Volume 2, Issue No. 2, April/May 2013
- Chair’s forward
- Genetic Modification and African Food sovereignty
- A New Climate Science Theory – Implications for African Wind Power?
- Earth Science Book Reviews
- Earth Science Events
- References and Selected Reading
Foreword by the Acting Chair of Society of African Earth Scientists, Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu
Welcome to the eighth issue of the bi-monthly newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES).
In the current issue we address the issues of genetic modification of crops in relation to food sovereignty and new climate science with its implications for African renewable energy.
Genetic Modification and African Food Sovereignty
As a non-specialist, trying to fairly consider the debate on genetic modification (GM) of food crops in terms of the option most beneficial to Africa (rather than biotech companies), one is mindful not to be carried away by hype; to be objective and avoid dogmatism and blanket condemnation of what could be useful science.
It might be argued that there is good and there is bad GM and that a blanket condemnation will make Africa possibly miss out on science that could help to feed its people. It might be argued that not all GM projects are in the vein of the workings of Bill Gates and Monsanto.
One of the instances of GM in Africa often noted is that of “golden rice” – a rice that has been modified to include beta carotene which gives the rice its colour and also serves the role of providing a nutritional supplement in the rice (vitamin A) that would otherwise be absent from the diet of local children.
Aside from enabling the inclusion of nutritional supplements to benefit the population, GM supporters also claim there are benefits provided by GM in enabling pest and weed resistance of crops, requiring less cost expenditure in herbicides and pesticides, making GM seeds, eventually, cheaper. Furthermore, it is claimed that GM technology will double the yield of crops and hence lead to the solution of food shortage in Africa. Plants will be genetically modified to withstand drought and be resistant to unpredictable climate patterns.
All this makes GM food technology sound greatly beneficial. However, the evidence has not emerged to support the claim that GM crops will increase food yield2; nor have we any way of knowing that the genetic modification giving plant resistance against pests and weeds, will not harm human health. Or make pests and weeds more tolerant to the treatments, giving rise to the need to progressively use larger amounts of pesticide and herbicide, and damaging the soil and human health .
One study claiming GM to lead to increased yield is that conducted on GM cotton1. There is no direct research to show food yields are increased on use of GM.
The truth of the matter is that foods yields can be greatly improved in Africa by resuscitating traditional African agricultural methods that are agro ecological and sustainable (IFAD, 1992; Jordan et al, 2007)3,4. On the face of it, it is not hard to argue that GM is simply not a necessity.
Being untested technology, GM poses a risk The stakes are huge if the roll of the dice turns out not to be in Africa’s favour, it would, in the worst scenario, mean :-
i) Loss of African food sovereignty – We lose Africa’s capacity to produce its own foods and to feed itself by traditional systems of farming that are agro-ecological. Foreign corporation monopoly would lead to the seizure of the capacity to produce local crops and there would become a total dependence of African countries on foreign corporations to produce our food.
ii) The creation of new genetic diseases, inherited genetic disorders, cannot be ruled out.
iii) Adverse effects on our wildlife and ecosystem cannot be ruled out.
iv) Contamination of non GM plants and elimination of non-GM crop varieties by the (potentially) unsafe GM varieties forever.
Safety is an uppermost concern which has already lead to some countries prohibiting the planting of GM crops on their soil. The paper by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini and co-workers5 apparently stirred enough concern on the dangers of GM corn to persuade some countries like Kenya, to join the club of non-GMO nations [Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Luxemborg, France (ban GM corn), Venezuela, etc]. Serralini’s paper has been challenged on the grounds of inadequate sample size, but the results, especially testing the effects of GM corn on the female rats used in the trial, had high significance and gave an indication of a potential risk of GM food to women in particular. The study is rare in being a long term study over the entire lifetime of the rodents..
A New Climate Science Theory - Implications for African Wind power?
Where do winds come from? This question was accepted as answered for more than a hundred years, until early this year when the authors (Makarieva et al, 2013) managed to publish their highly controversial paper, in the journal of atmospheric chemistry and physics (ACP), entitled: “Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapour condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics”6.
Their new climate theory is seen as so controversial that the editor had to make a special note explaining his reason for daring to publish their results: “ The authors have presented an entirely new view of what may be driving dynamics in the atmosphere. This new view has been subject to considerable criticism... Normally, the negative reviewer comments would not lead to final acceptance and publication of a manuscript in ACP. ...The majority of reviewers and experts in the field seem to disagree, whereas some colleagues provide support, and the handling editor (and the executive committee) are not convinced that the new view presented in the controversial paper is wrong.”
In the textbook view, winds are derived from air currents created when air particles are heated by the sun. On land heat is retained more than at sea, where the water has a cooling effect. The warm air from the land rises and has high pressure compared to the cooler air above the sea which has a lower pressure. As the warm air from the land flows to the region of low pressure above the sea surface, the cold air from the sea replaces the warm air rising from the land. This cold air in turn gets heated up by the warmth of the land, which in turn rises, and so on. The cycle of air currents and hence winds are thus established.
In contrast, the authors, in their controversial paper, argue that atmospheric water vapour represents a store of potential energy, ready to be released as rainfall, which accelerates the surrounding air and drives winds. The potential energy released by the condensation of atmospheric water vapour, and its precipitation into rain, is similar to that energy required to drive atmospheric circulation; i.e. wind currents.
This ground breaking approach could be of real importance in our scientific understanding of the challenge of climate change; for the authors note:”...the current incomplete understanding of the general circulation precludes a theory-based analysis, from fundamental physical principles, of the role of latitudinal atmospheric mixing in stabilizing the Earth’s thermal regime...”. In other words, it points to the hydrological cycle as playing a key role in the Earth’s atmospheric dynamics and temperature regulation.
What implications, if any, are to follow from this new climate science being true for Africa? Well an interesting point was made in SAES facebook discussions by Leslie Tetteh: That windpower infrastructure should be situated in the vicinity of Africa’s great expanse of lakes. If the new climate science of Makarieva and colleagues is true, then Africa will also be blessed with renewable inland wind energy resources, with the winds driven by the continuous cycle of evaporation and condensation over its great expanse of lakes.
Earth Science Book Reviews
An Introduction to Atmospheric Thermo-dynamics by Anastasios Tsonis 4
The text is recommended for students of atmospheric science, meteorology, physics and natural science.
Affiliation and Association with other organisations
SAES is affiliated to the African Association of Women in the Geosciences, Solar Sister, and is an active supporter of the African led counter land grab initiatives, Stop Africa Land Grab and Stop Land Grabbing.
Earth Science Events
September 8 – 12, 2013
Geological Society of South Africa – Geoheritage 2013 Conference
Venue: Klein Karoo, Western Province, SA.
Conference invites papers focusing on various aspects of geoheritage, including Geo-education in relation to heritage and conservation, management of geoparks and important gelogical/geomorphological sites. There will be an exhibition of landscape art. Contributions on the role of landscape art in geoconservation are invited.
October 15-18, 2013
The Africa Climate Conference
Venue: University of Dar es Salam, Arusha, Tanzania
Africa is highly vulnerable to current climate variability and extremes, and most likely to suffer adverse effects of change. Current limits to our collective understanding of the African climate systemimpede our collective ability to deliver adequate early warnings and climate predictions and restrict the use of climate information by those most vulnerable to the current and future impacts of changing climate.
October 28-29, 2013
2nd Annual International Conference on Geological & Earth Sciences (GEOS 2013)
Venue: Phuket, Thailand
With the advent of technology and industrialization, the Earth's resources are being pushed to the brink of depletion. Conference looks at the role of earth scientists in maintaining the balance between the Earth’s limited resources and the demands of industrialisation.
November 24-26, 2013
7th International Conference on Africa Geology
Venue: Assiut, Egypt
A conference to present new advances, and research results in the fields of theoretical, experimental and applied geology of Africa.
References, Selected Reading, etc
3. International Fund for Agricultural Development, Soil and Water Conservation in Subsaharan Africa, Rome, 1992.
4. Jordan, et al (eds), Land & Power: Sustainable agriculture and African Americans - A collection of essays from the 2007 Black environmental thought http://www.tehelka.com/qaim-theory-gm-crops-good-for-food-security/?singlepage=1conference. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2007.
5. Seralini, G, Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Malatesa, M., Hennequin, D., and de Vendomois, J.S., Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modiﬁed maize, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50(2012), 4221 - 4231.
6. Makarieva, A.M, V.G. Gorshkov, DSheil, A.D. Nobre, and B.L. Li, Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapour condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 1039-1056, 2013.
7. Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.
8. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
9. Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-african-earth-sciences/