Dangers of genetically modified crops to Nigeria – Part 1
Mr. President, we are worried about the surreptitious introduction of Genetically Modified Crops (GMO) into our food ecosystem and write to save the Nigerian populace, from the dangers of this invidious biotechnology.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the PDP-led government on Monday April 20, 2015, one week before the handover, signed the National Bio-safety Agency Bill into law. The Bio-safety bill empowers National Bio-safety Management Agency, NABDA, to regulate and open the country to the commercialisation of genetically modified crops.
Genetic modification as proffered by Biotech companies such as Monsanto et al, is the invasive scientific manipulation of plant or animal genes at a molecular level, to withstand unhealthy dosage of pesticides/herbicides produced by the same biotech companies. This is achieved by inserting a Bt gene acquired from bacteria into the genome of plants like corn, cowpea, cassava, etc. This then allows the plant to survive the lethal dosage of their pesticides at the detriment of soil health, harmful pollution to the air and the poisoning of the water system.
Aside from false promises of higher yields, less pesticide use, etc, GMOs are nothing more than patented pesticide delivery systems designed to increase the sales of poisonous agrochemicals such as Roundup, Glufosinate, Bt 2,4D, Astrazine and Neonicotinids. Such chemicals are sold under dubious labels of being bio-degradable which have since proved to be false.
It is worth noting that in March 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified glyphosate, the key ingredient in herbicides and pesticides, as carcinogenic. As soon as the WHO confirmed a long-held belief in the scientific community, Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena placed an immediate ban on glyphosate as did many other countries. President Sirisena, a farmer and former Health Minister, stated that glyphosate is responsible for the increasing number of chronic kidney disease (CKDu) patients in Sri Lanka and added that the move would protect the Sri Lankan farming community.
These are the exact same chemicals the Director-General of the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NABMA) Mr. Rufus Ebegba is pushing to have sprayed on our farms. The manufacturers try to convince would-be regulators to ignore the toxicity of their product as seen with their product Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada as well as another scandal in Indonesia in a bid to avoid environmental impact studies being conducted on its cotton.
Mr. President, in the past four months alone, 19 countries of the European Union (EU) have banned GMOs in their countries.
These include Germany, the most powerful nation in the union. The German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidit announced that in addition to its existing ban on GMO cultivation, it will make use of the “Opt-out” rules to stop GMO crop cultivation even if varieties are approved by the EU.
Furthermore, six of the eight most advanced countries on the planet (The G-8) have banned GMOs. These include France, Germany, Japan, Russia, England and Italy. Yet Mr. Rufus Ebegba of (NABMA), insists that we ignore all these precedents set by these great countries, as well as health risks involved with GMOs and focus on the increased revenue it can potentially bring to our country.
Nigeria’s Desperate Need For Export Earnings.
As I write this, the dollar is trading on the parallel market for $1-N330, A potential major foreign exchange earner is agriculture but as seen above, Europe has shut its borders to GMO products, several countries in Asia have done the same e.g. Thailand. Allowing our agriculture system to be contaminated with GMO would leave our produce like our oil, largely unsold.
The second tier of this problem is exposing our farmers and agencies to the high price of these imported seeds due to the exchange rate, whilst making them dependent on foreign companies for a primary input of production (the seed). These GMO seeds have also been genetically modified so that they produce crops that are sterile, ensuring that farmers must buy new seeds for each year’s planting, Thus protecting the “Patent rights” these companies claim on the seeds and locking the farmer into dependency on these foreign biotech companies for seeds every year. In doing this, a primary input of agriculture that exists abundantly is monopolised, commoditized and outsourced.
In 2015, our neighbour Burkina Faso once touted as the spearhead of transgenic cotton in West Africa by GMO lobbyist as well as Mr. Rufus Ebegba of (NABMA), abandoned genetically modified Bt Cotton crops in order to phase out inferior quality GMO crops for non-GMO crops. The issue is yields below what was promised in the contract, and the disappointing quality of cotton fiber. Besides denouncing their contract with Monsanto, Interprofessional Cotton members are evaluating the amount of compensation that they will claim, based on losses related to the cultivation of transgenic cotton since 2008. For Burkina Faso’s farmers, it has become clear that focus on yields alone is not the defining factor of a crop’s success. The yield in Burkina Faso was higher than its neighbour Mali produced. Yet within a few months, Mali’s entire product had been sold on the international market, while most of Burkina Faso’s languished awaiting export.
“What is the point in being the top producer if you can’t even sell your cotton?”
On the other hand, now more than ever organic produce is in high demand with consumers willing to pay far more for such products. Countries such as Uganda are benefiting from the global high demand of organic products. Organic products can go into all markets, GMO products can only go in to specific markets.
It is this prospect that informed Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s statement during his recent address to the Russian Parliament. President Putin proudly outlined his plan to make Russia the world’s ‘leading exporter’ of non-GMO foods that are based on ‘ecologically clean’ production. He went further to say
“We are not only able to feed ourselves taking into account our lands, water resources, Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing,”
Contamination, Crop failure, Pest and Weed Resistance
A major disadvantage of this technology is the contamination of natural varieties due to the wind causing pollen drift. Farmers that utilise these products as well as agencies that would supposedly “regulate” them cannot guarantee natural varieties would not become contaminated.
The rise of virulent pest resistance and super weeds as have emerged all over America is another factor worth noting. These pests and weeds can only be eradicated by purchasing harsher and more destructive chemicals from the same company, locking our farmers into a destructive cycle.
Effect on health and the environment
In 2011, scientists in Argentina found long-term effects of GMOs where these crops are grown, such as birth defects and a higher incidence of child cancer caused by glyphosate – a herbicide sprayed on GMO crops. The industrial agricultural practices of spraying these chemicals on farms create an abundance of these toxic chemicals in the air.
• To be continued tomorrow.
• The authors, members of the Working Committee, Nigerians Against GMO, wrote this as an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh.