It is with shock and extreme disappointment that we note the position of two ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the country should import and consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The reports quote the ministers of Agriculture , Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and that of Science and Technology, Professor Ita EWa as both happily endorsing the steps. We are disappointed because these ministries and the government of Nigeria ought to protect the interests of the citizens of Nigeria and not pander to the desires of the makers of genetically engineered products.
We are surprised that the government would take such a stand without a backing Biosafety Law in place in Nigeria and without consideration of the profound impact that such an open door to the products would have on the Nigerian agriculture, environment and the people.
The Nigerian government has of late treated the concerns of the people with palpable contempt. For instance, field trials of genetically engineered cassava has been carried out without public consultation and without public information as to whether that variety of cassava has been introduced into our farms and whether we are already consuming such. In fact some Nigerians think that the cassava bread the Minister of Agriculture advertises may actually be made of GMO varieties. Nigerians need to know.
As stated in The Daily Trust (26/06/2013) the Minister of Agriculture said at a media briefing “that Nigeria could not afford to be alone among African countries in accepting and consuming GM products. He noted that South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan were already doing the same.” We should state here that Sudan was arm-twisted by donor nations to accept whole grain GMOs in food aid following the food crisis of 2004. The same tactics were applied on Angola. When it was earlier tried on Zambia in 2002 that country resisted the pressure, was denied food aid, and weathered the storm through self-reliance and protection of their agriculture and food systems. Zambia still refuses to accept today.
Contrary to the claims of the minister, Burkina Faso has not introduced GMOs into their food. That country planted genetically engineered cotton otherwise called Bt Cotton. The first harvest of that cotton last year was a big disappointment as the farmers got short fibre cotton rather than the long fibres they harvested from the conventional cotton they were used to planting.
South Africa is the most problematic on the continent when it comes to the regulation and introduction of GMOs. Public resistance have been strong, but the historical political context must also be considered in understanding the path the nation began to toe and the difficulties in ensuring a transition from certain routes. Studies by the African Centre for Biosafety has revealed that corn products supplied by Tiger Brand in South Africa to companies including to Dangote Foods, a Nigerian conglomerate, has high GMO corn contents. This revelation ought to drive the Nigerian government to order an investigation into the importation of unwholesome foods and food products into Nigeria rather than making announcement of backdoor moves to ambush Nigerians into eating GMOs without their consent.
We recall here that in 2006/7 when an unauthorised (Liberty Link Rice 601) GMO rice was known to have been introduced into the market, Friends of the Earth Africa in efforts coordinated by Nigeria’s Environmental Rights Action conducted tests on rice samples obtained from markets in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. It was like searching for a pin a densely covered forest floor, but the illegal rice was found in food aid in Sierra Leone and in commercially imported varieties in Ghana and Nigeria. Following the issuance of the report the variety varnished from the Sierra Leonean markets but persisted in Ghana and Nigeria. Reports forwarded to Nigerian authorities and agencies including NAFDAC where neither acknowledged nor acted upon.
The propensity of Nigeria’s government officials to push the biotech industry advertisement spin with regard to GMOs is condemnable.
The trumpeted advantages of GMOs over natural varieties have been shown to be nothing other than industry-generated myths. The same can be said of the manipulative narratives of hunger and malnutrition on the African continent. Once it was said that Africans are starved, today we are told that perhaps we may not be starving, but that we are malnourished. While we do not deny that some persons go to bed hungry and that some are malnourished (this is true of any nation or continent) the politics of hunger has been so hyped and jaundiced that even the G8 has now formed an alliance on malnutrition in Africa. The Nigerian Minister of Agriculture was among the first to jump on the bandwagon of praise singers for the so-called initiative that is nothing but a foot in the door for the biotech industry that have fought with little success to open up Africa for their Frankenstein seeds and foods.
The myths of GMOs include that they are higher yielding, are more nutritious and require less herbicides and pesticides. Another myth that is often peddled is that they are climate-smart and can flourish in adverse weather conditions. Scientists independent from the biotech industry have shown through careful research that GMOs are not higher yielding than natural and conventional varieties. They are not more nutritious but may actually be injurious to human health. They do not reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture either. It has been seen that although the crops are often engineered to withstand herbicides produced by the same companies that produce the seeds, the weeds grow to resist the herbicides and farmers are forced to keep raising the concentration of the herbicides, thus compounding the resulting harm to biodiversity of the areas affected. The ones engineered to kill pests have ended up sometimes killing unintended organisms.
We should also mention here that GMOs work best with large-scale commercial agriculture. But the widespread dependence on chemical inputs have led to the death of pollinators like bees and saddled the world with silent farms and forests without insects and other beneficial species. Certainly Nigeria does not want to join the ranks of nations that hire or buy bees to pollinate their farms. We are not sure also that Nigerians want to toe a path that may lead to farmers pollinating their crops by hand.
Africa’s soil is acclaimed as among of the best for crop cultivation. This, coupled with the myopia of some of our leaders, have led to massive land grabs on the continent and the permission of unregulated farming practices in those colonial enclaves.
Finally, we call on the Nigerian government to consider the fact that the nation is yet to have a Biosafety Law with which the environment and our biodiversity can be protected and defended. The government should also consider the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol that has the cardinal Precautionary Principle. We cannot be force-fed by a savage biotech industry that seeks to colonise African seeds and food systems. The fact that GMOs will not feed the world is well studied and documented. See the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, for example.
GMOs will enslave the world through the intellectual property rights that allows the biotech industry to patent their seeds, debars farmers from sharing or saving seeds and forces them to buy seeds every planting season. It seeks to overturn age long sustainable practices.
Nigeria should be a leader in the defence of the African environment, not a Slavic follower of the dictates of the biotech industry or by others who are offering thirty filthy pieces.
Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, www.homef.org