PREMIUM TIMES is very concerned about the determined march by the US-based multinational, Monsanto, to impose Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into agricultural production in Nigeria.
They have found willing accomplices in two government agencies – the National Biotechnology Development Agency and the National Biosafety Management Agency – that are taking the lead in opening doors to GMOs.
In mid August 2016, three Nigerian ministries held a meeting of biotechnology and biosafety experts at the Sheraton Hotel in the presence of the ministers of agriculture and rural development, environment and science and technology. Virtually all the scientists invited were prominent proponents of GMOs. Key scientists from the Institute of Agricultural Research in Ahmadu Bello University, who had been drawing the attention of Nigerians to the dangers of GMOs, were not invited.
Not surprisingly, the so-called experts’ consultative meeting was turned into a tribune to sing the alleged benefits of GMOs. Rather than a real debate on the issue, the meeting resolved “to sensitise Nigerians on the benefit of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)”.
One of the most despicable aspects of the meeting was the unfounded claim “that GMOs started from the time of Adam and Eve in the Biblical Garden of Eden.” This argument, popularised by Monsanto, sets out to deliberately confuse conventional breeding of crops with genetic engineering, which involves splicing genes and transferring genetic material from one species to another in a laboratory, a late 20th century invention.
Immediately after the meeting, the Open Forum Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), an NGO funded by the GMO lobby, organised a training workshop for 105 advocates who are to engage in propaganda to convince government agencies and the public that the only way Nigeria can feed its population is by accepting GMO technology.
Meanwhile, while the official position of government is that they are reviewing and reflecting on whether to accept GMOs, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has revealed the fact that GMOs have been approved to be grown in Nigeria and that the approval was surreptitious. There is an argument over whether the approval was for a two-year trial process or for permanent production, and whatever may be the case, Nigerians should rise to oppose it as it is.
The assertions made at the meeting that GMOs do not have serious health hazards are based on studies that are not independent i.e. they are typically carried out or funded by GMO companies themselves. The longest period over which tests in such studies have been carried out is 90 days – too short a period for the growth of cancers to become apparent or damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys to be detected.
Data from tests carried out by GMO companies and the corresponding results are kept secret – a 2010 article in the International Journal of Biological Science that reviewed the health risks of GMOs could only obtain the data by court order and lawyers. Independent scientists have shown evidence that Monsanto’s GMO crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The current Monsanto project to grow glyphosate infused maize in Nigeria is a direct threat to our health as recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
PREMIUM TIMES is concerned that at no time has the Nigerian government taken a policy decision to approve GMOs and given the health dangers alone of this technology, it is irresponsible to allow this.
Nonetheless, three Nigerian ministers would participate in a lobby workshop in which only Monsanto approved apologists would come to put pressure on government to sustain their approval to start production. We cannot allow the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to sell our future for whatever temporary inducement it might have received from Monsanto. How can we as a nation allow Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd to register in the country and start production without explicit approval from the Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly?
Burkina Faso, which took the lead on GMO production in Africa, decided this year to abandon its GMO cotton. The inferior lint quality of Monsanto products and the enslavement of buying expensive seeds and chemicals from Monsanto every year – for an income less than that generated before introducing the GMO cotton – were cited as reasons for this step.
It should be recalled that for a long time, Burkinabé cotton was renowned for its high quality following a highly successful non-GMO breeding programme founded by the French government and spanning 70 years. The main goal of the breeding programme was to create cultivars that were well adapted to the growing conditions in West Africa and had the desired quality characteristics, such as a high ginning ratio, which is the percentage of the desired cotton fibre per unit weight of cotton delivered to the factory and long staple length.
After the type of well-funded lobby similar to what is going on in Nigeria today, the Burkinabe Government foolishly decided to abandon the home-grown approach and follow the GMO route of Monsanto. After six years of commercial production, the country discovered that the quality and world market price of its cotton had plummeted. Cotton is the second-biggest source of revenue for the impoverished West African country, after gold. It is this same GMO cotton, which failed in Burkina Faso that is now being introduced to Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES calls on the Ministers of Agriculture, the Environment and Science and Technology to take the side of Nigerian interest and direct the National Biosafety Management Agency to withdraw the present authorisation issued for the production of GMO crops.
Given our fragile ecosystems and stressed environment, we must take our biosafety seriously and avoid the path of introducing crops that are dangerous to the health of our people and our environment. Nineteen European countries that care about the health of their people have completely banned genetically modified crops. Even the Russian State Duma recently passed a bill banning all import and production of genetically modified organisms in the country. We must not allow Nigeria to be turned into a dumping ground for what other countries have sensibly rejected.
Nigerian research centres such as the Institute of Agricultural Research in Ahmadu Bello University and the Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan have been developing very successful varieties of crops using conventional methods. These research centres should be supported. It is irresponsible to dump what our scientists are developing and opt for the products of a US-based multinational that wants to enslave us to their seeds and herbicides in addition to introducing health hazards.
We need to take a close look at the National Biosafety Management Act 2015, which is highly permissive and was couched for easy entrance of GMOs and related products into Nigeria. The Governing Board of the agency is composed largely of biotech promoters and Monsanto advocates. Neither farmers nor consumers are represented on the board. The present Act allows for the display and receipt of comments on GMO applications to be made within only 21 days. In the case of the approval for Monsanto’s GMO cotton, the application was displayed only at Zaria and Abuja. There was no public hearing or consultation before the approval was given. The Agency was acting as empowered by the clearly deficient Act. This must be rectified to ensure that sufficient time is given for submission of objections/comments and that there are public hearings before decisions are made.
PREMIUM TIMES is aware of the imperative of addressing the twin challenges confronting our agriculture today: an inability to meet domestic food requirements, and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. The former problem is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is largely inefficient. As a result, we are faced with an aging population of farmers who do not have enough seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, crop protection and related support to be successful. The latter challenge is driven by an equally inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality standards, as well as poor knowledge of target markets. Insufficient food testing facilities, a weak inspectorate system in the Ministry, and poor coordination among relevant federal agencies serve to compound early stage problems such as poor knowledge of permissible contaminant levels.
We must successfully address the challenges of food insecurity and the economic costs of importing $3 to $5 billion worth of food annually, especially wheat, rice, fish and sundry items, including fresh fruits. That challenge is best addressed by looking inward.
The best solution is investing in agricultural research in the country. Our governments should engage its research institutions and bodies at different locations in the country in conducting research for increased agricultural productivity and in making the research results available to farmers and other actors in the agricultural development of the states.
That is the way to go. Was it not just a couple of months ago that the Institute of Agricultural Research of Ahmadu Bello University found a cure for the terrible blight of the tomato Ebola disease that wiped out fresh stew from our homes recently?
Let’s empower our research institutes for our own good.