EXCERPT: Does Africa need GMO foods? The answer is No. What Africa needs is to improve on the way we practise agriculture. We have enough natural seeds to last us another lifetime. We don't need genetically modified seeds that would, rather than lead to food boom, kick-start a revolution of dependence on a giant corporation to supply us seeds and chemicals. This is nothing but slavery... Africa cannot afford to surrender its food security to some faceless giant corporation.
Does Africa need GMO food?
By Olayinka Oyegbile
Independent Newspapers, January 15, 2006
No one would ever contradict the fact that Africa is in need of improving how its food is produced and preserved. This is because the process of food production and preservation is still largely at subsistence level and except for some few countries, which you can count at your fingertips, food production, or agriculture generally, is still dominated by the system used by our forefathers.
It is no surprise therefore to hear about famine on the continent. It is not an exaggeration to say that the continent suffers from famine not because of lack of lands to till but simply due to the fact that the land is still being tilled in the old way!
In some areas, farmers have come to depend on fertilisers for good yields even if the land is by itself fertile, this is because they have been made to believe that there is no way they can get improved yields until they use it. Sometimes, these fertilisers end up spoiling their yields or even contaminating the environment or making them sick.
The first global attention to famine in Africa was in the 80s when millions of children and women died in Ethiopia. As it is usual on the continent, the political leadership denied that there was any form of famine until millions had perished. It was the effort of Bob Geldoff, a musician who galvanised world stars to rally round the country and later raised some money to help the victims.
Just last year again, Niger was also afflicted by famine but the political leadership scoffed at the incident and dismissed it as nothing. According to the leadership, it was nothing unusual; it was not a famine but "food shortage" or something to that effect. Pray, what is famine and what is food shortage?
Are the dying and starving population interested in semantics? What is the discerning line between famine and shortage of food?
Amid all the hunger in his country, President Ahmadu Tandja of Niger still hosted the Anglophone countries games! That is Africa for you. At present, there are reports of threats of famine in East Africa and some parts of southern Africa.
Well, I have gone through all these to lay a premise for the thought of today. From all the above, we all agree that there is a need to improve the way we produce and preserve food on the continent. But the question is how do we do this?
We need to embrace technology and move with the times so as not to be left behind. And in this era of globalisation when the leaders of the continent tend to go along with their counterparts all over the world, they have continued to embrace all suggestions without examining the impact of their decisions on the majority of the populace.
It is in this light that we come to the issue of genetically modified organism (GMO) food that now seems to be the in thing now in some developed countries which some African countries are also being wooed into the gravy train.
It is important to look critically at the issues involved before we open our doors to this idea, because as we all know Africa is always a testing ground for all ideas, viable, unviable, laudable and ludicrous.
Last week, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Africa (ERA), played host to a 75-year old Canadian farmer, Mr Percy Schmeiser.
According to ERA Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, Schmeiser was in the country as part of his tour of the continent to share his experience and enlighten the public on his battle with the big corporation Monsanto, the world giant of genetically modified crop.
In sharing his experiences and that of his country, Schemeiser warned that the continent must be careful in falling for the rosy pictures of the benefits of GMO as painted by Monsanto. He said the whole truth of the issue was never disclosed to countries or farmers before the introduction.
He spoke from a position of strength, deep experience and conviction. I watched him speak, I was impressed by his gentle demeanour. He was not forceful nor full of theatrics like most activists are wont to do. But one thing that was obvious was that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke with the conviction of a witness to the massive harm that GMO had done to his country and demonstrated a concern to see that other countries do not fall into the same pit.
As an individual, my concern was for Africa. If Canada with all its laws and development could fall for such a gimmick by a giant corporation, what hope is there for a less privileged continent like Africa? Do we have the capacity to confront and stand up to the lies of this corporate giant?
If Africa, which is always in a hurry to embrace any technology as long as it comes from the West, goes along to embrace the introduction of GMOs, what would be the fate of hapless farmers of the continent?
Schemeiser has the experience and should be listened to. He speaks from a vantage position and should not be ignored. But are African leaders ready to listen to this voice of reason? It is my strong belief, as Bassey pointed out at the dialogue he and Schemeiser held with the press and the civil society, that it is important to let the world know what it is to embrace this technology. It is not enough to copy what others are doing; we must look inward and see what it is in it for us before we embrace it.
Back to our question: Does Africa need GMO foods? The answer is No. What Africa needs is to improve on the way we practise agriculture. We have enough natural seeds to last us another lifetime. We don't need genetically modified seeds that would rather than lead to food boom kick-start a revolution of dependence on a giant corporation to supply us seeds and chemicals. This is nothing but slavery. And as Schmeiser said, whoever controls seeds supply controls food supply. Africa cannot afford to surrender its food security to some faceless giant corporation.
What we need on the continent is the knowledge to be able to produce more foods and the technology to preserve the surplus that have been produced and not some dubious GMOs.
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