GM assault on Africa (4/7/2006)

EXCERPT: "This is an assault on our culture, our human right, our very nature. It is a major seed and food insecurity. Patents on seed and biodiversity is intellectual property crime. This is unjust and unethical."

Ethiopia: The Controversy Over Genetically Modified Crops
Melaku Demissie
The Reporter (Ethiopia), July 1, 200

(Addis Ababa) - A recent CNN report says that while many scientists and environmental groups claim the cultivation of genetically modified organisms will have severe ecological and health consequences, advocates of the technology claim with equal vigor that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will feed the world and improve human health and well- being.

There is also another concern from Africa. Researchers say that GM crops are coming in by way of food imports and seed smuggling, even for countries that have taken measures to prevent imports of GM foods, such as Zambia, Angola, Sudan and Benin. In short, the researchers argue that Africa is in danger of becoming the dumping ground for the struggling GM industry and the laboratory for frustrated GM scientists.

Mr. Zachary Makanya, in his well-researched paper entitled "12 reasons for Africa to reject GM crops", says that the proponents of GM technology sell a sweet message of GM crops as the second green revolution and the answer to African hunger, but the reality is quite different. "A close look at GM crops and the context under which they are developed makes it clear that GM crops have no place in African agriculture," he said.

Greeen Peace also states firmly that it believes GMOs should not be released into the environment as there is not adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health. But Monsanto, who dominate 90 percent of the global market in GMOs say on their website, "Crop improvements like [GMOs] can help provide an abundant healthful food supply and protect our environment for future generations."

According to CNN, the problem is complex. Just like nuclear power, genetic modification is a branch of science that has attracted a huge amount of controversy and fierce debate, with both sides claiming the stakes are high.

GMOs are the on the frontline of one of the biggest conflicts of recent years between the science-business community and activist groups. Many of these feel that, in addition to environmental concerns, with four big multinational companies dominating the global bio-tech market, the proliferation of patented GMOs will give corporations an unhealthy control over food production.

Apart from other problems related to GMOs, researchers say that GM crops will foster dependence on a corporate seed supply. Most GM seed manufacturing companies prohibit farmers from saving their on-farm produced seeds for the next season and from sharing them with their neighbors, relatives and friends. This is imposed through elaborate contracts, agreements, and conditions, which are imposed by the multinational GM seed companies.

There is a study that says that more than 80 percent of the small-scale farmers in Africa today save their on-farm produced seeds for the next season. Farmers sometimes do this because they do not have enough money to buy new seeds and sometimes because they value their own seeds. Also, seed sharing is a crucial norm in many African communities. The fear is that the introduction of GM seeds will jeopardize these traditional and vital practices.

One of the greatest fears in the business of the GMOs is a question of patent right. Mr. Zachary Makanya says that transnational corporations own nearly 100 percent of the agricultural biotechnology patents and the majority of these are controlled by a handful of pesticide corporations. These companies will use their patents to block research that does not suit their interests and to trap farmers into paying them royalities every year on seeds and into a never-ending dependence on their chemical inputs.

An Ethiopian environmentalist, Ayele Kebede, from Forum for Environment, in his paper presented last week at a workshop on 'Impact of GMOs on Environment and Seed Diversity,' says that the free exchange of seeds among farmers has been the basis of biodiversity and food security for millennia. "It gives us the diversity of plants that provides us nutrition. But by 1990, biotechnology became more profitable than chemical weapons."

Ayele notes that the giant chemical companies, clearly began "repositioning themselves as life science" companies whose goal was to control agriculture. "In 1997, Monsanto spun off its chemical division and spent six billion dollars acquiring seed companies like Cargil International Seed and Dekalb Genetics. Dupont spun off its petroleum division, Conocs, and formed USD 1.7 billion 'research alliance' with Pioneer-Hi-Bred International, the world's largest seed company." Another giant company, Aventis, bought Plant Genetic Systems, which already had patents on strains of corn and wheat.

According to Ayele, the patenting of biotechnology concentrates ownership and control of the sector in the hands of a few private firms. "Some 80 percent of patents on GMO foods are owned by only 13 giant companies, and the top five agro-chemical companies control almost the entire genetically modified seed market."

The environmentalist says seed saving gives farmers life, and seed monopolies rob farmers of life and makes a free resources available on farm, a commodity to which farmers are forced to buy every year. This is a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture, and monoculture increases the risk of crop failure. "This is an assault on our culture, our human right, our very nature. It is a major seed and food insecurity. Patents on seed and biodiversity is intellectual property crime. This is unjust and unethical," he added.

Though there is a general consensus that GM crops will contaminate non-GM crops; will increase the use of chemicals; threaten organic and sustainable farming; will not reduce hunger in Africa; will not resolve problems with pests; and they are threat to human health; many researchers in the field suggest that Africans can provide African solutions to African problems. Outsiders may help, but the insiders, those who are affected, must do the job.


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