Daily Archives: March 1, 2015

Manipulate and Mislead – How Gmos Are Infiltrating Africa

The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.
Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.
Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.
“It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa”
While many countries have implemented strict legal frameworks to regulate GMOs, African nations have struggled with the legal, scientific and infrastructural resources to do so.
This has delayed the introduction of GMOs into Africa, but it has also provided the proponents of GMOs with a plum opportunity to offer their assistance and, in the process, helping to craft laws on the continent that promote the introduction of barely regulated GMOs and create investor-friendly environments for agribusiness.
Their line is that African governments must adopt GMOs as a matter of urgency to deal with hunger and that laws implementing pesky and expensive safety measures, or requiring assessments of socio-economic impacts, will only act as obstructions.
To date only seven African countries have complete legal frameworks to deal with GMOs and only four – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan – have approved commercial cultivation of a GM crop.
The drive to open markets for GMOs in Africa is not only happening through “assistance” resulting in permissive legal frameworks for GMOs, but also through an array of “philanthropical” projects, most of them funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
One such project is Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), funded by the Gates Foundation in collaboration with Monsanto. Initially the project sought to develop drought tolerant maize varieties in five pilot countries but, as the project progressed, it incorporated one of Monsanto’s most lucrative commercial traits into the mix – MON810, which enables the plant to produce its own pesticide.
Interestingly, MON810 has recently come off patent, but Monsanto retains ownership when it is stacked with another gene, in this case, drought tolerant.
WEMA has provided a convenient vehicle for the introduction of Monsanto’s controversial product, but it has also used its influence to shape GM-related policy in the countries where it works.
The project has refused to run field trials in Tanzania and Mozambique until those countries amend their “strict liability” laws, which will make WEMA, and future companies selling GMOs, liable for any damages they may cause.
WEMA has also complained to governments about clauses in their law that require assessment of socio-economic impacts of GMOs, saying that assessment and approvals should be based solely on hard science, which is also often influenced or financed by the industry.
African civil society and smallholders’ organisations are fighting for the kind of biosafety legislation that will safeguard health and environment against the potential risks of GMOs, not the kind that promotes the introduction of this wholly inappropriate technology.
About 80 percent of Africa’s food is produced by smallholders, who seldom farm on more than five hectares of land and usually on much less. The majority of these farmers are women, who have scant access to finance or secure land tenure.
That they still manage to provide the lion’s share of the continents’ food, usually without formal seed, chemicals, mechanisation, irrigation or subsidies, is testament to their resilience and innovation.
African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs – the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters.
There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems.
The mantra that GMOs are necessary for food security is hijacking the policy space that should be providing appropriate solutions for the poorest farmers.
Only a tiny fraction of farmers will ever afford the elite GM technology package – for example in South Africa, where over 85 percent of maize production is genetically modified, GM maize seed costs 2-5 times more than conventional seed, must be bought annually and requires the extensive use of toxic and expensive chemicals and fertilisers.
What is more, despite 16 years of cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, South Africa’s food security continues to decline, with some 46 percent of the population categorised as food insecure.
It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations – such as unfair trade agreements and subsidies that perennially entrench poverty, or the patenting of seed and imposition of expensive and patented technology onto the world’s most vulnerable and risk averse communities – are the bedrock of hunger in Africa.
Without changing these fundamental power relationships and handing control over food production to smallholders in Africa, hunger cannot be eradicated.
A global movement is growing and demanding that governments support small-scale food producers and “agro-ecology” instead of corporate agriculture, an agricultural system that is based on collaboration with nature and is appropriate for small-scale production, where producers are free to plant and exchange seeds and operate in strong local markets.
Edited by Phil Harris

Kikwete New EAC Chairman

Kikwete New EAC Chairman

How will he tackle insecurity in the region?

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete is the new chairman of the East African Community heads of state summit after receiving the baton from his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In the just concluded heads of state summit in Nairobi Kenya it was a historical event after years without the regional leaders meeting face to face.

The annual event has always been attended by prime ministers, vice presidents and some few heads of state leading to failure to agree on some decisions at the regional level.

Among the outstanding issues discussed by the heads of state was the regional security environment which is marred by conflicts, terrorism groups, and rebel groups that continue to destabilise the region. The leaders charted the way forward to bring to an end the insurgencies.

“The summit reviewed the current security situation in the region and noted the need to urgently upscale the implementation of the relevant counter measures and directives to address the current and emerging security threats in the region,” the statement from the Arusha based secretariat said.

The summit in particular directed the partner states to expedite implementation of the interventions contained in the revised strategy for regional peace and security as well as those in the counter terrorism strategy.

Kikwete’s tenure will be a testing moment for him to resolve the conflicts within the region, especially the FDLR rebels that continue to destabilise Rwanda, and the other rebel groups in the DRC that terrorise parts of Uganda.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is the Rwandan Hutu rebel group in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Members of the group are accused of perpetrating the 1994 genocide against Tutsi and it has continued to cause insurgencies in Rwanda.

In January, a UN Group of Experts on the DRC released a report implicating Tanzania for supporting the FDLR. The report showed that a senior FDLR commander and a Rwanda opposition politician Col. Hamada Habimana; FDLR’s sector commander for South Kivu held meetings in Tanzania in 2013.

Now that President Kikwete will be in the international limelight, it’s not clear how he will approach the issues of insecurity and help in eliminating the rebel groups that cause insecurity among the East African partner states.

President Uhuru Kenyatta while addressing the summit observed that it was imperative to embark on peace and security to promote trade and investment.

“Peace and stability are vital for our region and Community. We deem peace to be essential to integration. Political stability is the foundation of all prosperity and aspiration. It is our obligation as regional leaders to maintain our keen interest in initiatives and efforts to restore peace and stability in those countries of our region which have been troubled by conflict.

“Our investment in the restoration of peace and stability in Somalia and Sudan is inspired by this knowledge. I commend EAC Partner States for constantly and faithfully supporting our neighbour, Somalia. Our call remains, however, that the international community has a significant role to play, and must do their part in this cause.”

Joining CoW

Tanzania’s perceived reluctance to implement certain EAC protocols is believed to have led to the emergence of the so-called “coalition of the willing” composed of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

As chairman, Kikwete now has the obligation of a huge task of implementing some of the regional decisions that other countries are already fast-tracking like political federation, common market protocol and Customs Union.

This will be President Kikwete’s last term as member of the EAC summit since Tanzania is set to hold elections soon that will see a change of president.

Tanzania like Burundi is not part of One Area Network, single tourism Visa, and use of IDs to travel that are all implemented under the Northern Corridor Initiative composed of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

Kikwete and his government have always been accused by other Partner states for dragging the feet in implementation of most of these decisions and protocols.It is not clear that, as chairman, Kikwete will now implement the decisions.

There is optimism. Dar es Salaam has recently shown interests in joining other members in implementing some projects like the use of Single Tourism Visa that allows tourists to visit all the regional attractions at cheaper fees.

During the summit, the heads of state approved and signed the protocol to operationalize the extended jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice to cover trade and investment as well as matters associated with the implementation of the protocol on the establishment of the East African Monetary Union.

The summit also directed the council to expedite implementation of the framework for harmonised EAC roaming charges, including the removal of surcharges for international telecommunications traffic originating and terminating within the East Africa Community by July 15.