Nigeria: 38 Groups On Warpath Over Agricultural Biotechnology

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Nigeria: 38 Groups On Warpath Over Agricultural Biotechnology
Akanimo Sampson

The move by the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch to sway the citizenry to accept agricultural biotechnology has drawn the ire of 38 civic groups in the country. The groups have also denounced the release of Genetically Modified Cotton into the country

The GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and over 35 other groups in a statement wired to this reporter on Tuesday condemned efforts by government and biotech corporations to persuade Nigerians to accept agricultural biotechnology and denounced the registration and release of genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties (Maycho C567 BG II and Maycho C571 BG II) into Nigeria.

This is coming as the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with biotech company, Bayer/Mahyco (formally Monsanto) Agricultural Nigeria Limited, the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) held a press conference on Monday to inform the public on the recently released transgenic cotton varieties.

In the statement that was jointly signed by HOMEF Director, Nnimmo Bassey,  Coordinator, GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, and Chairperson, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, the protesting groups said:

‘’We were utterly embarrassed to see the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, merely regurgitated 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’’.

On his part, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh was reported to have said that Nigerians are too afraid and that we can’t remain backward with regard to modern biotechnology. But the groups are insisting that Nigerians do not accept to be ambushed in this way by government agencies and officials.

The coalition of civic groups comprising farmer groups, faith-based organisations representing thousands of consumers, food safety and environmental actors has warned Nigerians to beware of the alleged 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.

According to them, ‘’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’’.

Rhodes-Vivour, coordinator of the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance says it is erroneous for Nigeria to adopt a crop variety which is famous for its failure in many countries where it has been used, adding, ‘’in 2016 Burkina Faso discontinued cultivation of this genetically modified cotton due to poor quality of the cotton and high cost of inputs.

‘’Farmers in India have had a disastrous experience with this type of cotton as it proves ineffective against the bollworm pest and causes instead a boom of non-target pests, increase in pesticide use and in production cost.  China, Indonesia and Pakistan are other countries where the transgenic cotton has failed.

‘’Experts in Kenya including the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), Africa Biodiversity Network, and Greenpeace Africa oppose plan to introduce this crop into their country stressing that it is unwarranted and unsafe.’’

Bassey, the HOMEF director on his part 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.’’

Continuing, he added, ‘’it is regrettable that our ministers will 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, peoples and the planet. 

‘’Combined with the dismal performance of the Nigerian delegation at the ongoing UN Convention on Biodiversity COP in Egypt it is clear that the GMO promoters have sold Nigerians and Africa at large for a mess of porridge. 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.’’

For Bassey-Orovwuje, a lawyer and food sovereignty activist, ‘’it is appalling for the Federal Government to partner with Bayer/Monsanto and their hired helpers in this manner’’, insisting further 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. “To say that GMOs mean increased yield for farmers and the use of less herbicides and pesticides is the most blatant falsehood of the century’’, she said.

When the application for environmental release and market placement of the cotton was advertised by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in 2016, 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.

Also in the statement, Gloria Okon, a farmer based in Katsina State and a member of the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, pointed out that farmers in Nigeria do not need GM cotton or beans. ‘’Farmers need to be provided with extension services to expose them to natural strategies (such as biological control and integrated pest management systems) to combat invading pests instead of government and Monsanto imposing solutions that will not help the poor’’, she said

The coalition is accordingly calling for the Buhari administration and the entire public to reject agricultural biotechnology as solution for food challenges, to seek innovative systems such as agroecology that protect and enhance ecosystems, support small holder farmers and increase productivity.

These are the protesting civic organisations:

1.     GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance

2.     Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

3.     Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)

4.     Nigerians Against GMOs

5.     Smallholder Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON)

6.     Nigeria Women Farmers Association (NIWAAFA)

7.     Cassava Growers Association

8.     Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE)

9.     Bio Integrity and Natural Foods Awareness

10.  Idama Coorperative Farm

11.  Green Alliance Nigeria

12.  International Climate Change Development Initiative (ICCDI)

13.  Community Development Advocacy Foundation (CODAF)

14.  Women& Children Life Advancement initiative

15.  Women Initiative on Climate Change

16.  Rural Alliance for Green Environment (RAGE)

17.  Community Forest Watch Nigeria

18.  Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre

19.  Initiative for Peace, Empowerment and Tolerance

20.  The Young Environmentalist Network (TYEN)

21.  Peace Point Action

22.  Policy Alert

23.  Centre for Research in Environmental Resource Management (CREMA)

24.  Committee on Vital Environmental Resources (COVER)

25.  Climate Change and Amelioration Initiative (ECCAI)

26.  Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative (GERI)

27.  Pearls Care Initiative (PCI)

28.  Gender and Community Empowerment Initiative (GECOME)

29.  Good Health Living and Environmental Foundation

30.  Initiative for Peace, Environment and Tolerance

31.  Eco Defenders Network

32.  Urban-Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED)

33.  Climate Transformation and Energy Remediation Society ( CLIMATERS)

34.  Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)

35.  Integrity Conscience Initiative (ICI)

36.  Community Environmental-Watch Committee

37.  EcoActors

38.  Eco Assurance and Rural Transformation Center

For more information please see:

Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops

Burkina Faso phases out genetically modified cotton after low quality yields

Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops

GM Cotton Fiascos Around the World

India: Failed promises of GM Bt cotton

Objection to The Application from Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited

This post was written by Akanimo Sampson.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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