GMOs in Africa -- In whose interest?
Interestingly, these are similar to some of the objections issues raised against those crops and products by opponents of GMOs.
In whose interest?
By Nimmo Bassey
234Next.com, 9 February 2009
In a recent newspaper report (The Guardian on Sunday, 1/2/2009), an official of USAID claimed that there is no need to fear genetically engineered crops. The official added that Nigeria only needs to set its biosafety law in place and then the door could be open for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to roll in.
USAID is targeting our staple crops. These are cassava, cowpea and oil palm. The USAID, more than any other foreign agency, has been pushing a grand agenda to place GMOs on the dining tables of Africans.
They have invested finance and other resources in edging African leaders and governments towards embracing GMOs. They also have a handy institution (the IITA) for the furtherance of this desire.
The assertion is that there is nothing to worry about GMOs. Is this really true? If there were really nothing to worry about genetically organisms, the Cartagena Protocol, which provides the internationally accepted framework on biosafety issues, would not have the precautionary principle as a cardinal point. The essence of this precaution is quite clear.
The USAID says that there is nothing to worry about GMOs, but the auditors to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have raised questions about GMOs imported into the USA. This is very intriguing considering the fact that the USA has promoted the export of GMOs and their products into the world market. Recall how Zambia was vilified when they refused GMO corn as food aid in 2002.
Indeed, the USA has routinely blocked efforts at globally regulating the spread of GMOs. Such resistance has been visible in the areas of having mandatory labelling of products made with GMOs and in the area of strict liabilities.
The move to block import of GMOs into the US comes after a decade of exporting its own genetically modified crops all over the world. Now the US wants to block foreign GM foods from entering the country for three reasons. First, they claim that the foreign GMOs would threaten agriculture in the US. Secondly they fear that they may affect the health of US citizens. Thirdly, they fear those GMOs may affect the environment.
The USDA auditor warned that, "Unless international developments in transgenic plants and animals are closely monitored, USDA could be unaware of potential threats that particular new transgenic plants or animals might pose to the nation's food supply." It is believed that the warning is a reaction to the wide-ranging research in this area in countries such as Brazil, China and India. China for example is ready to release GM rice that may enter the US without being declared.
Interestingly, these are similar to some of the objections issues raised against those crops and products by opponents of GMOs. It has become popular for proponents of GM crops, such as the USAID and its agency the IITA, to say that the crops are the answer to hunger in Africa, that they yield more and are more nutritious.
These are hollow arguments. Scientists who are independent of agribusiness have confirmed that GM crops do not have any of these advantages claimed by their promoters.
Six countries account for 90% of the global area planted with GM crops: the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The USA alone produces over 50% of the worldÃs GM crops and the USA, Argentina and Brazil together grow over 80% of all GM crops.
These countries have highly industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors. A report by Friends of the Earth International asserts that the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. It also adds that disease-resistant GM crops are practically non-existent. Failed efforts to modify cassava fall into this category although Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will not give up on cassava. This is a huge threat to our biodiversity.
Why then GM crops? The benefits go to the industry that makes and controls the sale of the crops and related inputs. The majority of GM crops are modified to be either herbicide tolerant or pest resistant. Indeed, almost 80% of all GM crops planted in the world today are herbicide resistant.
The corporations that engineered the seeds also manufacture the herbicides they are resistant to. It is all about control ensured through patents. Quite often, seeds obtained from harvests are not so productive down the line. This means great cost to poor farmers. The high cost of GM seeds is not the only problem.
The majority of GM crops such as soybeans and corn are used to feed animals, generate biofuels, or produce highly processed food products consumed mostly in rich countries and not for the poor.
If African countries allow themselves to be pushed unto the GM train, the result will be quite predictable: the ruin of poor farmers. The push has been great: through food aid channels and through other forms of assistance such s those aimed at Africa by the Melinda Gates Foundation under the Agricultural Green Revolution Africa and related initiatives. The push is great, and so must the rejection be.