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African nations accused of undermining food sovereignty

African governments have been accused of being complacent about the “covert” activities of the biotechnology industry to undermine food sovereignty on the continent.

According to participants at a workshop held in Abuja, the policy frameworks for biotechnology in most African countries are either non-existent, weak or subject to manipulation by multinational corporations promoting genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and acting in alliance with some research institutes.

Nnimmo Bassey, Chairman of ERA

Participants at the event organised by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in collaboration with the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), African Center for Biosafety, EcoNexus and the Third World Network declared that the much-touted benefits of GMOs, when critically analysed, are found to be myths.

They pointed out that, in 2008, over 400 scientists, 30 governments from developed and developing countries and 30 civil society organisations, concluded work under the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The report observed that modern biotechnology would have very limited contribution to the feeding of the world in the foreseeable future, they said.

At the workshop titled “Biosafety Regulations and Experience Sharing”, the participants warned that the production of GMOs is not only a threat to biosafety; it also poses a great threat to human and animal health as well as the environment.

“Promoters of GMO and their allies have deliberately ignored the importance and the peculiarities of African culture, environment and agriculture in their aggressive attempts to impose their products on Africa. Rather than African governments getting committed to promotion of agro-ecological agriculture practices, they have become tied to the apron-strings of speculators and neo-colonial powers whose objective is to exploit, subjugate and destroy food production systems on the African continent.”

They added that, contrary to the arguments peddled by modern biotechnology industry, there are few or no tangible successes stories on GMOs and Africa must not be used as ground for experimentation for unverified technologies.

They accused the Nigerian government of not taking into account the concerns of local farmers, critical stakeholders, citizens’ participation and engagement contrary to the provisions of the AU model law and the Cartagena Protocol in the formulation of the draft Biosafety Bill now waiting for the President’s signature.

Participants lamented that African farmers, especially women, lack adequate access to land and other resources necessary for agricultural production, a situation they say is further compounded by massive land grabs by multinationals corporations for agro-fuels production and other capitalist interests.

“There is a dearth of funding and sustainable investment from African governments for research and development in agro-ecological practices of improving agriculture in Africa. There is inadequate information and awareness on food sovereignty issues in the media thus shutting out critical stakeholders, thereby deepening public ignorance and inhibiting contributions to solutions,” noted the participants.

They, therefore, called on African governments to address the hunger question on the continent by prioritisation of agro-ecological agriculture systems over corporate models that promote inequalities.

They likewise underlined the need for a local and continental paradigm-shift towards food sovereignty based on local contextual considerations, promotion of small-scale farmers, pastoralists and fisher-folk which, they stressed, have defined agro-ecological agriculture based on human rights and sustainable natural resource management.

Furthermore, African governments were urged to put in place adequate regulatory frameworks for monitoring compliance.

“African governments should adequately address the gender insensitivity in agriculture with particular emphasis on access to land and other resources. This is because women are widely acknowledged as pillars in African agricultural practice and sustenance.”

By Michael Simire

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