23 March 2020. Abuja, Nigeria.
The issue of biosafety is one of continuous concern and one that requires critical attention and constant interrogation especially as modern agricultural biotechnology advances speedily at various levels and its products freely make their way into Nigeria.
To ensure the preservation of biosafety and biodiversity, Health of Mother Earth Foundation held a stakeholders’ conference with focus on decolonizing the narratives around food systems. The conference examined the implications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products of other emerging related technologies and proffered viable solutions to the challenges of food security and for climate resilience.
The conference was declared open by the Minister of State for Environment, Barrister Sharon Ikeazor, who was represented by the Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba. Speaking about GMOs permits, the Minister revealed that NBMA has at 31 December 2019 issued “eleven (11) confined field trial permits, seven (7) importation permits for food and feed processing and two (2) commercial release permits.”
Presentations were on Climate, Biosafety and Food Sovereignty; Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms; Communicating the Right to Safe Food; Healthy Soils, Healthy Foods, Healthy Society; and Agroecology as a Viable Solution for Food Security and Climate Action.
Resource persons included Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation; Tatfeng Mirabeau, Professor of Medical Microbiology; Olugbenga AdeOluwa, Senior Lecturer of Agronomy at the University of Ibadan and Coordinator, Network of Organic Agriculture Researchers in Africa; and Jaqueline Ikeotuonye, Country Representative, Bio-integrity and Natural Food Awareness Initiative.
There were 2 panel sessions with focus on the health, environment and socio-economic implications of GMOs, the legal framework on Biosafety in Nigeria; Farmers/consumers’ needs/rights; and viable solutions to challenges to food production and climate change. Speakers were legal practitioners, scientists, CSOs and farmers, including Chima Williams, Ifeanyi Nwankwere, Ifeanyi Casmir, Musa Wazani, Lovelyn Ejim and Gloria Okon.
After the extensive interactions and deliberations, the following observations and resolutions were made:
- GMOs have associated health, environmental and socio-economic implications.
- There is a dearth of knowledge about GMOs and their implications.
- There is lack of public participation in the processes that lead to the approval and deployment of GMOs across the country.
- There is an unhealthy relationship between the regulator and promoters of GMOs in Nigeria, as evidenced by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) sitting on the board of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
- There are serious loopholes in the country’s biosafety law including excessive discretionary powers given to the agency directly undermining any effort at oversight; no mandatory provisions on liability and redress; lax attention to the precautionary principle etc.
- There is weak attention to risk assessment on products derived from GMOs.
- GMOs are promoted and supplied by corporations for economic gains and not necessarily to feed the people.
- Nigeria produces enough to feed her population and food unavailability is largely due to poor infrastructure, poor processing and storage facilities, lack of access to markets, lack of credit loans, poor access to land, irrigation problems, etc.
- Labelling will not be effective in Nigeria due to the way we purchase, process, market and consume our food. Our informal markets make labelling a hopeless venture.
- A moratorium should be urgently enforced against food products of genetically modified organisms and their derivatives.
- The NBMA should stop issuing out permits for GMOs-and the already issued ones be revoked.
- More research should be done/supported on GMOs and biosafety. There should critical studies, and analyses on the health hazards of GMOs.
- Messages on GMOs should be disseminated in forms that are understandable to different stakeholders including by use of pidgin or local languages for a greater reach to the grassroots.
- Efforts should be made by all stakeholders/citizens to bring about radical changes on biosafety management in Nigeria.
- There should be better support for small holder farmers in terms of infrastructural development in rural and sub-urban areas including the construction and maintenance of feeder roads, storage and processing facilities and essential social amenities.
- National food production, storage and processing standards should be established and enforced to address the issues of post-harvest losses.
- There should be just access to land by women/communities and provision of irrigation and extension services.
- Government should incentivize and encourage agroecological food production and use of organic inputs to address the issues of pest and diseases, increase production of nutritious and healthy foods, among others.
- The NBMA Act should be urgently amended with the NABDA taken off the board of the NBMA, strict liability clauses introduced and other identified loopholes rectified.
- There should be a multi sectoral approach to the regulation of biosafety. Collaborative synergy between the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC,) FCCPC (Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission) and Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON )in the regulation of biosafety in Nigeria.
- Stakeholders should promote networks of organic agriculture producers as part of the GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance to promote market for organic products and tackle climate change.
- Seed banks should be developed for the preservation of indigenous seed varieties.
- Lessons should be learned from the Covid-19 experience and embark on a radical rethink of tinkering with genetic materials of living organisms as this can compromise our food system and health and can easily be weaponized.
These resolutions were signed by various stakeholders at the conference including farmers, students, CSOs, medical practitioners, lawyers, journalists, legislative researchers and some public officers.