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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Fighting Genetically Modified Technology In Ghana

: A Few More Practical Solutions

Do we recall the 1990s when the American government working through NASA asked the people of Ghana and their government to accept the relocation of primates it had used in a forty-plus-year space experimental research? And how we resisted the proposal as a people?

What reason did the American government give to justify the relocation? The primates were acquired from the people of Ghana in the 1960s and that their natural habit was Ghana! The other reason was that American animal rights activists threatened to sue the American government if it euthanized the animals. Our question is: Aren’t diseased animals and animals with consistent records of human attacks euthanized in American society every day?
Interestingly, after all those years, the people of America still thought the animals would be happy in their natural comfort zones?
Yes, we know some animals, dolphins, etc., have eidetic “memories,” but could these primates have recognized their relatives, their autochthonous habitat? Were their relatives still in existence when the American government came up with the proposal? Aren’t experimental space animals retired comfortably in many places of America? In fact, if animal rights constituted the primary driving force behind the question of relocation, why would the American representatives in Ghana preparing a place for the primates ended up killing exotic Ghanaian animals? Do American animals have more animal rights than Ghanaian animals?
Furthermore, could the animals have been possibly diseased? But did the American government reveal the health conditions of the primates after years of exposure to radiation in space? In fact, if the American government did not have anything to hide, why did it circumvent every known international regulation on trans-border animal testing? Do the anatomic, genetic, and physiological variances between primates and humans justify continued use of animals in space and in other such experimental projects? What is the use of pharmacogenetics then? The long and short of it, the people of Ghana rejected the American proposal! Can we do the same with GM technology?
That brings us to the realm of practical solutions. The expanding rate of desertification is eating away chunks of arable land. This is palpable in parts of Northern Ghana. Deforestation is another problem. In fact, desertification and deforestation are two sides of the same environmental coin. However, arresting desertification is undeniably expensive. But what is the cost of doing nothing? And what are the alternatives? Against this background, we must, therefore, continue to honor the noble legacy and environmental consciousness of Kenya’s Wangari Maathai. This calls for the universal planting of trees. Additionally, We can learn from those who have demonstrated an appreciable degree of success in overcoming the arable deficits of desertification. We can go to the Israelis and the Libyans.
The continuing discoveries of oil, natural gas, and minerals have also added another problematic dimension to pre-existing problems. The destruction of farm lands has accompanied many of these discoveries. Galamsey is another. Plus, the heavy chemicalization of our lands via these discoveries poisons large tracts of arable lands. Mercury, lead, and dangerous chemicals in explosives are the usual culprits. American scientists have recently discovered a correlation between “lead” ingestion and human criminality (See Kevin Drum’s “Mother Jones” article “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead”). Therefore, comprehensive environmental cleansing must be enforced at all levels. We must also make sure to neutralize enticing tendencies on the part of multinationals to bribe local leaders, kings, chief, etc., and national politicians.
Here is another suggestion. An article on Ghanaweb “Tanzania Offers Great Mining Lessons For Ghana” (Business News, Aug. 10, 2013) offers one practical solution: “In Tanzania, players in the small-scale sectors are well organized under associations with well-informed leaders at the local, regional and national levels to represent their interests while successive governments have proactively promoted indigenes to control the sector by granting them concessions and further supporting them in terms of logistics and training to ensure job creation.” This speaks pointedly to the problem of Galamsey.
On the other hand, it addresses some of the important problems posed by the illegality of Galamsey. That said, criminalizing illegal mining has persistently shown not be politically and socially effective in the long term. Indeed, progressive governmental regulation, education of miners, provision of necessary logistics, as the author rightly noted, can go a long way to improve the small-scale mining sector. The only minus of the article had to do with the active environmental conscientization of the miners, an important fact the author glossed over, probably inadvertently.
We could also involve our celebrities in educating small-scale miners about the dangers mining and chemicalization pose to the environment. We must wake up to the environmental dangers of the use of “cracking” in the oil industry. Finally, we may have to address some of these questions in the context of our present tax codes. We can, for instance, give tax breaks to multinational companies that use environmentally friendly technologies in the mining, oil and natural gas industries. We must also make as well as enforce the cleaning/getting rid of environmental pollutants by multinationals part of the tax codes. We need to put stronger tax codes in place and enforce them because it’s not easy suing multinationals in international courts and winning, as the outcome of a Nigerian class action lawsuit against American oil companies in America show (See Adam Liptak’s “The New York Times” article “Justices Bar Nigerian Human Rights Case From U.S. Courts”).
The Nigerian actress Stella Damasus and actor Richard Mofe Damijo, both from the Nile Delta area, South Eastern Nigeria, are doing positive things with and for restless youth from the same area. Pastor T.B. Joshua has spent millions of US dollars on aggrieved and disenfranchised communities from the Delta area. These progressive attitudes have the potential to redirect the vocational attention of citizens from the Nile Delta away from “illegal” oil mining. Ghana can learn from these examples!
The relatively recent large-scale discoveries of oil, natural gas, and mineral reserves have redirected our creative attention from the political economy of agriculture. Suddenly, we have redirected national resources from agriculture to the political economy of “black gold.” It’s for this reason we import food from the outside world and, thereby, spend fewer creative resources on scientizing and technologizing agronomy as well as on general agricultural research. Given that GM contamination may have already made a strong presence in the global food chain, some of which we may be importing into Ghana, what are we, in terms of infrastructural technologies, doing to neutralize the likely presence of the contamination?

Moreover, buttressing the social and political complexities is the relative absence of scientific technologies and well-trained human resources to test imported food products for possible GM contamination once they arrive in Ghana. Nigeria’s Philip Emeagwali, the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize winner, wonders why Nigeria has neglected its agriculture industry! He asks questions which, we think, are appropriate for our own Ghanaian context: “Oil revenues account for 80 percent of Nigeria’s budget. The nagging question is: What will we do when that 80 percent is gone? What is our plan B when our Plan A fails? Searching for more oil is not the answer.” Interestingly, Emeagwali’s foresight finds corroboration in the analytic creativity of a recent conference held in Africa.
Clearly, technological knowledge and acquisition and natural resources diversification are some of the creative answers. In fact, during the recent BBC Science in Africa Festival, held at Uganda’s Makerere University, Ghana’s Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu said the future of Africa lies with the political economy of technology knowledge and acquisition. But the present scientists and future scientists and technologists whom we have to rely upon to create the technologies must be well fed, health-wise. That means we must be careful about which kinds of foods we feed ourselves on. That also means we have to know everything there’s to know about GM technology. Finally, that means we have to develop local scientific and technological capacities to effectively test imported food products upon their arrival in the country.
Furthermore, we may have to reconsider the benefits of indigenizing the physical presence and expertise of our Western-based scientists and researchers. And there are a few good reasons for this suggestion. The first is that it’s oftentimes difficult for Black scientists in America to get grants to underwrite their research projects (See Kenneth Chang’s “The New York Times” article “Black Scientists Less Likely To Win Federal Research Grant, Study Reports”). The second is that the study of tropical diseases (African, say) in the West, for instance, receives comparatively less academic and research attention and resources (funding) than their Caucasian counterparts. This makes common sense.
The other probable reason is that the American federal government, for instance, gives grants for research which satisfies the immediate and pressing needs of the American people and of the government. Also highly debatable is the idea that white philanthropists give away large sums of money to researchers whose works are more likely to benefit the philanthropist’s immediate family and race. But this proverbial perception is undermined by a recent report published by W.K. Kellogg Foundation (See Kunbi Tinuoye’s piece “African-Americans Are More Charitable Than Other Races, Report Says”).
Finally, the social anomaly is that Black America is not a political force in the federal government, which, unfortunately, is mostly controlled by special-interest politics most of which are “white.” Further, a White American by name Glenn Hutchins recently gave Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr. $15 million to create the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research. What does this say about us as a people? It says we must do more philanthropy to further our cause.
And last but not least, we must address the problematic of terrorism and political instability, both of which carry the potential to dislocate farming communities as well as to drive away capable scientists and researchers. Ridding Ghana (and Africa) of ozone-depleting technologies and substances (See the US Environmental Protection Agency) should also be addressed with political and social urgency. Then, by necessity, we must also address the twin questions of haphazard fire outbreaks and charcoal production which both contribute to desertification, deforestation, and erosion of surface soil nutrients.
Mechanizing agriculture, if other variables are well accounted for, may increase food yield. Government must assist farmers with the acquisition of seeds and other agricultural appurtenances. And here is the final dilemma: How do we test seeds, if imported, the government gives farmers that they are devoid of GM contamination? However, we must be on the lookout for genetically modified fertilizers! Finally, training farmers in the proper use of modern farming and irrigation techniques is equally apposite in our analytic context.
Improving road networks from farming centers to marketing centers must be sufficiently addressed. Transportation and the rationing of electricity (refrigeration) are two important areas we need to look at. The agronomy of grazing is another area we must look into. We believe the implementation of these progressive ideas and those we discussed in the second installment can offset many of the major problems occasioned by food insecurity and, thereby, make the social and political need for GM technology (GMOs) unnecessary.
Finally, we must rid the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (The Lands Commission) of corruption. Let’s bring our scientists under one roof to do all the necessary research without strict political conditionalities. And let’s reward them handsomely. We may even set up our own version of the Nobel Committee, as the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim has done with his Mo Ibrahim Foundation, to give them recognition.
Let’s reject GM technology, Ghana!