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Opinions of Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Columnist: Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah

Eric Okoree lobbies for foreign control of Ghana's food!

Our attention at Food Sovereignty Ghana has been drawn to an article in the online edition of the Daily Graphic of 20 September, 2013, "GM crop production making progress", by Jojo Sam. In the said article, the objections of Food Sovereignty Ghana to the GM technology were summarized as follows:

"But there are some in the country, including Food Sovereignty Ghana, an advocacy movement, who see the introduction of GM crops as a risky venture for the country considering that a majority of farmers who are illiterates would find it difficult if not impossible to cultivate modified crops" This is a complete distortion and an unconscionable misrepresentation of our movement in its objections to the imposition of GMOs on Ghanaians by some civil servants at the Ministry of Environment, Science, and Technology.

First of all, FSG wishes to address the false claim that our objection to GMOs is that farmers are ignorant. Nothing could be further from the truth. We rely on our farmers for nutrition and sustenance. They are key to our health and happiness. Some farmers may not be literate, but they are not ignorant, and they do know farming. Farmers are not asking for GMOs or patented seeds. The FSG objection is that the GMO lobby is trying to fool farmers and consumers into thinking that this dangerous and outdated technology is safe and benign. The GMO lobby's overarching interest in “farmer education” is to intimidate them not to save seeds for replanting! The GMO lobby is trying to push through legislation and pollute the land with GMOs with no information and debate, and before Ghanaians know what is going on. There is nothing that indicates GMOs are safe, and mounting evidence points to serious dangers.

Food Sovereignty Ghana has called for a "moratorium on the cultivation, importation and consumption of genetically modified foods." Our group also called "for the need for Ghanaians to clearly understand the full implications associated with the cultivation of genetically modified foods before embracing the technology."

We also sounded "the warning that if Africans fail to get our act together, GM patent domination of our agriculture could be far worse than the combined effects of Apartheid, Colonialism and Slavery! Remember the words of Kissinger, 'Food is a weapon!’

The food-as-weapon policy continues unabated, demonstrated by Monsanto, Syngenta, and allied multi-national corporations’ unrestrained hunger to control Africa and what and whether Africans eat.

We further reiterated that "Ghana is a democratic and a sovereign state, and the issue of what we eat and grow affects the well-being of each and every Ghanaian. Hence there is a need for a broad consensus after a thorough, open and transparent debate before embarking on a process of gene contamination in our food chain that is absolutely irreversible. We believe that a decision of such far-reaching implications is a matter that cannot be left solely in the hands of trade negotiators, investment experts, or agricultural engineers. It is essentially a matter of political economy, public health, national security, biodiversity, and environmental sanity, in which we are all stake-holders."

Instead of heeding our call for a moratorium and presenting the pros and cons of GE technology as honestly as possible for Ghanaians to make up their own minds, the Secretary to the National Biosafety Committee and Deputy Director at the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology (MEST), Mr. Eric Amaning Okoree, has embarked on a propaganda spree, deliberately hiding all the negative effects of GE technology, distorting FSG’s views, and churning out lies in a bid to manufacture the consent of the public.

According to Mr. Okoree, "GM technology is used in food production to improve yields and nutrients or strengthen resistance to diseases and pests... Due to increasing populations and climate changes, many countries around the world have embarked on series of measures to improve their agriculture and food stock. One mechanism that is gaining in this drive has been the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) crops...

Currently in Ghana, there is momentum building in the country to introduce GM crops into agriculture as part of efforts to reduce hunger and ensure food security. Towards this end, research into the viability of some selected GM crops is currently ongoing and making remarkable progress."

These statements are false. It is obvious to us that this new offensive of GM propaganda closely follows on the heels of Monsanto’s withdrawal of applications for GMOs in the EU because of non-acceptance on scientific grounds and their rejection by civil society.

Genetic Engineering of crops is a fake science whose only aim is to make us surrender our agriculture to the control and monopoly of giant multinational corporations of doubtful intentions and capabilities.

GMOs are not designed to feed the hungry. According to the FAO, we produce double the amount of food needed to feed everyone in the world today, yet more than a billion people go to bed hungry each day! The solution clearly does not lie in the genetic modification of food! Genetic modification is a technology that has no ability to help and no intention of helping smallholder farmers. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers lost their land and livelihoods and committed suicide after believing these false claims by the rapacious Agribusiness corporations! The price of their seeds went up 8000%.

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that GMOs are a failed technology. Agribusiness’ claims that they are high yield, resistant to climate change, and require lower use of pesticides and insecticides simply go beyond what Genetic Engineering can do. What the agribusiness companies are not telling us are the alarming escalation in super-weeds and super-bugs and an increase, not decrease, in the use of pesticides and herbicides manufactured by these same companies!

There is increasing evidence that theories on transgenic modification are not just obsolete but completely mistaken, as they are based on assumptions which have now been proved to be false. For example, the mechanical identification of specific characteristics of a gene. The fundamental importance of this evidence, especially when analysed against claims that we need genetic modification in order to make plants drought, saline and or flood tolerant in the face of climate change, is that all these desirable properties are actually multi-gene. It is not just one gene that confers these properties to a plant, but multi-gene families, working in a very co-ordinated way.

Independent experts are telling us for example, 'What we can do with biotechnology is map the genes within the DNA of the plant, of one variety of plant that says "drought-tolerant", and another variety of the plant that says "high yielding... we can breed them naturally, and then use gene mapping methods, to identify the plant offspring which combines the genes, the multi-gene families that confer high yield and drought tolerance.”

The future of our agriculture lies in agro-ecological agriculture. We know that the International Assessment of Agricultural knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), the UN Report which was co-sponsored by FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank strongly recommended agroecological agriculture and gave thumbs down to GE agriculture. We also know that the World Bank and the rest of the institutions that were behind the report written by 400 independent scientists were supported by independent scientists from almost every nation on the planet!

The question Ghanaians need to ask Mr. Eric Okoree is why is he doing this to us? Who really benefits from this? Where is agro-ecology in all this? Is it because it comes cheap and multinational corporations do not make profits from it? It is quite obvious that the main obstacle to agro-ecology and other life-enhancing agriculture is the immense global power of the biotech industry and its enormous capacity to influence thought and win contracts.

That is why we concluded our call for a moratorium with a quote from George Monbiot, as food for thought and action: – Organic Farming Will Feed the World: “We have, in other words, been deceived. Traditional farming has been stamped out all over the world not because it is less productive than monoculture, but because it is, in some respects, more productive.

Organic cultivation has been characterised as an enemy of progress for the simple reason that it cannot be monopolised: it can be adopted by any farmer anywhere on earth, without the help of multinational companies. Though it is more productive to grow several species or several varieties of crops in one field, the biotech companies seek to reduce diversity in order to make money, leaving farmers with no choice but to purchase their most profitable seeds. This is why Monsanto and their allies have spent the last ten years buying up seed breeding institutes and lobbying governments to do what ours has done: banning the sale of any seed which has not been officially – and expensively – registered and approved.”

We are happy to note that our weekly press releases are beginning to have an impact. The agents of this genetically modified colonialism are being compelled to give a public account of actions they have kept hidden. They are beginning to talk after previously avoiding public discussions. We know they would rather avoid a public debate, preferring an ignorant and pliant public to an active well-informed one. We therefore throw a challenge to Mr. Eric Amaning Okoree for an open debate on the issue of GMOs to set the record straight and also to generate and answer questions and gather informed responses from the Ghanaian public, instead of attempting to impose GMOs on us without our knowledge or consent.

Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah,

Chairperson, FSG