|GMOs: Which way for Africa?|
|Tuesday, 02 August 2011 02:00|
By Maryleen Micheni
It establishes an advanced informed agreement procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory.
The Protocol also establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.
The direct in-vitro transfer of DNA between or within species is referred to as genetic modification. It is expected that embracing GMOs will promote increased food harvests and therefore, a natural mitigation for food shortage.
Touting GMOs as the silver bullet for food scarcity is nothing new. Governments in Africa, including Kenya, that are exposed to recurrent food insufficiency are under increasing pressure to adopt GM technology.
Eventually, the pro-GMO camp prevailed. However, it was apparent that genuine debate on the merits and demerits of the GMOs had been subverted by powerful, vested interests.
This would lead to attendant benefits such as a healthy citizenry and improved quality of living. Besides, governments would find profitable alternative use for the huge amounts spent in importing food.
But why would the US government, for instance, spend so much resources promoting GMOs? The official answer is painted in generosity: that it is championing science and technology to boost food production and, therefore, food sufficiency in a hungry Third World. GMOs are portrayed as the miracle cure to hunger. Who owns this technology? Who has the control rights for GMOs? A few companies nicknamed the "Gene Giants" dominate global sales of seeds.
Take for example the Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology, a name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile.
Pine Land company in the 1990s, but it is not yet commercially available. Because some stakeholders expressed concerns that this technology might lead to dependence for poor smallholder farmers, Monsanto Company, an agricultural products company and the world's biggest seed supplier, pledged not to commercialise the technology in 1999.
seeds from their harvest for further planting, breeding or cultivation. This legal agreement pre-empts the need for a "terminator gene."
The moratorium was re-affirmed in 2006. India and Brazil have already passed national laws to prohibit the technology.
Rushed embrace of GM technology could disenfranchise farmers through patenting of naturally-occurring genes. It could lead to licensing and therefore controlling seeds that would normally be freely retained and sown the following season.
This "patenting of life" could lead to an unacceptable control and commercialisation of natural resources. Sole dependency on GM seeds has the potential to create a private monopoly over plants and seeds that would likely be priced way above ordinary farmer purchasing power.
Considering the cost of GMOs inputs against the purchasing power of ordinary farmers, it makes sense to promote credible alternatives. In the interests of sustainable farming, farmers should be encouraged to continue using seeds of known source with proven yields.
The Kenya government should seriously consider subsidising seeds, not as an episodic bout of generosity, but as a sustained agricultural policy. Whether GMOs are the solution to food scarcity is debatable.
With introduction of GM seeds aimed for sale, the cost of farming will certainly rise and leave local farmers poorer. Farmers should be advised to retain/revert to alternative agro-ecological agriculture, which is sustainable, less costly and environmental friendly.
There are a myriad available opportunities for bringing in clean food/maize that should not give us sleepless nights if the reasons for importation are genuine.
As much as we need to embrace technology, let us remember that nuclear power too if handled properly has immense potential but in the hands of the ignorant, its adverse effects last for generations!
Maryleen Micheni Programme Officer, Research and Information Management Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association - PELUM Kenya. This article is reproduced from The African Executive.