On the 17th of March 2020, hundreds of Nigerians including farmers, CSOs, community persons, lawyers, medical practitioners, students, scientists, youth and women groups led by Health of Mother Earth Foundation and the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance marched against food products of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The march reached the Lagos State government secretariat with a petition demanding for a ban on GMOs, a nullification of the permits already issued for the importation and release of genetically modified maize, beans and cotton into the country and to halt illegal entry of GMOs.
The coalition also demanded a ban of all toxic agrochemicals – especially those containing glyphosate which has been identified as a carcinogen and for a halt on the assault on our agriculture through genetic modification of our staple crops including cassava, maize and beans. Through the petition, the group urged that the Nigerian government should be circumspect about technologies that aim to contaminate our environment, destroy our agriculture, culture, rupture our socio-economic fabric and assert unbridled control over our agriculture and food.
Speaking during the rally, Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation stressed that Nigeria does not need GMOs, adding that they are promoted on false premises which includes that they give higher yields and are more nutritious than normal crops. Bassey explained, also that they do not use less herbicides and pesticides as many of the genetically modified crops are designed to withstand herbicides which are produced by same companies producing the seeds. He pointed out also that another main reason some crops are genetically modified (e.g. the beans that was approved by the government for commercial release in 2019) is for them to act as pesticides. These processes destroy not only target pests and weeds but beneficial microorganisms -both in the soil and in the human guts, he explained. “What we eat must not eat us” he and the people chanted.
Also speaking at the rally, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria stated that Nigeria has the capacity to feed herself and that we cannot allow our food system to be overtaken by corporate control/interest. He called instead, for better support for the small holder farmers who produce natural and healthy foods.
The Secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) buttressed this point when he said that just as the Nigeria government is currently encouraging local contents in other sectors, local farmers should be encouraged because they provide bulk of the food we consume, stressing that we don’t want foreign foods in the form of GMOs.
One of the women leaders, Funmi Ajayi charged the Government to take up the responsibility of protecting her citizens from danger and demanded that the government should put a stop to the introduction of GMOs in Nigeria as this will cause more harm to Nigerians as well as lead to loss of livelihood for our farmers.
Joyce Ebebeinwe, a programme officer at HOMEF stressed that the introduction of GMOs violates the rights of the people to safe and healthy food as majority of people are not aware of these foods or their implications and they, including the few who are aware have no way of identifying GMOs or making a choice as to whether or not to consume them.
The coalition was received by the Head of Public Affairs and that of Political Affairs on behalf of the Lagos State Governor at the Lagos State House of Assembly. Nnimmo Bassey while addressing the government officials noted that GMOs, in spite of the many issues surrounding them are continuously been introduced into the country by the very permissive National Biosafety Management Agency and through illegal imports as seen by a market shelf survey (see report: https://homef.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Report-on-Market-Shelves-Survey-for-GM-Food-Products-2018-web.pdf ) conducted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation in 2018 and 2019.
Bassey explained that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act established in 2015 and amended in 2019 needs to be repealed due to loopholes in it such as the lack of provisions for strict liability and redress which mandates that the biotechnology corporations take responsibility for immediate and forthcoming negative impacts of use of their products; no mandatory provision on access to information, public consultation and participation and lack of veritable provisions for the enforcement of the precautionary principle. He added that the NBMA Act is confers enormous discretionary powers on the agency and gives little room for oversight.
Bassey added the coalition brought these demands before the Lagos State government because as the Centre of Excellence and economic hub in Nigeria, a decision of the state in the right direction will definitely influence other states to do the same. The state government was urged to declare Lagos a GMO-free state.
The coalition called as an alternative to GMOs, for the Nigerian government to address the root causes of the challenges of food production. The group called for an investment in and support for an agricultural system such as Agroecology which promotes soil health and biodiversity and ensures collaborative research/innovations with farmers and increased/sustained production of healthy/nutritious food. It was demanded that farmers should be provided with needed infrastructure, extension service, access to land and credit schemes and good road-market networks.
At the end of the presentation, the government officials promised to pass every detail of the demands of the people to state governor and look critically at the petition submitted to ensure that the demands stated are considered.
The petition (https://homef.org/2020/03/18/petition-to-the-lagos-state-governor-on-gmo-crops-in-nigeria/) was signed by HOMEF and some members of the GMO-Free Nigeria including: Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria; Peace and Development Project; Center for Human and Socio-Economic Rights; Child Health Organization; Spaces for Change; Justice Development and Peace Commission; Joint Action Front; and Center for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection