Graphic: African Heritage Cultural Center

Source: Institute of Science in Society

Date: 06/20/2011

Civil society and private sector organisations come together to fight introduction of GM technology.

Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji

The recent introduction of GM (genetic modification) technology into Tanzania has prompted local and international campaign groups to join forces in expressing concern for the conservation of agricultural biodiversity, which is crucial for food security and food sovereignty. Groups such as the African Centre for Biodiversity, Action Aid, International Tanzania, Biolands, BioRe, BioSustain, Envirocare, PELUM Tanzania, Swissaid, Eastern & Southern African Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, formed the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity in recent weeks to urge the government to resist pressure from GM companies and stakeholders to relax the strict safety legislation to allow the widespread introduction of GM technologies [1]. One liability clause states that ‘a person who imports, arranges transit, makes use of, releases or places on the market a GMO or product of a GMO shall be strictly liable for any harm caused by such a GMO or product of a GMO’ and that ‘the harm shall be compensated’. In a previously GM-free country, the alliance wants to base the assessment of GM crop safety on the precautionary principle, and state that ‘GM crops or animals are not the solution to poverty and hunger’ in the region. 

Currently, Tanzania, along with Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana are performing field tests on GM crops; maize and cassava are being tested in Tanzania. The Tanzanian Cotton Board has also approved the introduction of Bt cotton. South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt have already started cultivating GM crops.

South Africa has experienced problems with crop yields; farmers have reported up to 80 percent loss in corn production, with GM corn not producing kernels in a proportion of plants.

Monsanto has been expanding into the African continent with support from United States Agency for International Development USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), also founded by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations (see [2] Beware of the “Doubly Green Revolution”, SiS 37) . Bill Gates is a huge proponent of GM biotechnology and has recently invested in 500,000 shares of the Monsanto stock worth an approximate US$23.1 million. This investment represents a strong conflict of interest between their purported role of ‘alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers’ and Monsanto’s track record of disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world. Small scale farmers are the largest source of food for much of the region.

A movement is building up across African countries to counter the expansion of agribusiness, with a number of alliances already formed in additional countries including South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda.

The Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity has called on the government to be cautious when inviting new investments in GM technologies. Farmer Mr. Shaha, Regional Chairman of ESAFF, spoke to the Daily News in Kenya about the intense pressure from foreign biotech companies, who are ‘paying our scientists very well to support their work and are imposing their agenda on what we should grow and eat’.  ActionAid Tanzania’s Director, Aida Kiangi, also commented, “We are one of many NGOs who have seen the fallout from this technology on small farmers and their families in other countries, and I urge my fellow Tanzanians to beware of the serious risks before it is too late.”

Kenya has also seen a new coalition of small-scale organic farmers form in the past weeks, with an advocate and member of African Biodiversity Network stating that ‘organic foods can provide a food secure and ecologically healthy future, while the introduction of patented seeds and related chemicals into our farming systems threatens our agricultural practices, our livelihoods, the environment, and undermines our seed sovereignty’.

The African Union is also to establish an organic farming platform to provide guidance in support of the development of sustainable organic farming systems and improve seed quality, promoting small-scale farming systems (see [3] African Union to Support Organic Farming, SiS 50). There is growing resistance to foreign agricultural practices especially cultivation of GMOs; and this may well increase food security in the region.

References

1. Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, accessed 6 June 2011, http://envaya.org/TABIO/home

2. Ho MW. Beware the “Doubly Green Revolution”. Science in Society 37, 26-29, 2008.

3. Lim LC. African Union to Support Organic Farming. Science in Society 50, 19, 2011.

 

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One Response to “African Alliances Challenge Introduction of GM Technology”

  1. Lisa says:

    I do hope that governments will see – and disapprove of – what’s really going on. I was sad to see that the Gates have been courting the Tanzanian government the past few days:
    http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/ne.....assistance.

    Greed has taken the form of either pure insanity or pure evil – or both.