GMO: Commercialising transgenic cotton varieties, disaster for Nigerians – Activists

Cotton
Cotton

Some groups of environmental activists have condemned the registration and commercial release of genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties across the country.

According to the group, “the move by the Nigerian government to commercialise the transgenic cotton varieties opens the doors for more genetically modified products (including the GM cowpea) and represents nothing but disaster for farmers, the entire public and our agricultural system.”

The ministries of science and technology and agriculture in conjunction with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) on Monday announced the official release and placing on market of genetically modified cotton varieties by a biotech company, Bayer/Mahyco Agricultural Nigeria Limited.

This came despite concerted efforts of many Nigerians and activists to prevent such move without proper consideration.

The GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and over 35 other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in a statement jointly signed on Monday evening, described as an ambush by government agencies and officials, the manner at which the release and registration of the GM cotton varieties were granted.

“Nigerians do not accept to be ambushed in this way by government agencies and officials,” the groups insisted.

The activists said it is ’embarrassing’ the way the government is trying to persuade Nigerians to accept agricultural biotechnology and GMO food/crops.

“We were utterly embarrassed to see the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, merely (regurgitating) the claims of the biotech industry that GMOs would bring about increase in agricultural yields, reduce pesticide use and improve economic situation for farmers- all of which have serially been proven to be false!”

The coalition of CSOs, farmer groups and faith-based organisations warned Nigerians to “beware of the propaganda and to see the push for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for what it really is – a money-making venture for the biotech corporations and their political jobbers.”

The coordinator of the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour was quoted in the statement as saying it is erroneous for Nigeria to adopt a crop variety which is famous for its failure in many countries where it has been used.

Also in the jointly signed statement, Nnimmo Bassey, director of HOMEF said, “The results of the use of GM cotton in other countries have shown that the promoters of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria are knowingly peddling falsehood.

“As if to buttress this, South African government have recently rejected Monsanto’s triple stacked GM drought tolerant maize as they found that the data provided by company was insufficient to demonstrate the claimed drought tolerance and insect resistant efficiency of the GM event.

“It is regrettable that our ministers would front for Monsanto, a corporation that now goes by another name (Bayer), and that is well known for suppressing and distorting scientific research in order to accumulate profit at the expense of farmers, people and the planet.

“It is time for the Nigerian government to merge the National Biosafety Management Agency and the National Biotechnology Development Agency as there is no basis for their pretending to be separate entities.”

Without proper considerations and consultations

Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, a lawyer and food sovereignty activist explained how the approval for the release of the GM cotton varieties were granted without proper considerations and consultations.

“In 2016, when the application for environmental release and market placement of the cotton was advertised by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), HOMEF sent in objections outlining socio-economic, molecular, as well as safety and environmental concerns.

“In their submission to the Agency, HOMEF stated that the transgenic cotton contained the toxins: cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac which have no history of safe use in nature and have been shown to have similarities to known allergenic proteins. Also, no baseline data was provided on safety assessments and the application did not consider any combinatorial or cumulative effects of the modified proteins.

“On environmental impact, it was pointed out that the application did not make provision for treatment of non-target organisms (organisms other than the target pests) and no data was provided on tests used by the company to back the claim of no adverse effect. Also, the specificity of the ecological situation in Nigeria was not considered.”

Not yet ready

Mrs Bassey-Orovwuje insisted that Nigeria is not ready to handle the implications of deploying genetically modified crops.

“Our regulatory system is stacked against the people as there is no provision for strict liability and redress in the country’s biosafety law and thus when the crop fails, the burden will be on our farmers.”

Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the league of nations that are already using genetic engineering (GE), also called genetic modification (GM), to boost food production.

Since then, there has been a protracted debate over the application of genetically modified crops into the food system of the country. HOMEF, among several other groups, has repeatedly kicked against the application.

They had in 2017, filed a lawsuit against the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) over the approval it granted to Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited to release (GM) crops in Nigeria including BT cotton.

The Abuja Federal High Court in August however struck out the suit.

NBMA is the government agency that regulates biotechnology and GMO in Nigeria while NABDA promotes it.

Reacting, Rose Gidado, the scientific officer and assistant director of the NABDA, waived the position of the activists as baseless.

“These things groups such as HOMEF are saying is just rumour mongering and baseless,” she told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday in a phone interview.

“This technology reduces the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture and it is not going down well with some agro-allied industries that actually produce chemicals as their main business venture. So, I think they sponsor some of these activists to go against the application of these technology.

“The technology did not fail in South Africa. The farmers over there are making money out of it. Over 85 per cent of maize produced there are GM as well as cotton. It helps them cope with drought.”

Mrs Gidado, who also doubles as the country coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, further explained how the Nigerian government adopted BT cotton to reduce the use of chemicals in farms.

“Some of these chemicals don’t even work in killing most insects. We have a lot of emerging insects because of the global warming and these insects are growing resistance as a result of these chemicals, global warming and rise in temperature.”

She said the safety concerns raised about GM products have been taken care of.

“There is no way scientists can produce something that will be detrimental to the health of the people because we scientists are part of the consumers too.”

A Genetically Modified Organism is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.

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