Agroecological farming key to Africa's future
2.Comments on Kenya's Biosafety Bill
EXTRACT: Past public-private partnerships in Africa have proven to be failures, such as the 14-year project between Monsanto, USAID and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute to engineer a virus-resistant sweet potato. The GM sweet potato failed to show any resistance to the virus while local varieties actually outperformed the GM variety in field trials.
The U.S. approach to helping Africa should not be a top-down process that excludes the voices of African farmers... (item 1)
1.Agroecological Farming Key To Africa's Future
Black Star News, April 24 2009
The global food crisis and how to stop hunger from escalating in the midst of the current economic crisis was the subject of a G8 meeting of Agricultural ministers, April 18-20, in Treviso, Italy.
For now, the G8 and the United States continue to advocate the same disastrous policies that got us into the current mess where one billion people lack access to adequate food.
U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has said that biotechnology is necessary to address hunger while the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently approved without much public debate the “Global Hunger Security Act” sponsored by Senators Bob Casey and Richard Lugar that for the first time would mandate the U.S. to fund genetic engineering projects in foreign agriculture research.
Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation has billions invested in the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.”
As an African American farmer from Mississippi who has visited and traveled to Africa many times, I am stunned that the real solutions continue to be ignored. We face multiple crises -- financial, climate, energy, and water. Business as usual will not solve our global hunger crisis.
More expensive genetically modified seeds, pesticides and chemical-intensive practices won't help the hungry and will only allow more profits and control for seed companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.
While the G8 calls for more "free trade" in agriculture and more biotechnology, groundbreaking scientific reports and actions at the United Nations are actively calling for a different vision of agriculture. This would be based on agroecological methods that respects our planet's resources and provide a decent living for family farmers.
In 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), backed by United Nations agencies, the World Bank and over 400 contributing scientists from 80 countries found that the most promising solutions to the world’s food crisis include investing in agroecological research, extension and farming.
The Congress and Obama Administration need to take a serious look at the IAASTD report before funneling scarce resources into another "Green Revolution" in Africa.
Past public-private partnerships in Africa have proven to be failures, such as the 14-year project between Monsanto, USAID and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute to engineer a virus-resistant sweet potato. The GM sweet potato failed to show any resistance to the virus while local varieties actually outperformed the GM variety in field trials.
The U.S. approach to helping Africa should not be a top-down process that excludes the voices of African farmers who have the knowledge of their land and what food to grow.
The UN is helping to move the discussion towards "food sovereignty" by appointing a Special Rapporteur on the "Right to Food" and convening a Panel on the Right to Food.
I was privileged to hear General Coordinator of La Via Campesina Henry Saragih of Indonesia and Professor Olivier De Schutter before the United Nations General Assembly. De Schutter said: "The right to food is not simply about more production, but about distribution and access. While high food prices are bad for consumers, so too are depressed prices for farmers who can’t make a living."
De Schutter pointed out that 60% of hungry people in the world are small farmers, pastoralists, fisher folk and others who make a living off the land. An additional 20% are landless agriculture workers.
A "right to food” framework therefore goes deeper than simply the misguided obsession with yields and productivity, and more fundamentally towards questions regarding democracy and access to resources, including land, water and credit.
A recent report by Union of Concerned Scientists titled "Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops," showed that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields while only driving up costs for farmers.
In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results. The scientific research and renewed focus on the “right to food” exposes why we must move away from “Green Revolution” monoculture practices and instead embrace ecologically sound practices, more equitable trade rules and local food distribution systems to empower family farmers.
Now the governments of the world and the Gates Foundation need to finally get the message as well.
*Burkett is a Mississippi farmer and President of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. He is also the President of the National Family Farm Coalition and represents North America on the Food Sovereignty Commission of La Via Campesina.
The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) was founded in 1986 to serve as a national link for grassroots organizations working on family farm issues.
2.ACB Briefing Paper No. 7, 2009
Comments on the Biosafety Bill 2008, of Kenya
By Mariam Mayet
Africa Center for Biosafety, April 2009
Introduction and summary of Kenyan Biosafety Bill
Genetically Modified crop plants continue to be offered to Africa as a solution to alleviate poverty and stave off hunger. It is a trite observation that hunger has little to do with how efficiently food is produced or how much food is available for consumption. Indeed, hunger is rooted in socio-economic realities which limit the ability of people to access food on the market or land; the means to acquire food and other resources to produce food; access to a clean and healthy environment’ health care and education and so forth. Nevertheless, several countries in Africa, especially Kenya, are hell bent on adopting GMOs into their agricultural systems.
During February 2009, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki signed the country’s heavily contested Biosafety Bill.[i] A year earlier, the NGO Africa Nature Stream approached the Kenyan courts to intervene and stop the promulgation of a previous version of the Bill (Biosafety Bill 2007), on the grounds that GMOs cause unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.[ii] However, this legal intervention proved to be futile as did other forms of resistance on the part of Kenyan activists. Indeed, no amount of opposition by activists in Kenya could have changed the course of history because the US government had the entire regulatory process all wrapped up. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) has played a pivotal role in the development of the Kenyan biosafety law and ensuring its safe passage into the Kenyan statute books. In its document titled ‘PBS Helps Set the Stage for Biosafety Legislation’[iii] it is upfront about having helped prepare the Kenyan Biosafety Bill for enactment by participating in consultations to revise the bill, educating members of Parliament on the bill, countering misleading information and preparing briefing documents for policy makers and the media. PBS is so far ahead of the game that while the Kenyan government is still in the process of putting in place the necessary biosafety administrative systems to implement the Biosafety law, PBS has already prepared the regulations to implement the Bill, on such issues as “contained use” and “deliberate release.” [iv]
The main imperatives underpinning the legislation appear to be the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which Kenya is a Party, and the legal mechanism to allow the commercial growing of GM maize and cotton in Kenya, with the hope that this will open the doors for further expansion into the rest of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Indeed, upon hearing the news that the Kenyan Biosafety Bill had been enacted, COMESA praised the move as “ ”¦a major milestone because of the strategic importance of Kenya in the COMESA region”¦”[v] It must be noted that Kenya does not need a Biosafety law to authorize field trials involving GMOs nor to sanction the importation of GM food/ food aid. Kenya has allowed field trials involving GM sweet potato (which failed spectacularly) as long ago as 2003/4 and thereafter, GM cotton and maize. It has also accepted US maize and soyamilk food aid in 2001, during the Southern African food crisis, without restrictions, when many other Southern African countries were imposing various restrictions on food aid to prevent the ingress of GMOs in their agricultural systems by way of contamination or inadvertent planting Indeed, Kenya has continued to import several thousand tons of food aid form the US, which in all likelihood consists of GMOs.[vi]
In this paper, we provide a brief analysis of the Kenyan Biosafety Bill for the benefit of Kenyan activists in order to contribute in a small way, to their onward battle against GMOs.
Summary of Biosafety Bill
The Biosafety law establishes a GMO permitting system, which the regulatory Body, the National Biosafety Authority (Authority), administers. This is comprised of a mixture of government officials, experts and civil society representatives; thus farmers and consumer groups are represented on the Authority, together with an industry representative. Nevertheless, the provisions dealing with public participation and access to information do not give the Kenyan public the right to participation, but merely an opportunity to make input with regard to GM applications concerning field trials and commercial releases. The notification procedures to inform the public of such applications appear to be inadequate and may have little impact.
Too much discretion is given to both the applicant and Authority to decide on the question of confidentiality regarding the information that is available to the public. This can easily lead to the abuse of power and defeating the public’s rights to meaningfully engage with the process and making representations.
Generally speaking, the law exhibits an extreme reluctance to place clear and precise biosafety obligations on the applicant. Provisions dealing with applications to introduce GMOs into the environment are meager in terms of their biosafety content and a discretion is conferred on an applicant to decide on the overall scope of the information it needs to furnish to the Authority, in order to allow the latter to make complete risk evaluation of the potential risks.
The most worrying provisions are those dealing with exemptions from risk assessments for applications for contained use, introduction into the environment and import. These mean that the Authority can do away with case-by-case assessments and exempt such applications from the permitting requirements of the law. It will be able to do so, by arguing that it has relied on information shared by the regulators from countries that have a longer history with GMOs, such as the US or South Africa, that the GMO and activity in question are safe.
Unintentional and unapproved releases (such as illegal imports of GMOs, contamination incidences) are dealt with in a like restrictive manner and do not immediately attract intervention, including cessation of the activity. Instead, the intervention contemplated is one of consultation at the government level to decide whether any action is necessary to minimize any biosafety risks. Indeed, the Biosafety law does not readily allow the Authority to over-turn an approval, once granted. Cessation orders can only be issued when there is non compliance. In the event of an imminent danger to biodiversity and human health, the Authority is only able to issue a cessation order if one or more scientific studies calls for this. If these studies take a year to produce, then despite the imminent threat of damage, the Authority will not be able to issue a cessation order.
Decision making on the part of the Authority may only take socio-economic considerations into account when these are linked to negative environmental impacts. Arguably, negative socio-economic impacts that arise in the context of food security will not be taken into account? These provisions are also linked to consultation with the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) and conditions imposed by the BCH. This is difficult to understand since the BCH is nothing more than an internet-based clearing house or repository of biosafety related information, and thus cannot take decisions, consult or impose conditions.
The provisions dealing with decision-making do not make any explicit reference to the precautionary principle. What has thus been lost is an opportunity for the Authority to take measures to prevent harm; look for alternatives, place the burden of proof on the applicant to prove safety and the use of democratic processes to carry out and enforce the principle.
There is nothing in the Bill that places a clear and unequivocal responsibility on the applicant to take risk management measures to ensure that monitoring of the activity continues after approval has been granted. Such responsibility may or may not form part of permit conditions.
The provisions dealing with liability and redress are perhaps the most interesting. The Authority is held liable to pay compensation or damages to any person for any injury suffered as a result of the exercise of any power by the Authority in terms of the Biosafety law. It also holds a whole range of people strictly liable for any harm and has good provisions on access to justice, legal standing and so forth. These provisions seem to have been added in at the last minute, perhaps as a compromise in order to expedite the safe passage of the law through Parliament.
The law does require environmental impact assessments and does not deal with labeling of GMO food.
A great deal of work is still required in the drafting of regulations to fill in gaps, close some loopholes and bring about greater legal certainty. Civil society groups should ensure that they are part of this process.
[i] Henry Neondo All Africa Science News (http://africascien cenews.org) , via AgBioView. https://www. truthabouttrade. org/content/ view/13344/ 54/lang,de/
[ii] Body goes to court over Kenya’s Biosafety Bill, 10 February, 2008. http://www.africaco nservation. Org/cgi-bin/ dcforum/dcboard. cgi
[iii] Program for Biosafety Sytsems A partnership program for biosafety capacity development. (2007).
[iv] Program for Biosafety Sytsems A partnership program for biosafety capacity development. (2007).
[v] John Oyuke. Comesa commends Kenya for Biosafety law. The Standard Online. http://www.eaststan dard.net/ print.php? id=1144008369&cid=14
[vi] Shenaz Moola and Victor Munnik. (2007). GMOs in Africa: food and agriculture: Status report 2007. African Centre for Biosafety., Biosafety, Biopiracy and Biopolitics Series: 4.