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  • American farmers - silos - quote
  • Former head of Novartis - quote
  • Rice and new scientist - quote
  • Tewolde - quote

Resistance to GM in Africa

"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


Key Information

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.



African child standing in front of parent wearing t-shirt reading: Genetically modified foods - our right to know - our right to chooseIn 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 conferenceCOPAGEN (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


Burkina Faso

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

  • Cameroon legislation was too lax with regards to biosafety

  • there wasn't enough access to information, about legislation or in food labelling

  • the idea that food aid could resolve hunger issues should be questioned

  • controls of imported food were arbitrary and therefore called on the government to:

  • ban commercial GMOs and suspend field trials

  • support local agriculture rather than relying on food aid

  • introduce systematic labelling of GM in food.



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



  • Small farmers in the Kitale district, along with representatives from Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Madagascar held a demonstration against the Biosafety Bill in 2007.31 This law was supported by the US Grains Council,32 and allowed commercialisation of GM crops with very lax safety requirements. A petition against the bill was signed by a consortium of more than 60 farmer organizations, animal welfare networks, consumer networks, faith based organizations, and community based groups.33 The bill was also challenged in the courts several times3435 but eventually passed in 2008.

  • The Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum leaders, representing crop farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk called for a 20 year moratorium on GM.36



  • Anti GM rally in MaliIn November 2008 people held a sit-in outside the national assembly, calling for politicians to vote against a 'biosafety' law which, according to the president of the National Coordination of Peasant Organisations(CNOP, see below) would violate Mali's obligations under the Cartagena Protocol and would hand over small farmers to western farmers for the supply of seeds.37

  • A farmer's jury organised by the regional government questioned a range of 'experts' on GM, from industry spoke people to farmers from South Africa and India. Although the jury had no real power, it was hoped that their clear decision to reject GM, strengthen traditional farming practices and support local farmers would have some influence on policy.38

  • The CNOP, (see above) representing more than a million people is organising resistance to GM, including a march to the USAID headquarters to denounce their intervention in agricultural policy. The president states: "All arguments used by seed multinationals and their allies - GMOs will help fight hunger in Africa, decrease the use of pesticides, and save water- are easily demolished by existing analysis and research. And what is clear is that the underlying private economic interest of multinational seed corporations is driving the push for promoting genetic engineering in Africa."

  • The Malian Coalition against GMOs has created a manifesto signed by a score of organisations, representing well over a million people. It describes GM as a dangerous "fuite en avant" (an expression which roughly translates as 'a frantic effort that only takes you further in the wrong direction', and pledges to mobilise people for food sovereignty and against GM.39



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."



  • Makanjuola Olaseinde Arigbede, National Coordinator, United Small & Medium Scale Farmers' Associations of Nigeria, (USMEFAN) insists that Africa needs an "outright rejection" of GM, and that farmers must have the right to re-use their own local seeds.42

  • Environmental Rights Action has a major campaign calling for a moratorium on GMOs because they "will constitute a threat to African biodiversity and the continent's food sovereignty, and will do "nothing to help Africa tackling poverty and hunger. In 2005 in Abuja they staged a national workshop that brought together community groups, scientists, government agencies and ministries, farmer organizations, legal practitioners, academics, media practitioners and students. They called for a moratorium on GM, and for the rights of communities, especially those living in environmentally sensitive areas, to declare themselves GMO free zones.43


South Africa

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:

  • Actvist! A campaign specifically against the GM potato.

  • African Centre for Biosafety providing research and policy analysis on GM-related issues. Biowatch, an NGO providing research and working with farmers on sustainable agriculture, food and seed security and farmers' rights

  • South Africa's freeze alliance

Citizen's campaigns

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

 Court battle

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



Togo women hold a banner: Action Collective for Information about GMOThe '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

Nairobi Declaration56

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:

  • All GM should be rejected in Africa, whether as food aid, research or commercial plantations.

  • The solution to problems of hunger is a more just and equitable distribution of food grown locally, not international aid.

  • Farmers have a right to use, exchange and preserve their genetic resources, and to defend the diversity of their seeds.

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:

  • Small holder farmers are a majority, constituting 70 percent of the total world's population but have largely been unheard and un-noticed.

  • "Small-scale farmers have evolved systems of seed exchange and multiplication for future seasons and generations. This is key to food sovereignty at family and national levels.

  • "We say NO to genetically modified foods. We do not need genetically modified seeds. Our indigenous seeds are superior for our taste and style of farming. We small scale farmers farm for people and not for industry!"

  • Our first priority is to feed our communities before growing for the external market.

Mzuzu declaration 57

Banner: No GM in African AgricultureA 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:

  • governments are often forced to rely upon information from the GM industry, which they do not trust

  • food security requires 'low-tech' solutions that can be locally controlled, GM only increases dependency

  • GM food aid does not give people the right to choose what thy eat

  • there is no consensus on the safety of GM foods, especially when eaten by people whose immune systems are weakened by HIV/AIDS: if health problems result from GM food aid the donor community should be liable

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:

  • a global moratorium on all nano-tech and GM

  • an end to patents on life and on genes

  • support for environmentally and socially responsible research


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:

  • the rejection of GMOs

  • policies which enabled food sovereignty and gave small farmers access to land


Kumasi Declaration59

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:


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."


Read more



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