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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Campaigners accuse IITA of promoting GM cassava in Nigeria

The plan to take total control of Nigeria’s food system is moving rapidly on the genetically modified organisms (GMO) highway, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has alleged. According to the organisation, the list of GMOs being pushed in Nigeria includes beans, maize and cotton.

GM cassava
Yellow GMO cassava

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is said to have recently teamed up with ETHZ laboratories of Zurich Switzerland to apply to carry out confined field trial in Nigeria of cassava genetically modified to “obtain storage roots with lower post-harvest physiological degradation after harvest (thanks to pruning) without any loss of the nutritious starch.”

The HOMEF, along with 87 other civil society organisations (CSOs) said to be representing over five million Nigerians, has sent an objection to the application submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

IITA’s application is to conduct “confined” field trials of the cassava genetically modified using a new gene silencing technology that has never been tested before, says HOMEF, pointing out that the IITA has admitted that such an approval has not been given for this GMO cassava anywhere in any “jurisdiction” in the world.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, the HOMEF Director, “The IITA has been a respected institution in Nigeria and Africa on whom farmers depend for good quality and safe crops. Now they have decided to drive on the GMO road, Nigerian and African agriculture face a mortal danger. If NBMA approves this application, we can as well say good bye to food safety in Nigeria.”

Bassey adds, “Even if the IITA presents the Frankenstein cassava as a crop for the production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting the GMO cassava for food. We call on the NBMA to do the needful and reject this application outright. We don’t need GMO cassava. We don’t need GMOs.”

Reacting to the multi-front attack of GMO promoters in Africa, AFSA, the pan-African civil society platform championing food sovereignty in Africa, “calls for an immediate ban on the importation into South Africa of Monsanto’s high-risk second-generation gene-silencing genetically modified (GM) maize destined for human consumption. AFSA rejects and condemns US corporation Monsanto’s plan to exploit millions of Africans as unwitting human guinea pigs for their latest genetic engineering experiment. AFSA also condemns the IITA field trial application in Nigeria using this same risky technology to produce GM cassava for the agro-fuels industry.”

AFSA adds, “These GM applications target staple foods of maize and cassava, eaten by many millions of Africans every day. Scientists have reported that the untested gene-silencing effect is able to cross over into mammals and humans, and affect their genetic makeup with unknown potential negative consequences, and have called for long-term animal testing and stronger regulation before this goes ahead.”

Bassey notes: “IITA has a long romance with cassava. In 2006, the institution issued a statement stating that from their research, for the Nigerian Government to achieve 10 percent ethanol for fuel the country would need to produce about 7 billion kilograms of cassava annually. How would that quantity of cassava be produced without taking farmers off the food production line to start producing food for machines? How would this sort of egregious non-food production be carried out without land grabbing and displacement of poor farmers?

“HOMEF and all the organisations objecting to the application for confined trials of the novel cassava GMO agree with AFSA and demand that the National Biosafety Management Agency should throw out the application and advise them to carry out the test in Switzerland where it was developed.”

“If IITA is tired of serving the needs of Nigeria and Africans as they have done in the past, they may as well take their business elsewhere. How can we ever trust them any longer with this extremely dangerous path they are taking?” asks Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener of Nigerians against GMOs.

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