"What ... does Africa need? Not dumping of food aid by rich countries that destroy local efforts to produce. Not the imposition of industrial-style agriculture based on chemicals and "high yielding" seeds, with the paradoxical outcome of greater production of a few food crops accompanied by even worse hunger and environmental degradation. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers eventually degrade the soil, leading to declining productivity, and the high cost of those inputs will deepen the divide between rich and poor farmers, swelling the ranks of the hungry.
"Developed countries have many examples of the negative impacts of monoculture and GM crops, however this same system of agriculture is being promoted in African countries such as Mozambique. One needs to question, why?"
Diamantino Nhampossa, the president of the National Union of Small Scale Farmers in Mozambique and an African co-ordinator for Via Campesina.1
"[Playing the hunger card] was a very cheap ploy playing on the guilty feelings of the Europeans, who originally colonised Africa and enslaved its peoples. Our Africa Group decided by its own free will that, as it stands, GM technology is not good for us. And, contrary to the claims of the GM lobby, these crops would not have fed or freed us by giving us greater control over our production, but rather enslaved Africa once more - particularly because of the patenting aspect."
Tewolde Berhan, 2009, famous as spokesperson for the Africa Group in the negotiations surrounding the Cartagena Protocol on trade in GM, and also director of the Environmental Protection Authority in Ethiopia.2
For a long time the majority of African governments have rejected GM, but they are coming under increasing pressure to accept it now. However, among small farmers and consumers, the fight against GM continues as part of a wider struggle for control over the food supply. Below are a few examples of statements made by small-farmers organisations across Africa, and details of some of the resistance that has occurred in the streets, on the farms and in the courts of individual countries.
In spite of the way that Africa is brandished at European anti-GM campaigners as the ultimate guilt trip, the continent has also established a reputation for resistance to GM. In part this is because of the number of governments that have refused, or placed restrictions on, GM food aid3, and because African leaders took a major role in calling for a precautionary approach in international negotiations.4 Additionally, the model law on biosafety produced by the African Union acknowledges many socio-economic issues that are sidelined by European legislation, and tries to ensure that life forms should not be patentable, that seeds should remain free and that anyone affected by a decision should have full and equitable participation in the making of it.5
However, Africa is not, as some imply, a GM free zone: GM is commercially available in South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso6 and Kenya and by 2007 20 African countries were engaged in GM research.7 African countries come under intense pressure to accept GM technology from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), local NGOs funded by GM companies, and foreign governments.8 The promotion of GM in Africa goes hand in hand with support for the 'New Green Revolution': proposals to 'modernise' farming using large-scale, chemical-dependent agricultural methods and commercial seed. In many cases, when GM has first been introduced in Africa it has involved a media-friendly, poverty reduction project focussing on local food crops, but this has frequently been dropped at the research stage, and followed by cash crops.9 In other words, although the proponents of GM in Africa frequently claim philanthropic motives, these claims are undermined by a lack of commitment to any poverty alleviation project.10 The classic example is the the Kenyan sweet potato, which was celebrated around the world while it was still at the earliest stages, but which was silently dropped when it was found to be ineffective.11 Another example of flawed philanthropy is the Massive Food Production Programme, a South African 'poverty alleviation' scheme involving GM and hybrid seeds, during which the numbers of small farmers in the region fell to almost a quarter of those there had been, largely due to debts.
GM pushed onto Africa - USAID
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has stated that the aim of food aid is to "integrate technology and GM food into local markets" and promote US business.12 USAID is very open about the fact that its activities are principally self-interested: it once proclaimed on its website: "... the principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms.13 USAID refuses to guarantee that it's food aid will be GM free, and puts pressure on any country that attempts to demand that it is.14 USAID was involved in a a three year project (2005-8) which spent $2 million to provide "biosafety regulatory assistance" to several West African countries.15 It also funds organisations that are trying to open Africa up to GMOs, and others which have direct influence on the creation of (lax) biosafety legislation.16
Alliance for a green revolution in Africa (AGRA) backed by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockerfeller Foundation. It does not overtly (yet) promote GM technologies, but it does promote agriculture that is dependent on chemicals, monocultures and laboratory-created hybrid seeds (which cannot be 'saved' by farmers for another year), and it is suspected to be a precursor to GMO. It is directly supervised by the Global Development Program, whose senior programme officer is Dr Robert Horsch, previously of Monsanto.17 In summer 2010, a financial website published the Gates Foundation's investment portfolio, including 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010 alone.18
Small farmers' organisations
While many countries have powerful unions of small farmers, these are a few examples of organisations that unite people from whole regions of Africa to oppose GM and promote small farmers' interests.
COPAGEN (Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage) a coalition of groups across West Africa, representing millions of small farmers, and working to educate rural and urban communities as well as politicians about the impacts of GM crops. Benin's renewal of their moratorium on GM was attributed to COPAGEN's work.19
ROPPA (West African Network of Peasant Organisations and Producers): a large umbrella organisation that works to defend small family farms, and attempts to intervene on their behalf in national and international politics.20 They were signatories to the 'civil society statement' at the closing of the ministerial conference on biotechnology in West Africa which, among other things, called for a long term moratorium on GMOs, and rejected patenting of life.
PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management): this body unites grassroots organisations and unions of small farmers in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, and South Africa.21 PELUM Kenya describes its vision as follows: "Communities in east, central and southern Africa become self-organized to make choices towards an improved quality of life that is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable."22
Resistance in individual countries
Benin has a wealth of organisations opposed to GM: Synergie Paysanne, a union representing small farmers set up by a group of young people in 2002; Jikukun, the network for sustainable management of natural resources in Benin, (allied to COPAGEN; the League for the Defence of the Consumer, which opposes GM, agrofuels and high food prices;23 and GRAIN's 'Growing diversity' project. Synergie Paysanne works organises training and workshops, and campaigns against GM and agrofuels and for the right of small farmers to have Semences de la biodiversité access to land, to grow food for themselves before cash crops, and generally to be able to make the decisions in agricultural policy.24 The strength of these groups may be one reason why Benin has recently renewed its moratorium on GMO, despite a neo-liberal government intent on the commercialisation of agriculture.25 According to Semences de la biodiversité,
a monthly newsletter produced by Jikunun, Syenergie Paysanne and GRAIN, small farmers are resisting GM and multinational power by preserving, defending and using local varieties of seed which, while they have not been bred for high yields, often have other advantages like a longer growing season, better abilities to resist drought or simply a better flavour.26
In 2008 members of the Coalition for the Protection of Africa's Genetic Heritage organised a 'caravan' that involves street marches and educational events to raise awareness and show the strength of their opposition to GM.27
Social organisations in Cameroon held a national workshop in which they resolved that:28
Tewolde Berhan, famous as spokesperson for the Africa Group in the negotiations surrounding the Cartagena Protocol on trade in GM, is also director of the Environmental Protection Authority. After decades in which the government had been promoting chemical-dependent agriculture it became clear that not only was this model failing, but it was widely rejected by farmers: the stock-piled fertilisers and pesticides remained unused. In this climate Berhan launched a project to introduce compost and green manure to small farmers, with such success that the government was persuaded in 2002 to adopt policies that promoted environmental rehabilitation and organic farming.29 "When well managed, and as fertility builds over years, organic agriculture isn't inferior in yield." Berhan asserted in 2005, "Now, farmers don't want chemical fertilizers. They say, 'Why should we pay for something we can get for free?'"30
The National Union of Small Scale Farmers in Mozambique(UNAC) held a campaign against GM, (with support from the international NGO War on Want), that was reportedly successful in preventing unmilled GM seed from entering the country.40
Diamantino Nhampossa, the president of UNAC and an African co-ordinator for Via Campesina stated:41
"If we look at the kind of agriculture policies that are being proposed for our countries today, we do not find any reason to believe that there is real interest in tackling the root causes of poverty or in promoting broad-based rural development. Developed countries have many experiences of the negative impacts of mono-culture, and of GM crops, however this same methodology is being promoted in African countries such as Moçambique - why? We must learn from the lessons of the past, and be innovative and courageous in our aid and agriculture policies. If not, the errors of the past will simply be replicated, and small holder farmers will become even more impoverished, all in the name of globalization."
The (apartheid era) Department of Agriculture first granted a permit for GE cotton field trials in 1992. By Feb 2000, there were 165 field trials and 4 commercial insect-resistant GE crops had been granted general release permits.44 By 2007 South Africa was running field trials on potatoes, ground nuts, sugar cane, maize and cotton,45 and was planting an increased number of hectares of commercial cotton and maize. Given recent news it is hardly surprising that there is significant opposition to GM in South Africa: in 2009 82, 000 hectares, planted with 3 varieties of Monsanto's GM maize, barely produced any grains. Monsanto offered some compensation, but some groups complained that it was minimal compared to the actual losses suffered by farmers.46 For many South African campaigners, however, the fact that GM often doesn't work is only one of the issues: the Massive Food Production Programme provides the perfect example of how GM and hybrid seeds, even when promoted by companies and the government as part of 'food self-sufficiency' programme in fact serve to exacerbate poverty.
In 2010, South Africa dumped thousands of tonnes of GM maize on commercial markets in Kenya, Mozambique and Swaziland. This is particularly worrying because in countries where a vast majority of grain is exchanged and sold informally between neighbours and on local markets, the risk of cross-contamination becomes huge.47
Examples of campaign groups include:
South Africa has several well-supported campaign groups working against GM, who have organised a petition, street demonstrations and write to the supermarket campaigns, as well as conducting research into biosafety issues and contesting issues through the legal system. In 2001, a group of NGOs tried to blockade shipments of GM cotton seed coming from Monsanto's subsidiary in Indonesia, and guarded by Indonesian military police.48
Campaign group biowatch requested information about the location of Monsanto's GM crop trials, and when this was refused, took the battle to court. They won the case, and it was ordered that the registrar of genetic resources should make the information public. However, they were also ordered to pay Monsanto's court costs.49 They appealed this decision, lost, and took the case to the constitutional court, the highest court in the land.50
The 'Lutheran Women's Fellowship in Togo' committed in 2007 to fight GMOs for five years or more, and have been conducting an information tour to raise awareness of the issues among small farmers.51
In 2002 Zambia refused GM aid and GM seeds, and instead there was a national policy promoting ecological farming methods such as mixed farming and conservation farming. Although drought remains a serious issue in Zambia, following this policy, harvests, especially of maize, the country's staple crop, were unusually good.52
Ironically, when Zambia rejected the GM aid, the widespread perception was that prime minister Mwanawasa was unilaterally over-riding the wishes of the starving population, and was accused by the US of committing "crimes against humanity."53
However, the decision to reject the GM maize had been taken in consultation with farmers, women's groups, church groups, politicians and local NGOs,54 and Zambia not only had the verbal support of organisations representing 45 African countries55 they also received more material help in the form of non-GM aid.
Statements from African small farmers and communities
A meeting organised jointly by the African Biodiversity Network and the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage, with representatives from Bénin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Sénégal, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe came to the following conclusions:
Valley of 1000 hills declaration
Representatives of small farmers from all over Africa, as well as Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America held a meeting on community rights in the Valley of a Thousand Hills in Kwa Zulu Natal, and produced the following statement:
"Many local communities have maintained an intimate relationship with the ecosystems on which they depend and have shared timeless connectedness with all life. It is, therefore, fitting that the local community is humanity's best manager of land, water and biodiversity. Privatisation and so-called free trade destroy this connectedness. By allowing the destruction of our local communities, we condemn other living organisms to accelerating extinction and further impoverish local communities.
"The most potent instrument in this destruction is the patenting of living organisms. The Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes the rights of local communities and their role in generating agricultural biodiversity out of wildland biodiversity. Yet corporations are patenting living things and increasingly controlling agricultural production systems. We condemn this act as violence both to humans and to other living things.
"The rights of Local Communities are being threatened by genetic engineering of crops - a dangerous technology that comes with corporate control, dependence on external inputs, and the undermining of regenerative systems of agriculture and sustainable use of biodiversity. We oppose the introduction of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and the increasing corporate control over Africa's agriculture and biodiversity."
The Smallholder Farmers' Convergence at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002 produced a joint statement which included the following points:
Mzuzu declaration 57
A workshop on the question of GM food aid was held in Mzuzu, Malawi, with organisations from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Malawi. They produced a joint statement raising the following points:
Cape Town declaration58
Representatives from organisations in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mali, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Benin discussed GM and nano-technology and called for:
Declaration of Peoples' Forum
In Mali representatives of social movements from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, DR. Congo, Tchad, Togo and also from Belgium, Canada, France and Switzerland, called for:
Representatives of Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, The Sudan, Malawi, Benin, Namibia, Uganda, and Tanzania met in a workshop for the 'Promotion of Ecofarming for Food Security, Protection of Natural Resources, Health and Income Generation,' and recommended a moratorium on GMOs.
Economic community of West African states ministerial conference
Statement of peasants' organisations, consumers' associations, the Mali Coalition for the Protection of Genetic Heritage and the Francophone African Coalition for the Protection of Genetic Heritage:
"WE DENOUNCE AND WE REJECT:
1. the patenting of life, which comes with GM, because it dispossesses small-scale African producers and violates their economic and cultural rights
2. the absence of labelling of GM products, which violates consumers rights to information
3. the lack of any mechanism for traceability in our countries, which prevents us from identifying the source of any eventual problem brought on by GM
4. the recognition of liability of producers/users of GM technology with regard to any damage to the environment or human health, in conformity with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
5. that the adoption of any innovation using genetic modification be postponed in the long term (10 years) to allow different actors to build their capacities in terms of verifying the absence of risk from GMOs."
1: Nhampossa, Diamantino 'What Kind of Aid Does Africa Need? Not Dumping of Food or Industrial Agriculture', in Mittal, Anuradha and Moore, Melissa (ed.s), 'Voices from Africa: African farmers and environmentalists speak out', The Oakland Institute, 2009, pp32-33, available at http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/, last viewed13.10.10
2: Berhan, Tewolde, quoted in Maynard, Robin, 'Ethiopia: Basket Case or Organic Horn of Plenty?', The Ecologist, 15.02.09, http://www.theecologist.org/ pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=2297, last viewed 14.10.10
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8: Governing Biotechnology in Africa: Toward Consensus on Key Issues in Biosafety, September 2004, A "living paper" prepared for the second session of the African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology - Southern Africa
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29: Maynard, Robin, 'Ethiopia: Basket Case or Organic Horn of Plenty?', The Ecologist, 15.02.09, http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=2297, last viewed 19.09.10
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