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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2005 / gmoafrica


4 march 2005

african groups unite against genetically modified food

by vincent obia, correspondent lagos , nigerian daily independent online.

There is that common pain one feels for the crisis a neighbour is going through: one that may likewise befall the close observer. Such was the situation several Africa bodies found themselves early February when they gathered in Lagos to access the continent's food crisis. Expectedly, this discourse centred on the theme, “The reality behind the shipment of GMO (genetically modified organisms) as food aid” to Africa .

An aptly quoted piece from the Zambian Daily Mail formed this thematic poser of the gathering. “It is interesting to note that for the first time, Zambia was forced to accept a gift. Doesn't this worry us as recipients that the giver is insisting that we take the GM (genetically modified) foods? Are the Americans just concerned about our stomachs or there is something behind the gift,” ran the lines like a riddle in the November 5, 2002 edition of the daily. And participants tried to piece it together, drawing from the experiences of countries within Africa and beyond. The overwhelming conclusion from the forum organised by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Africa , was that GMO are the manifestoes of a new colonialism, the surreptitious continuation of a political and economic tendency that is threatening all humanity. The controversy over GM foods in Africa began in 2000, but became topical in 2002, when several Southern African countries refused GM food aid despite calamitous food shortage. The United States - which is the world's largest producer of GM foods - tried to push the argument that the choice for Africa 's starving populations was between GM food and hunger. But the FoE Africa Strategy Meeting made to explode the basis of the GMO exponents' arguments. Mr Lopez Vilar Juan of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) set the tone of the discussions with a blow-by-blow analysis of how GMO are a mere struggle against the right of farmers to save and reuse their seed. He said genetic engineering or modern biotechnology companies, led by Monsanto of United States, are out to take away control over crops from farmers and force them into a cycle of dependence since they would necessarily have to go back to the biotech companies for seed to plant. It is this trend that is currently being transferred to Africa , FoE warns.

In Africa , traditionally, at the end of each farming season, rolls of well-stocked barns adorn farmers' backyards, farmhouses, and storehouses, marking a smooth transition to the next planting season. People toil at sundry store places each day to preserve seeds that are used for the next planting season. FoE says this right to return to the barn, rather than to Monsanto or some other modern biotech companies or market, for seed to replant is about to be taken away from the African farmer with the infiltration of GM crops that would sooner or later become the legal property of their producers after replacing traditional seeds on the African farmlands. Though Juan admitted that there had been no reported cases of health hazards arising from GMO, he said they are likely to have adverse effects on the environment and on livelihoods through toxicity and introduction of strange genes into the body system.

Many African governments are either silent on the issue of GMO or are satisfied with the consumption of the products. And most African countries lack the facility to detect GM foods, despite the fact that many of their imported foods are not appropriately labeled by their manufacturers to facilitate easy identification by the consumer. Benin Republic is the only African country that has placed a moratorium on GM crops. But Miss Edith Abilogo of FoE , Cameroun said her group had been able to identify five major GM outlets in the capital, Younde, channels where, according to her, most residents do their shopping. Despite bio-safety laws put in place by the government to mandate manufacturers to label their products, Abilogo says, regulation of GM products is largely lacking. In South Africa , as the country marks 10 years of liberation from apartheid, there are concerns that the people might just be up against another oppressor of their person and environment – GMO – says Thoko Makhanya of FoE , South Africa . South Africa is the only country in Africa that has commercialized the production and consumption of GMO, and Makhanya thinks this is because the privileged white minority class still controls agriculture and state agricultural policies. GM rice and maize have been adopted in several Northern Nigerian states, and GMOs are sold in several shops across the country. Nigeria , like many African countries, hardly has any effective laws on GMO regulation.

How then can Africa overcome hunger in a continent where nothing is clear-cut and where there are hardly straight lines, even in principle? The FoE Africa groups believe solution to the continent's food crisis lies in developing indigenous farming methods, and provision of aid to achieve sustainable and diversified agricultural development. “Analyses of the biotech industry's project in Africa have shown that benefits, if any, are much lower than what would be obtained from conventional organic agricultural methods if just a tiny fraction of the huge sums spent on biotech research were channeled to conventional efforts,” states Nnimmo Bassey of FoE , Nigeria . He believes, “Rather than answering the hunger question in Africa , GMOs are being ruthlessly pushed to us in a bid to holding us literally at the guts, dragging us by the neck, and having us gasping, pleading and dependent on them. A major outcome will be the destruction of native species, erosion of our biodiversity and ultimately, the permanent alteration of our culture and traditions.” The widely held believe is that in Africa , people are groaning under the yoke of poverty and hunger, eking out a very miserable existence by no means consonant with the continent's resource endowment, because of bad economic policies and corruption among the leaders. GMOs rather than being a solution to this food crisis, FoE thinks, would aggravate it. The FoE Africa Strategy Meeting recommend “a complete moratorium on GM crops in Africa ,” and continent-wide efforts to create mass awareness on the products. “African governments should ratify and implement the Cartegena Protocol on Bio-safety, and adopt the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology,” the groups concluded.    




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