News Column

Civil Groups Caution African Countries Against Pro-GM Crops Campaigners

July 29, 2014

Wole Oyebade

CONTRARY to reports that genetically modified (GM) crops will help alleviate poverty in Africa, civil groups on the continent have warned Nigeria and African countries to be wary of biotechnology industry, alleging that their campaigns are targeted against food sovereignty in the region.

The civil groups, led by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nigeria; African Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA), Ethiopia and African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa, have said the recent pro-GM campaign "represents paternalism of the worst kind", to advance the interests of the biotechnology industry in the name of philanthropy.

The group, in a statement made available to The Guardian yesterday, said African countries must realise that the campaign is all about the fight for food sovereignty - for the rights of people to grow food that suits their environment, protects their biodiversity and serves their ability to eat foods that are wholesome and culturally acceptable.

Therefore, "Policies must support systems of agriculture and food production that does not distort or damage local economies. We must not blindly or willfully promote policies that build neocolonial structures that lock in poverty by upturning tested local agricultural knowledge; promoting land grabs through large-scale industrial farming and creates dependency on artificial seeds and chemicals. True food security can only be assured by food sovereignty," they said.

Director, HOMEF Nigeria, Nnimmo Bassey, observed that a report by London-based think-tank Chatham House, targeted at African governments to open up to biotechnology, made several erroneous and contradictory arguments concerning the lack of uptake or impact of GM crops in Africa, as well as dismissing oppositions to GM crops across the globe as a European-led phenomenon.

Bassey said perhaps the report's authors were simply unaware of global opposition to GM crops, or missed the recent Malawian civil society response to Monsanto's application to commercialise Biotechnology (Bt) cotton on the country; or have dismissed the recent mass community protestors in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda as merely puppets of European non-governmental organisations.

Bassey said it must be noted that Mexico, the centre of origin of maize, has banned the cultivation of GM maize within its borders, as was Peru's 10-year moratorium on GM crops, enacted in 2012.

In 2013, India'sSupreme Court declared an indefinite moratorium on all GM food crops, citing major gaps in the country's regulatory system, while protests led by farmer groups in the Philippines have curtailed field trials of GM Brinjal (aubergine).

He added that even in the United States (U.S.), public opposition to GM crops has been growing for some time. "Over 500,000 people have written to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for the rejection of Dow Chemical's application for several GM crops tolerant to 2, 4-D based herbicides.

"Unperturbed by the prospect of legal action from the biotechnology industry, several states are pressing ahead with laws for the labeling of GM food. To argue that onerous laws and political expediency has created a situation of 'continual field trials', as the Chatham House report does, misunderstands or misrepresents several key issues at play," Bassey said.

Coordinator of AFSA Ethiopia, Million Bellay, added that the vast majority of GM crops grown worldwide were either tolerant to the application of herbicides, produce their own pesticides (Bt crops) or are a combination of the two.

"There is good reason that the 'pipeline' of new GM crops and traits, such as drought tolerant or nutritionally enhanced African 'orphan' crops, has not materialised; they are all profoundly more complex process than what has so far been commercialised.

"The fabled 'Golden Rice' (engineered with extra vitamin A) has been in development since the early 1990s. While this has been going on, the government of the Philippines (one the target countries) has been remarkably successful in lowering vitamin A deficiency using cheap, low-tech solutions.

"The obsession in promoting GM crops in Africa, exemplified in this instance by the new Chatham House report, diverts attention and resources from a plurality of genuine and localised solutions and flies in the face of the recommendations of independent science", he noted.

Bellay added that research had shown that small-holder farmers produce 75 per cent of the world's food, but only use about 25 per cent of the world's agricultural resources. The industrial agriculture chain only produces about 25 per cent of the world's food but uses 75 per cent of the planet's agricultural resources.

"Imagine the gains that could be made if even a fraction of the resources propping up the industrial food system were channeled into alternative systems," he said.

Director of African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa, Mariam Mayet, further said that Africans reject GMOs because the technology has not delivered on any of its promises and poses significant long-term threats to our environment and peoples.

She said though the issue of risk is given little attention in the Chatham House report, "lest we forget that in late 2013, nearly 300 scientists and legal experts from around the world signed a statement affirming that there is 'no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

"That GM's proponents can claim the contrary merely reflects the undue influence the biotechnology industry has on the scientific process."

"Further, are philanthropists who are supporting GM development and pressuring Africa to open up also heavy investors in the biotech sector? For example, the relationship between Monsanto and the Gates Foundation is well documented. Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta are all heavily involved in the G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition, the sharp end of the Green Revolution push in Africa.

"No matter how much these forces manoeuver to seem altruistic rather than predatory, the smoking gun always seems to be visible. The combined forces of Big Agribusiness and Big Philanthropy have been so effective at pressuring our governments that some of them see biosafety laws as mere instruments to opening up our nations to the biotech industry and their local surrogates.

"African countries must realise that the campaign is all about the fight for food sovereignty - for the rights of people to grow food that suits their environment, protects their biodiversity and serves their ability to eat foods that are wholesome and culturally acceptable," she said.

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Source: AllAfrica

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