Agribusiness giant Monsanto is trying to force patented genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops on African farmers and consumers who don’t want them. This was the conclusion of a report released in late February by Friends of the Earth International, a network of environmental organizations encompassing 74 countries.
“The US, the world’s top producer of GM crops, is seeking new markets for American GM crops in Africa. The US administration’s strategy consists of assisting African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote agribusiness interests instead of protecting Africans from the potential threats of GM crops,” said Haidee Swanby from the African Center for Biosafety, which authored the report.
The report reveals the extent of Monsanto’s influence on biosafety legislation in Africa, and the regulatory approval process for its GM products and the herbicides that go with them. It also exposes how the company is making inroads with its GM corn, referred to as maize.
As for now, only four African countries are producing GM crops. The issue is highly debated and emotionally charged. Maize is the main staple food for millions of Africans.
One hot contention is that while Europe and some other regions have had tight biosafey laws on their books for many years, most countries in Africa have not. Only seven African countries now have biosafety regulations of any sort in place.
Biosafety laws have been somewhat successful in curtailing the expansion of GM crops in several markets, such as in Europe, where laws have brought about the rejection of GM products in several countries. Will Africa be able to reject them, too?
GM Crops Have History of Failing Farmers and Consumers
“South African farmers have more than 16 years’ experience cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, but the promise that GM crops would address food security has not been fulfilled. Indeed, South Africa’s food security is reportedly declining with almost half the nation currently categorized as food insecure even though South Africa exports maize.
“The South African experience confirms that GM crops can only bring financial benefits for a small number of well-resourced farmers. The vast majority of African farmers are small farmers who cannot afford to adopt expensive crops which need polluting inputs and synthetic fertilizers and chemicals to perform effectively”, said Swanby.
One of the edicts of Monsanto is that saving its expensive and inadequately tested seed is a punishable crime. Because their seeds are patented, farmers are forced to buy them from the company every year for planting. The old ones must be discarded.
In 2011, the dangers of corporate domination of the world’s food supply were sharply in focus in South Africa, when GM yellow seed corn failed to germinate. The result was a 50% shortage of seeds for planting, leaving many farmers with nothing to offset the loss.
Monsanto SA sells its GM seeds under the Dekalb brand. Although it refused to release the extent of Dekalb’s market share at the time, others put the number at 55%, a big event when corn is the primary staple of the 48 million people in South Africa.
Why couldn’t farmers use traditional seeds to fill in the gap and avoid a food shortage? When Monsanto is running the show, only enough non GM seed is produced to plant the crop refuge areas, which is only 5% of the total farmed area. Crop refuge areas are required to control resistance in GM corn production.
The failure of Roundup Ready GM corn to produce kernels resulted in food shortage in South Africa in 2009, and millions of dollars in income were lost by farmers.
Crop failures such as these highlight the damage that can be done when unproven seed is quickly cast into such broad usage.
Eco-Farming may be the Best System for Food Security
Delegates from Friends of the Earth attended a forum representing millions of small scale food producers in February. The organization believes that genetically modified crops are part of the problem, not part of the solution to world hunger as Monsanto and other companies producing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would like the world to think.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur, has found that eco-farming beats GMOs for creating better crop yields. He explains that this sustainable, small-scale system relies on natural growing methods which work better than GMO and other pesticide-based agricultural systems. Amazingly, he has concluded that if eco-farming were implemented on a wide scale, it could double the world’s food production capacity in ten years. And the food would be of higher quality.
“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live — especially in unfavorable environments”, he said. “To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80 percent in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116 percent for all African projects. Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields over a period of three to ten years.”
Eco Farming returns farming and food to the people, who are free to grow and harvest their own food. It is an earth friendly system.
The bottom line is that one of history’s battles of mythical proportion between good and evil is playing out before our every eyes. My bet is that nature will ultimately triumph, but not without major upheaval.
Article image credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons