Claims that genetically modifies organisms (GMOs) will be the main way to feed the world is mere propaganda.
This was the submission by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF), during a forum on July 25, 2019 in Benin City, Edo State.
At a Dialogue on Food and Farming System in Nigeria that brought together officials of civil society organisations (CSOs), Bassey said in a welcome address that besides the reality that GMOs do not necessarily increase yield or solve the problems of pests and diseases, researches show that, at present, enough food to feed almost double of the current population is already being produced but most of it is used for industrial purposes, for animal feed or is simply wasted due to poor storage and processing facilities and lack of access to markets.
He underscored the right to question the attempt to overturn the food systems, promote mono-cropping and project toxic chemicals as safe.
“We must consistently defend our food sovereignty which ensures our right and access to safe, nutritious, healthy and culturally appropriate food at all times,” Bassey stated.
Speaking at the Dialogue, Daniel Olorunfemi, Professor of Genetic Toxicology in the University of Benin, explained the process of genetic modification and how it affects human and environmental health.
He listed the health impacts of GMOs to include immune disorders, cancers, reproductive defects and infant mortality, adding that, on the environment, GMOs present risks of horizontal gene transfer and unintended harm to non-target organisms.
“We do not need GMOs. We have the landmass, rich soils and good climate conditions that can ensure food productivity,” Olorunfemi added.
Speaking on the cultural, political and economic perspective of GMOs, Bassey pointed out that GMOs erode local knowledge and destroy the resilience of natural ecosystems which is based on biodiversity.
“Real solutions exist. The United Nations-World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) research carried out by 400 development experts for a period of three years recommended that nations must urgently revitalise public sector agricultural research, invest in smallholder farmer-oriented, low-input agroecology farming system and reform unfair trade-related rules,” he said.
Discussions on the viable alternative to GMOs which was led by HOMEF’s Biosafety Project Officer, Joyce Ebebeinwe, revealed that Agroecology presents a holistic approach to the challenges of agricultural productivity and in addition, climate change.
According to her, it is a knowledge intensive system which manages ecosystems by replacing external inputs with natural processes, ensures quantity and quality production, and also preserves the soil for future generations. Some of the innovations of agroecology highlighted include biological pest control, the push and pull method, participatory plant breeding, and agroforestry.
The Dialogue closed with group discussions on the way forward for Nigeria and the following resolutions were reached by all the participants.
Participants agreed that the government of Nigeria should:
- ban GMOs now and begin to invest in agroecological farming systems. State and a Local Governments should urgently declare their states and local government areas GMO-free as a way of encouraging the Federal Government to take similar steps.
- critically review the National Biosafety Management Agency Act, 2015 to close loopholes that allow for the unchecked infiltration of GMOs and ensure that regulators consider environmental and human health on a case-by-case basis as they entertain applications.
- increase support for farmers in terms of infrastructure, extension services, access to land and loans, and access to markets.
- include agroecology in her National Climate Change Adaptation Plan and increase funding for research in its principles and practice.
- create a database to reach and sustain contact with real farmers and avoid working with “ghost or absentee farmers”.
- establish seed banks to preserve indigenous seed varieties and promote seed fairs to facilitate learning/exchanges among farmers.
Civil Society organisations should:
- carry out more awareness to drive the message of the impacts of GMOs to the farmers/ grassroots.
- engage more with the media especially by using social media for a wider coverage.
- question and reject seedlings suspected to be genetically modified.
- form clusters to advocate against GMOs and synergise with CSOs to engage the government.
- insist on their right to safe and nutritious foods.
- reject GMOs and carefully scrutinise labels before making purchases.