Saturday, 18 April 2015

NEWSLETTER #15 - SOCIETY OF AFRICA EARTH SCIENTISTS





Volume 3, Issue 4 2014



CONTENTS






  • Chair's Foreword
  • African Food Sovereignty and GMOs Revisited
  • Earth Science Events
  • References, Selected Reading





Chair's Foreword*
 Welcome to the fifteenth issue of the newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES), now  issued quarterly.
   In the current issue we revisit the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from the viewpoint of their real threat to African food security and global food security. This topic was last discussed in the SAES newsletter back in the April-May issue of 2013. Since then there have been new developments, likely to have repercussions for global and African food sovereignty, specifically in Brazil, where the struggle for global food sovereignty has a new  front line. This is due to the decision by the Brazilian government to consider ending its ban on so called “terminator seed” technology.


African Food Sovereignty and GMOs Revisited
Since we last considered the issue of GMOs in the SAES newsletter of April-May 2013, we have seen that under the guise of promoting African development and food security, a number of alliances and new initiatives have been developed by British and American government departments, and individuals, sometimes supported by government foreign  aid money. These include the organisations New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition; and AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). Both of these organisations have in common their promotion of genetically modified seeds, bolstered by the use of inventive language and propaganda, designed to coax African government decision-makers into adopting GM seed technology. We now regularly hear of the phrase  “improved seeds” in place of simply “GM seeds”.  The qualification “improved” in this phrase is  used even though there is no reasonable or scientific basis for assuming that GM seeds are an actual improvement upon natural seeds.

   The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is the newest of these institutions promoted as being established for the aim of alleviating hunger and food shortage in Africa, whilst in actual fact being a means for giant agribusinesses to  reap great financial gain in Africa, at the potential cost of the eternal dependence of Africans on foreign corporations for all of their staple foods. 
   The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) asks African governments to change their seed laws and tax laws to favour private investors over small farmers.  Ten African countries have now signed up to join the New Alliance and have pledged to local laws and regulations and have granted giant agribusinesses access to their government decision-makers. These countries include Ethiopia – which will relax its land leasing restrictions; Malawi – which will set aside 200,000 hectares of its prime agricultural land for commercial investors by 2015; Ghana – which has made available 10,000 hectares; and Nigeria – which has promised, as part of a deal with the New Alliance to privatise its electricity via the privatization of its power companies. Tanzania has also promised to bolster private investment in (GM) seeds. Many of these investments are non-food crops such as cotton, bio fuels, rubber or crops explicitly for export only, so that much of the production from such intervention makes no contribution whatever to food supply. Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Security in Africa (AFSA) said that the initiative  “...clearly puts seed production and distribution in the hands of the companies.

   “The trend is for companies to say they cannot invest in Africa without new laws. ... Yes agriculture needs new investment but that should not be used as an excuse to bring greater control over farmers’ lives.
   “More than any time in history, the African food production system is being challenged. More than any other time in history, outside forces are deciding the future of our farming systems.”
   According to the London Guardian Newspaper the NAFSN initiative “...relies on the personal commitment of top-level leaders” as stated in its document from its leadership council. “The council brings African presidents together with the heads of donor agencies and top business executives. The CEOs of companies including Unilever, and the agribusiness giants Syngenta, Yara and Cargill have had seats on the leadership council."

   It is true that many of these multinationals have long term plans for making huge gains out of African agricultural ventures with little or no regard for the damage they will do to African food systems and environmental resources.  In the Guardian, Kavita Prakash-Mani, Syngenta’s global head of food security, said it planned to develop a $1 billion (dollar) business in Africa by 2022 and was working closely with US Aid and the UK Department for International Development (DfID), revealing the UK governments’ deep involvement (along with the US) in exploiting African land resources and food security for the profit of European and American agribusiness. Moreover, this is financed by their foreign aid budgets, which the US and British public would assume is intended to alleviate poverty in Africa, rather than ensure that Africans are unable to grow their own seeds to feed themselves and  remain forever dependent on the giant agribusiness corporations for their staple foods.
   So we must conclude on initiatives like AGRA and NAFSN that the initiatives are fundamentally dishonest, verging on being cynical vehicles of propaganda and misinformation deliberately named and presented to deceive the public locally and globally about the true motives of these initiatives, with the advertised concern to be for the benefit of feeding poor Africans and safeguarding poor Africa’s food security. In fact these organisations are working solely to make inroads into Africa for American and European multinational agricultural corporations to aggressively introduce GMOs for the purpose of profit in Africa at any cost. This is the true agenda, without consideration of the soil and water quality, which will be damaged as a result of pollution by pesticides and industrial farming practices; let alone that loss of independence of African people for the foreseeable future in the production of their own food.

   Recent developments in Brazil have brought the country to the front line in the struggle to preserve global food sovereignty of developing countries around the world. In late 2013 and early 2014, The Brazilian Constitutional Commission was poised to vote on whether to end its existing ban on the use of so called “terminator seed” technology. This is more formally referred to as GURT (genetic use restriction technology), which makes sterile seeds when the crops die off after one harvest without producing any offspring. As a result, farmers are forced to go back to the corporation producing the seeds each year in order to plant their crops. Plainly, this is a nightmare scenario in which (if we are to believe that the terminator gene can be passed on to other non-genetic crops) Africa and the world will not be able to produce food on its own to feed its people except through the seed produced by American and European corporations. Some have referred to this as neo-colonialism; but it is far worse; it is slavery where we become dependent on profiteering foreign companies to feed us based on what we are able to pay them for their food seeds. 
   The ban in Brazil is now under pressure from some scientists and powerful landowning groups who wish to begin by using the technology for medicines and eucalyptus trees.  The landowning groups claim that the technology would only be used for non-food crops and justify introduction by claiming the terminator technology will ensure that the introduced GM crops do not contaminate non-GM crops. The effort to introduce legislation in Brazil overturning the ban on GURT has been on going since 2007, but environmental activist resistance has slowed these efforts until now.
   The Guardian reports that environmental groups see this as having global consequences: “Brazil is the frontline. If the agro-industry breaks the moratorium here, they’ll break it everywhere,” says Maria Jose Guazzelli, of Centro Ecologico, representing a coalition of Brazilian NGOs. The coalition has presented a protest letter to the Brazilian government containg 34,000 signatories, warning the farmers would no longer be able to produce their own seeds eventually if this legislation is accepted. The ending of the small farmers  right to grow his/her own seeds from non-GM crops  his/her own land produces is seen as the ultimate aim of the agro-industry.

   The fact is that Brazil is one of 193 countries that have agreed to abide by the year 2000 UN Convention on Biological Diversity which recommended a de facto moratorium on this technology.  The technology was developed by the US Departments of Agriculture  and the Delta and Pineland Company which was purchased by Monsanto in 2007.
   Furthermore, the spectre of impending severe climate change is being used as a reason why this technology must be urgently introduced. In the same way, the need to combat climate change has been used an an excuse to justify landgrabbing in Africa for the planting of trees to produce biofuels and other crops such as fast growing evergreen trees, whose timber is exported to Europe.

   Agribusiness giants like Monsanto deny that they are conducting research on, or planning to use this form of (terminator seed)  technology. However, the fact that all of the world’s largest seed and agrochemical firms (Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, DOW and DuPont) are believed to hold patents on this technology whilst also controlling over 60% of the seed and 76% of the agrochemical markets, does not inspire public confidence and trust in that claim.
   There have been, since 2013 some developments in favour of the introduction of GM technology in Africa, with the Ghanaian Parliament considering the “Plant Breeders Right Bill”. The suspicion is that European and American agribusiness corporations have infiltrated or bought access to African government departments and are even going as far as to  assist in drafting the new legislation to favour the introduction of their GMO products.    This falls in line with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’s initiative to effect changes in the laws and regulations of African countries in a bid to control their food crops for corporate profits.

   These initiatives have to be resisted at all costs if Africa is to protect its right to feed itself and not be forced to be fed by others. African farmers  and agriculturalists must be encouraged to store the seeds of their local crops and if necessary defy and resist any unjust laws resulting from the NFSN's  interference in African internal affairs.  We must also collectively support the African food sovereignty cause, because it is not an exaggeration to say that the result will not only be a new colonisation for Africa, but a new era in actual slavery through the elimination of independent African food production systems.


Affiliation and Association with other organisations
SAES is affiliated to the African Association of Women in the Geosciences, Solar Sister, and is a supporter of the African led counter land grab initiatives, Stop Africa Land Grab and Stop Land Grabbing.


Earth Science Events

2-3 March 2015
University of Venda hosts:

First National Conference on Disaster Risk Science and Management: South Africa's Response in a Changing Global Environment
Venues: (1) Conference, 3-4 March: Protea Hotel Ranch Resort, Polokwane, LIMPOPO, South Africa; (2) Pre conference exhibition 25-27 February: University of Venda, Thoyhoyandou, South Africa.

Disaster Risk Science refers to knowledge that is geared towards disaster risk reduction and management. Every year natural disasters are ravaging communities across many nations in the world. In recent times we have witnessed disasters associated with climate change and variability in the form of hazards related to severe weather events. Human induced hazards are also affecting millions of people; the worst affected being the most vulnerable in society. Disasters affecting African countries include extreme temperatures, drought, floods and storms. These disasters impede the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Vulnerability, lack of information, lack of resources, weak or non-existent early warning systems and fragile infrastructure all contribute to disaster situations. Disasters affect livelihoods, cause losses in lives, assets, the economy and the environment. The capacity to cope with disasters is further accentuated by population growth, disease outbreaks conflict and civil unrest. Different countries in Africa are devising various responses including prioritising training, research and community engagements. An integrated and inter-displinary approach is required to cope with these disasters. However skills and knowledge on disaster risk science, risk reduction and risk management is lacking both locally and internationally. Building skills and knowledge in this area is a requirement that tallies with the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. Priority for Action 3 of this framework requires that we “use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels. In response the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda is developing an undergraduate program, research activities and community engagements to meet this need.

2-13th march 2015
Summer School on Climate System Prediction and the Delivery of Actionable Regional Climate Information
Venue: The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Dakar, Senegal.

19-21st March 2015
Association of African Women in the Geosciences
Day of earth Sciences in Africa and the Middle East
The annual event started in 2012 by AAWG is in its third year.


22-24 June 2015
MDC International Research Conference – Research: An Imperative for Economic Reforms and Development
Venue: Enugu State, Nigeria.
The conference provides a platform for the international community to share proven and innovative ideas on economic reform and development.

References and Selected Reading

  1. "Manipulate and Mislead: How GMOs are Infiltrating Africa". http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/02/23/manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa
  2. "Dysfunctional Philanthropy: Gates and AGRA". http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/12606-dysfunctional-philanthropy-gates-and-agra
  3.  "Countering Africa's Green Revolution", http://www.irinnews.org/report/98378/countering-africa-s-green-revolution.
  4. "G8 New Alliance Condemned as New Wave of Colonialism in Africa",Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/feb/18/g8-new-alliance-condemned-new-colonialism
  5. Jordan, et al (eds), Land & Power:  Sustainable agriculture and African Americans - A collection of essays from the 2007 Black environmental thought conference. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2007.
  6. Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.
  7. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
  8. Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-african-earth-sciences/


*Board of the Society of African Earth Scientists: Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu (Chair - Nigeria), Osmin Callis (Secretary - Guyana/Nigeria), Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukosi (South Africa), Mathada Humphrey (South Africa), Dr Enas Ahmed ( Egypt).

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