During a recent tour of farms in West Nile, Mr Peter Ambayo, speaking on behalf of farmers in Yumbe District, said: “Genetically modified [seeds] are destroying our soils and will in the long run completely destroy our agriculture, which is our major source of livelihood.
When we started using GM seeds, especially maize, soy beans, cassava, bananas, ground nuts, among others, the harvests were so good for the first two seasons. Thereafter, we began witnessing a decline in our farm yields and rotting of crops before maturity. Frustrated, we asked for advice from agricultural extension officers, only to be told to increase our fertiliser usage and pesticide spraying. This did not improve the situation… we now regret why we used them [because] our gardens are no longer fertile.”
Last year, I visited farmers in various communities in Malawi and Zambia who expressed similar sentiments about GMOs. Many of them have opted to go back to using traditional well-preserved seeds, which have sustained them for generations as well as using organic manure as used by their ancestors.
From my constant interaction with grassroot farmers in various African countries, many pertinent issues arise about GMOs, which African governments and policy makers need to openly discuss. For instance, does Monsanto and other biotech-producing seeds and plant companies have Africa’s best interests at heart? If so, why is it that they are silent about the negative effects of their products on the environment and human lives? Are GMOs the only way to solve hunger in Africa? Is the GM powered farming affordable and sustainable by Africa’s grassroot small scale farmers?
Subjecting Africa’s grassroot farmers, who in reality are the majority and backbone of the continent’s agricultural sector, to issues such as patent rights infringement, constant usage of artificial fertilisers and pesticide spraying, which all come in the equation due to use of GMO seeds, knowing very well that the farmers cannot afford and sustain it, is in essence destroying their livelihood and lives indirectly.
In almost all African communities where genetically modified crops have been embraced, there has been consistent disappearance of bee colonies and various studies attribute this to growing of GM crops and use of pesticides and herbicides applied on these crops, especially glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. This is destroying bee farming in addition to destroying plant communities, resulting from plants pollination decline. If this trend continues, the future of Africa’ agriculture is doomed as new research from Emory University researchers shows that wildflowers produce one-third fewer seeds when just one bumblebee species is removed from the area.
African governments must know that GMOs are not safe. Science researchers have proved that GM genes can be transferred to humans and the environment, often with catastrophic health consequences.
In Molokai, an island in Hawaii where the world leader in GM crops, Monsanto’s, 2,000-acre test facility is located, air and water quality in the area are terrible and there are reports that people living around the area are increasingly suffering from bloody skin rashes, infertility, asthma, and pesticide contamination of the underground water. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium of GM foods, safety testing and labelling. Their findings revealed that growing and consumption of GM products leads to the mentioned health problems. As Africans continues to engage in farming using GM seeds, plants, and animals, they are unknowingly poisoning their environment and underground waters, and thus destroying their future.
Global debate against GMOs – supported by scientific revelations – is gaining momentum across the globe and some countries have officially banned genetically modified ingredients in food production processes in their countries. African countries are still quiet in this debate and have not vigorously come out to educate their citizens about dangers of GMOs. It is envisioned that a few years from now, more countries will also ban GMOs to safeguard the health of their citizens and future generations.
It is on this basis that I appeal to everyone to avoid processed foods since it has been found that 70 per cent of them contain GM ingredients, which exposes the body to various diseases. We should instead consume whole foods such as natural grown vegetables, fruits, organically grown crops, and animals and birds that feed on natural grown grass and food stuff.
The future of African agriculture lies in sustainable green farming practices and not in Monsanto and other biotech companies’ hidden agenda. African countries should carry out and fund their own research about effects of GMOs on agriculture, environment, human lives and ecosystems, and stop relying on research sponsored by biotech companies with hidden interest accompanied by heavily-funded public relations campaigns where African governments are duped into believing GM crops and animals as well as food products are safe for consumption and the environment; requires less pesticides; yields more; and are a solution to world hunger. In reality, this is not true.
By Moses Hategeka
Mr Hategeka is a researcher, public affairs analyst, and writer.