Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Benin, Edo State on 30 April, 2019 organized a Dialogue with students to examine issues with food and farming systems in Nigeria; the implications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and to define suitable alternatives for agricultural productivity.
The highly interactive session was attended by the Dean, Associate Dean, lecturers and students of the Faculty of Agriculture and a major consensus was that the argument that Nigeria needs GMOs because we do not produce enough to feed our growing population is false. Speaking at the event, Dr Peter Ebabhamiegbebho of the Department of Animal Science stated: “We have produced enough food but [studies have shown that] about 40-50 percent of food produced is lost post-harvest due to lack of storage facilities and good roads to access markets”. “Our problem is poor administration” he added.
It was agreed in the Dialogue that GMOs are a false solution and one that will create bigger problems for the people in terms of health, environment and socio economic hazards. Tatfeng Mirabeau, a professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State explained that there are potential problems (often overlooked by the promoters of the technology) which arise from antibiotic-resistant genes used in gene-altered crops; risks from unintended effects of the genetic engineering process and increase in herbicide use stemming from widespread planting of herbicide resistant crop varieties. He further explained that GMOs, particularly those made to act as pesticides are toxic to non-target organisms such as bees which are important pollinators.
Professor Tatfeng stated that the safety of GMOs cannot be ascertained, adding that the team of international scientists has found that there is a particular association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The case of the US citizen named DeWayne Johnson who was diagnosed with cancer connected to his usage of glyphosate-based herbicide and the many other cases resulting to numerous lawsuits filed against the seed and chemicals corporation, Monsanto, confirms that glyphosate is carcinogenic and must be banned outrightly.
Also speaking at the Dialogue, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and Coordinator of food sovereignty programme for Friends of the Earth Nigeria/Africa pointed out that GMOs will foster corporate control of food systems, destroy our biological diversity, lead to an irreversible contamination of indigenous seed varieties and loss of local knowledge.
Mariann stated that “we the people, not corporations or politicians are our best hope for restoring sanity to our food and farming systems”. She stressed that there are better approaches to agricultural problems such as agroecology which enriches ecosystems, increases productivity, promotes local knowledge/food, incentivizes smallholder farmers, and in addition, cools the planet.
Joyce Ebebeinwe, Project Officer at HOMEF shared the report(titled What’s on our Plates?) of the market survey conducted by the organisation on GMO products in Nigeria. This research was carried out in 2018 in ten major cities across the country and revealed that over 30 different food products including cereals, vegetable oils, ice cream, noodles, chocolates and food spices in our markets are produced with genetic engineering/genetically modified constituents. These products were seen to be mostly imports from USA, India, China and South Africa and genetically modified ingredients were mostly corn and soy. According to the report, glyphosate based herbicides including Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide known widely as a carcinogen are abundant in market shelves across the country. Joyce encouraged individual commitment to understanding of the threats posed by GMOs and action to ensure better protection of our food/health.
The students and staff of the Faculty in the Dialogue resolved that:
- GMOs are not needed in Nigeria and should be banned.
- There should be further research on the subject and on alternative means of promoting agricultural productivity.
- Nigeria needs a strong regulatory system and very close surveillance of our boarders against infiltration of GMOs.
- Our indigenous seed varieties/systems should be preserved/promoted.
- Organic Agriculture/Agroecology, with adequate support for farmers in terms of extension services, good roads to access markets, access to land/loans, and provision of storage and processing facilities will ensure availability of food and access to it by all.
At the close of the session, the Dean of the Faculty, Professor M.A Bamikole and the Associate Dean, Dr Mrs A. E. Odiko on behalf the Faculty, appreciated HOMEF for organizing the Dialogue and pledged their partnership to ensure a protection of our food and farming systems in Nigeria. The students committed to further study and projects on alternatives for agricultural productivity and food sovereignty in Nigeria.