that there is a climate debt that must be recognised and paid. The payment of climate debt is not seen as a mere demand for reparations, but principally as a means of decolonising the atmospheric space and redistributing what meagre space or carbon budget is left as industrialised nations have already colonised 80 per cent of that space. It is also a means towards obligating humans to take actions to restore disrupted natural cycles of Nature[4]

It is now general knowledge that to keep temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels at least 80 per cent of currently known fossil fuels reserves must be left untapped and unburned. The troubling issue is not only that this is not being discussed at the climate negotiations, but that new reserves are being hunted for and extreme extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are being intensified. This is a clear throwback to fiddling while the city burns.

The system is so locked in on its fossil path that the mention of crude oil, coal or fossil fuels in general is a taboo to be avoided at all costs. The insistence that fossil fuels will remain a major part of the energy mix of the world for the foreseeable future appears to some of us a confirmation of wilful myopia among negotiating nations.

The fact that fossil fuels are not renewable does not deter the fossil addicts. In order to remove the cloud of dust (and doubt) over fossil fixations, the industry came up with the term clean coal. They also came up with the notion that carbon pollution can be tackled through carbon capture and storage or sequestration. The other array of options includes types of geo-engineering that could either shield the earth from the sun or get the oceans to absorb more carbon. These are all ways of resisting the need for change and ensuring business as usual while selling unproven technologies. The best outcome of this scenario is to postpone the evil day and build an uncertain future for our children. Unfortunately, that day cannot be postponed much longer except the world wishes to take a plunge back into more brazen levels of barbarism.

Centrality of Nature

The call for system change is a call to a common-sense path that would secure the survival of the human race. It is also a call for humans to recognise their humanity as just one of the species on planet earth. Studies and observations have shown that species stand better chances of survival when they cooperate, live and work in solidarity. This is the kind of benefit humans derive when we work in solidarity rather than in competition. This is the way to build an equitable future when we build bridges and not walls; when we give up some space and allow others to breath. Clearly, the current system of explanation does not support cooperation and cannot offer an acceptable future.

The Earth speaks. The sky speaks. The trees speak. All of Nature speak. Communication is a vital tool for survival. Let us take one example of how certain trees in the African savannah communicate in order to avoid having their leaves eaten up. Researchers found that when giraffes start to eat the leaves of umbrella thorn acacias, the trees released some toxic substances that offended the taste buds of the giraffes. That was direct defence line. Beyond this, the researchers noticed that the giraffes would skip the next umbrella thorn acacia trees, move by about 100 metres before resuming their dinner.

Why did they move over such a distance before resuming their feast? This is the explanation (Wohlleben, 2015): “The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signalled to neighbouring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on.”[5] Trees communicate by a variety of other ways, including through their roots systems, affirming metaphorically that indeed, it takes roots to weather the storm. It also validates the old saying that a tree does not make a forest even though this is falsely claimed to be possible through monocultures and plantations.

Re-Source Democracy

We speak of the gifts of Nature as re-sources. Yes, re-sources, intentionally hyphenated because we are not speaking of commodities, but of the vital need for humans to return to source, to reconnect to Nature, to think of the source before lifting the chisel, hammer, shovel, drill or rig. We have to stand in humility before Nature, recognise our finite place in her and affirm that the harm that we have inflicted on Mother Earth has been driven mostly by the creed of market fundamentalism that has grossly alienated us from Nature.

Re-source democracy is a call for the recognition of the rights of Nature, including her right to regenerate and maintain her cycles. It is built on a clear understanding of the uses and intrinsic values of the gifts of Nature. It calls for our understanding of the harmful impacts of human activities to the climate, the planet and all the beings inhabiting her. Re-source democracy demands the interrogation of the meaning of progress and development towards the end of helping us draw the line between what we can accept or reject in our environment.[6] Navdanya further gives clarity to this idea: ‘We need a new paradigm to respond to the fragmentation caused by various forms of fundamentalism. We need a new movement, which allows us to move from the dominant and pervasive culture of violence, destruction and death to a culture of non-violence, creative peace and life…the Earth democracy movement…provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, we are connected to each other through love, compassion, not hatred and violence and ecological responsibility and economic justice replaces greed, consumerism and competition as objectives of human life.’[7]

Current dominant development modes are energy intensive and require more and more re-sources to generate that energy to keep the machines rolling and to feed the appetite of humankind for consumption and for cash. The ‘resource’ conflicts and wars we see today in the world can be grouped as fights to grab resources or to keep others from grabbing the resources. Some are also wars to attenuate efforts of certain nations to build up their societies and peoples. There appears to be a struggle to have a monopoly over what development means, who can aspire to it, who should be developed and who should not. This warped prepositions have led to the manifestation of extremely primitive warfare being conducted with highly sophisticated hardware, including drones, underscoring the paradox of what civilisation really means.

These conflicts and the harm will intensify as the non-renewable re-sources run out and as habitable environment for the reproduction of renewable re-sources reduce. Toss into that volatile mix the rise of authoritarian governments with peculiar notions of national sovereignties and we will have a wild world devoid of rules. Wars powered by greed and faulty relationships with Nature’s gifts do not end easily and nations never really win such wars and conflicts. The winners invariably are mercenaries, war contractors, other multinational extractive companies and weapons makers/dealers.

Convergence of Movements

System change will be birthed by a convergence of movements. It will not be a matter of either or, it will be a matter for all. The silos delineated, owned and protected by environmental, political, social, religious and sundry movements must be broken down. We have to continually remind ourselves that we do not lead one-dimensional lives but that our lives and realities are formed by a web of relationships, issues and realities. As these issues are never one-dimensional we require diversity of approaches to effectively confront and overcome them – with the diversity of movements coalescing around common organizing principles. For example, in the case of ecological resurgence, movements can come together using the Precautionary Principle as a pivot. Another basic impulse will be the recognition of the leadership of communities of peoples – especially indigenous women – on the frontlines of ecological defense and system change struggles. These brave souls are engrossed in building webs of struggles and laying down their lives in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We pause in honour of their spilt blood and undying memories.

System Change will not be Negotiated

The present fossil-based civilization is running out of gas and its terminal point is imminent – whether planned or not. Our task is to hasten the demise of this destructive system where unjust relations are seen as opportunities for amassing profit and where life means nothing before the altar of capital. This is the time for drastic actions to bring about ecological health for all our communities and relatives on planet Earth. It is a time when we urgently need to change the narrative that we can measure well-being by aggregating gross (mark that term) domestic products. The struggles of First Nation brothers and sisters in North America, the Ogoni in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the Yasunidos of Ecuador and many others show that the battle can be tough and abrasive. But we have no options. Industrial growth societies have been built on the platforms of gross injustice – including by slavery, colonialism and disruption of thriving socio-economic systems through structural adjustment dictates of international financial institutions and undemocratic, self-appointed, groupings such as the G8 (or 7) and G20 and others like them.

In the words of legendary Wangari Maathai, “For decades, Africa has been urged to emulate this financial system and practices acquired from the industrialized world. While this structure enriched the West, practicing it without caution has only impoverished Africa.”[8] For the preservation of humankind on planet Earth, systems like these and their power-relations cannot continue to exist.

We are conscious of the fact that those who benefit from the unjust, disruptive and unsustainable system will not listen to logical needs for system change. They have heard it over and over again. They simply cannot bear to think of anything other than their privileges and acquired levels of comforts. It is a system that throws up a handful of men that have more financial means than billions of men and women. It is a system where the poor, no matter how wise, cannot sit on the official negotiation tables. It is a system that believes that with financial means one can make a dash for safety on another planet or meteorite if apocalypse happens. It would have been a make-belief world, where its  horrors were not rooted in reality.

History will judge the present generation very harshly if a transition is not urgently made to a Life-Sustaining Society – a society that is not hierarchical, but one in which humans and the environment are linked, not ranked. This society will come about only if we stand together with Earth Protectors and denounce the criminalisation of dissent and the constriction of democratic space that is fast becoming the norm.

A cardinal hurdle that must be crossed for needed radical change is the great shift in perception, a shift of values and narratives. It is time to speak up and let a thousand solutions bloom. It is no time to be silent, because, as Frantz Fanon stated in his resignation letter to the French colonial government, “There comes a time when silence becomes dishonesty”[9] and, if you permit me to add, cowardice and accommodation of injustice. We need to “redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganisation of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. Moving us beyond tired old notions of competitive individualism, we come home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth.”[10]

System change will not be negotiated. A ravenous capitalist system in its twisted struggles to stave off imminent implosion will not give up its powers of control and parasitic existence. System change will come about when the power of We the People becomes a rallying call and a pivot f action. We the People can redefine energy and own our clean, localised, energy generation and production systems. We the People can reclaim our streams, creeks and rivers and deny industry their privatisation and use as sewers.

As the saying goes: freedom is not something that is given, it is taken. System change will either be intentionally engineered or it will erupt through a global revolutionary moment. Change will come as fists burst through the cracks in the pavements just like saplings —spring from hardened soils.

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Notes

[1] Nnimmo Bassey is Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (www.homef.org), the ecological think tank and advocacy organisation with head office in Benin City, Nigeria. These were the talking the points used in the Keynote address given on February 15, 2017 at Ecological Challenges Conference (Academia meets Activism) 2017, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

[2] Oilwatch Africa. Oilwatch principles. http://oilwatchafrica.org/about-us/

[3] Thomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr and Barbara Unmubig (2016) Inside the Green Economy – Promises and Pitfalls, Munchen, green books P16

[4] Nnimmo Bassey (2012) To Cook a Continent – Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa. Oxford: Pambazuka Press. P.109-110

[5] Peter Wohlleeben (2016) The Hidden Life of Trees – What they feel, how they communicate. Vancouver: Greystone Books. P7

[6] See more at http://www.homef.org/publication/re-source-democracy

[7] Earth Democracy http://www.navdanya.org/earth-democracy

[8] Wangari Maathai (2009)The Challenge for Africa. London: Arrow Books. P.7

[9] Frantz Fanon (1967) Toward The African Revolution- Political Essays (translated by Haakon Chevalier). New York: Grove Press. P.54

[10] Joanna Macy and Molly Brown (2016) Coming Back to Life – the updated guide to The Work That Reconnects. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers. P.14

As Soot Blankets Port Harcourt

carbon-coated

Soot & Sole:  twitter pix from @GreatOgoni

 

Dark clouds over Port Harcourt. The air in parts of Port Harcourt has been darkened by soot over the past few months, raising a cloud of concerns about the attendant health impacts. Citizens in parts of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, are getting worried about the air they breathe. To put it another way, many citizens are afraid to breathe. And that can be deadly.

Soot is a general term that covers pollutants derived from incomplete or inefficient burning of fossil fuels or biomass (plants or plant-based materials used as source of energy). The major sources of soot include fuels like diesel used in transport and in electricity generators. For the Niger Delta, the sources include the aforementioned and include others such as: gas flares, illegal refineries, the burning of illegal refineries and crude oil, burning of oil spills by incompetent contractors and the burning of sundry wastes. Bush burning can also be a source of soot in our environment.

The burning of illegal, or bush refineries, by the Join Military Task Force (JTF), the incendiary acts that have been raised as banners of victory over oil theft, is one source that must be halted immediately. The bush refineries are basic and flimsy contraptions that can easily be dismantled and safely disposed of. The same goes for wooden barges arrested with stolen crude. Dropping grenades on those toxic wares and sending smoke signals above the creeks may be seen as acts of bravado, but they have serious health impacts on the environment and citizens in the area. The JTF, working with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the oil majors, should set up recovery centres were recovered stolen crude are logged, stored and safely disposed of by the original owners or as agreed. The disposal methods could include sending such crude to the refineries or by exporting them if the quality is not compromised by the process of rough handling.

A variety of soot is one called black carbon. We have also heard of black snow arising from carbon particulates that accumulated in the Himalayas, for instance, and is said to aid the rapid melting of snow by reason of the heat they trap. Dramatic carbon pollution in the winter of 1952 led to the death of about 4000 persons within five days.

The current situation of soot blanketing the skyline of parts of Port Harcourt is deeply troubling and requires urgent actions from relevant government agencies as well as research institutes. In particular, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and, in general, the Federal and State Ministries of Environment and those of Health should step up to tackle the emergency situation.

When reports of gathering soot came up a couple of months ago, sources at NESREA confirmed that the soot originated from hydrocarbon or oil-sector related sources. That conclusion rules out bush burning as a possible source. For those that have noticed the thick black smoke belching continuously from the Port Harcourt refineries, those sources are very strong suspects. And then, the bush refineries and the bombing of those rickety refineries by the JTF remain strong contenders. These should all be investigated. The scenario has raised the urgent need for air quality measurement and control in Nigeria. Within accurate measurement of levels of exposure, causal links may not solid and culprits may wriggle out and avoid accountability and responsibility.

It is the duty of our regulatory agencies to pin-point the source of this menace, enforce a cessation of the obnoxious acts and penalise the culprits. We know that the conflicting boundary lines governing the duties of these agencies may complicate the processes for addressing this issue, but joint meetings should overcome territorial defences in the face of the risks our people are exposed to.

This is a serious situation and government cannot afford to remain silent on it. The health impacts of soot and black carbon are well documented and are known to include effects on our respiratory system and bloodstreams. They can trigger cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, chronic cough, sinusitis, bronchitis and colds. The fine particles can also have carcinogenic effects. They can also negatively affect the development of the lungs in children. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is already precariously low, the effect of soot and black carbon will push those low figures through the bottom.

We should also mention here that Ekpan community at Warri, Delta State, has been suffering extensive pollutions from black carbon emanating from the petrochemical plant located there. The community is more or less heavily coated with soot continually and residents often have to keep their windows shut in futile to keep out the deadly stuff. When the community petitioned the National Assembly over the situation, an order was issued that the plant should be shut down until it was adequately serviced and fitted with devices that would halt the noxious emissions. It does not appear that the order was adhered to as the community is still reeling under the weight of black carbon whenever the machines come alive.

Residents of Port Harcourt, Ekpan and the Niger Delta as a whole deserve a breath of air that is fresh and devoid of soot and black carbon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Instigator #14

eco-instigator-14The year 2016 ran through so rapidly. And just as well. It had a store of horrors – extreme exploitation of nature’s re-sources, wars and repression, massive pollution, deforestation and unconscionable climate inaction. Will these let up in 2017?

While you ponder on what we must do as individuals and as collectives, we serve you another loaded edition of your Eco-Instigator. We share reports, statements and articles hoping that you will get sufciently instigated to step up and speak up as sons and daughters of Mother Earth.

As this edition was going to bed, we received news of the renewed aggression against our partner group, Accion Ecologica by the government of Ecuador. We note the tremendous global solidarity exhibited by individuals and groups from around the world in support of Accion Ecologica. This group is probably one of the foremost environmental justice organisations in the world today and deserves our support. They celebrated 30 years of existence in October 2016 at a grand ceremony held in the Che Guevara Auditorium of the Central University of Ecuador. At that event, several awards were given out to grassroots activists, journalists, academics and others. Yours truly was included in that exalted list in the category of calalysts of the defence of Nature. Here is the list for this category: Ricardo Carrere (late), from World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay; Vandana Shiva, of Navdanya of India; The Corner House, of England; Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network of North America; Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria; Silvia Ribeiro from Mexico and Alberto Acosta from Ecuador.

From all of us at HOMEF we bring you the best wishes for a just 2017.

Download the eco-instigator-14