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Civil society wants GMOs banned

Hundreds of Nigerians including farmers, CSOs, community persons, lawyers, medical practitioners, students, scientists, youth and women groups led by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance in Lagos marched against food products of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

GMOs rally
The GMO rally in Lagos

The march reached the Lagos State Government secretariat with a petition demanding for a ban on GMOs, a nullification of the permits already issued for the importation and release of genetically modified maize, beans and cotton into the country and to halt illegal entry of GMOs.

The coalition also demanded a ban of all toxic agrochemicals – especially those containing glyphosate which has been identified as a carcinogen, and for a halt on the assault on agriculture through genetic modification of staple crops including cassava, maize and beans.

Through the petition, the group urged the Nigerian government to be circumspect about technologies that aim to contaminate the environment, destroy agriculture, culture, rupture the socio-economic fabric and assert unbridled control over agriculture and food.

Speaking during the rally, Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of HOMEF, stressed that Nigeria does not need GMOs, adding that they are promoted on false premises which includes that they give higher yields and are more nutritious than normal crops.

Bassey explained that they do not use less herbicides and pesticides as many of the genetically modified crops are designed to withstand herbicides which are produced by same companies producing the seeds.

He added that another main reason some crops are genetically modified (such as the beans that was approved by the government for commercial release in 2019) is for them to act as pesticides. These processes destroy not only target pests and weeds but beneficial microorganisms -both in the soil and in the human guts, he explained.

Also speaking at the rally, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) stated that Nigeria has the capacity to feed itself and that Nigeria cannot allow her food system to be overtaken by corporate control/interest.

He called, instead, for better support for the small holder farmers who produce natural and healthy foods.

The Secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) buttressed this point when he said that just as the Nigeria government is currently encouraging local contents in other sectors, local farmers should be encouraged because they provide bulk of the food being consumed.

One of the women leaders, Funmi Ajayi, charged the government to take up the responsibility of protecting her citizens from danger and demanded that the government should put a stop to the introduction of GMOs in Nigeria as, according to her, this would cause more harm to Nigerians as well as lead to loss of livelihood for our farmers.

Joyce Ebebeinwe, a programme officer at HOMEF, stressed that the introduction of GMOs violates the rights of the people to safe and healthy food as majority of people are not aware of these foods or their implications.

According to her, the few who are aware have no way of identifying GMOs or making a choice as to whether to consume them.

The coalition was received by the Head of Public Affairs and that of Political Affairs on behalf of the Lagos State Governor at the Lagos State House of Assembly.

Bassey, while addressing the government officials, noted that GMOs, in spite of the many issues surrounding them, are continuously being introduced into the country by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and through illegal imports, according to a market shelf survey conducted by HOMEF in 2018 and 2019.

Bassey explained that the NBMA Act established in 2015 and amended in 2019 needs to be repealed due to loopholes in it such as the lack of provisions for strict liability and redress which mandates that the biotechnology corporations take responsibility for immediate and forthcoming negative impacts of use of their products.

He added that there are no mandatory provisions on access to information, public consultation and participation and lack of veritable provisions for the enforcement of the precautionary principle.

According to him, the NBMA Act is confers enormous discretionary powers on the agency and gives little room for oversight.

Bassey stressed that the coalition brought the demands before the Lagos State Government because, as the Centre of Excellence and economic hub in Nigeria, a decision of the state in the right direction will influence other states to do the same. The state government was urged to declare Lagos a GMO-free state.

The coalition called for an alternative to GMOs, and for government to address the root causes of the challenges of food production. The group called for an investment in and support for an agricultural system such as Agroecology which promotes soil health and biodiversity and ensures collaborative research/innovations with farmers and increased/sustained production of healthy/nutritious food.

It was demanded that farmers should be provided with needed infrastructure, extension service, access to land and credit schemes and good road-market networks.

At the close of the presentation, the government officials promised to pass every detail of the demands of the people to the state governor and look critically at the petition submitted to ensure that the demands stated are considered.

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