This week, I write to support the great work currently being carried out by Nnimmo Bassey and his team at the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) to resist the dangerous takeover of our agriculture by Monsanto. The Foundation has exposed the fact that GMOs have been approved to be grown in Nigeria and that the approval was surreptitious. There is an argument whether the approval was for a two-year trial process or for permanent production and for me, both must be opposed. At no time has the Nigerian Government taken a policy decision to approve GMOs and given the health dangers alone of this technology, it is irresponsible to allow this. We cannot allow the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to sell our future for some temporary inducement they have received from Monsanto. How was it allowed that Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd would register in the country and start production without explicit approval the Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly?
Burkina Faso, which took the lead on GMO production in Africa, decided this year to abandoned its GMO cotton citing the inferior lint quality of Monsanto products and the enslavement of buying expensive seeds and chemicals from the company each year for an income that is less than what they were having before introducing it. It would be recalled that for a long time, Burkinabé cotton was renowned for its high quality following a highly successful non-GM breeding programme founded by the French government and spanning 70 years.
The main goal of the breeding programme was to create cultivars that were well adapted to the growing conditions in West Africa and had the desired quality characteristics, such as a high ginning ratio, which is the percentage of the desired cotton fibre per unit weight of cotton delivered to the factory and long staple length. They foolishly decided to abandon the home grown approach and follow the GMO route of Monsanto and after six years of commercial production, they discovered that the quality and world market price of their cotton had plummeted. Cotton is the second-biggest source of revenue for the impoverished West African country after gold. It is this same GMO cotton that failed in Burkina Faso that is now being introduced to Nigeria.
I therefore call on the Ministers of Agriculture and the Environment to call the National Biosafety Management Agency to order and to withdraw the authorization issued for the production of GMO crops. Given our fragile ecosystems and stressed environment, we must take our biosafety seriously and avoid the path of introducing crops that are dangerous to the health of our people and our environment. Nineteen European countries that care about the health of their people have completely banned genetically modified crops.
Even the Russian State Duma last month passed a bill banning all import and production of genetically modified organisms in the country. We must not allow Nigeria to be turned into a dumping ground for what sensible countries have rejected. Sincere scientists have shown evidence that Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The current Monsanto project to grow glyphosate infused maize in Nigeria is a direct threat to our health. Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is unfortunate that Bill Gates with his America First mentality is sponsoring Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds. Why will he not invest in the Institute of Agricultural Research project in Ahmadu Bello University that is developing draught resistant maize that does not have the dangers of what Monsanto is doing?
I have just read Chief Audu Ogbe’s Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 which outlines an excellent strategic approach to addressing the two key gaps in our agriculture today: an inability to meet domestic food requirements, and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. The former problem is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is largely inefficient. As a result, an aging population of farmers who do not have enough seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, crop protection and related support to be successful. The latter challenge is driven by an equally inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality standards, as well as poor knowledge of target markets. Insufficient food testing facilities, a weak inspectorate system in the Ministry, and poor coordination among relevant federal agencies serve to compound early stage problems such as poor knowledge of permissible contaminant levels.
The strategy he proposes is to address the challenges of food insecurity and the economic costs of importing $3 to $5 billion worth of food annually, especially wheat, rice, fish and sundry items, including fresh fruits by looking inward. The Ministry of Agriculture is proposing that agricultural research in the country should receive massive support. Our governments would engage its research institutions and bodies at different locations in the country, to conduct research for increased agricultural productivity and to make the research results available to farmers and other actors in the agricultural development of the states. That is the way to go. Was it not just a couple of weeks ago that the Institute of Agricultural Research of Ahmadu Bello University found a cure for the terrible blight of the tomato Ebola disease that wiped out fresh stew from our homes recently. Let’s empower our research institutes for our own good.