Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), civil society organisations (CSOs), women farmer groups converged in Lagos for an anti-GMO food protest last week, where participants handed a petition to the governor, Mr BabajideSanwo-Olu.
The protest which took place before the current ban on public gatherings in the state, commenced at the Ikeja Bridge, moved through Allen Avenue and terminated at Alausa.
Founder of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, who led the protest, said that Nigerians were largely unaware of the presence of GMO foods in Nigeria and the associated dangers. “We want government to tell Nigerians the dangers in GMOs. It is not for civil society or farmers alone to keep shouting. Government has a responsibility to protect our health and they should do so.”
He advocated agroecology as the alternative.
He said, “The alternative is, agroecology – agriculture that works with nature. Most of the food in the world is produced by small scale farmers. We have more than enough food to feed double the world’s population today. That there is shortage of food in the world today is a lie to promote GMO foods.
“A lot of the food produced is wasted, hence the need for storage facilities. And we need infrastructure to ensure food produced by farmers gets to the populace.”
The protesters were received by officials of the Lagos State Office for Civil Engagement, who promised to forward their protest letter to the governor.
Part of the protest letter reads: “We are submitting this petition through you because Lagos, by virtue of its enviable position among the states in Nigeria, and its population, is most at risk of reception of GMOs.
“Mr Governor, we demand a ban on GMOs and a repeal of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act which came into force in the year 2015 and was reviewed in 2019 to include emerging and even more contentious aspects of extremely risky modern biotechnology.
“GMOs are products of genetic engineering which is a technology that allows scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes at the cellular level in a way that is not possible via traditional or natural processes. It allows DNA from one type of organism to be introduced into another related or unrelated species. Genetic manipulation is also done within a single organism.
“Nigerians are consuming foods bought from the market shelves without any idea that they are made from the genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The manner in which these items are imported into the country calls for serious concern.
“Another source of worry is the fact that the agency set up to regulate biosafety issues in the country is essentially a permitting agency, passing virtually every application that comes its way.
“Although the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has said illegal importation of GMOs into the country is being checked, these products are abundant in our market shelves as revealed by a survey which we carried out across 10 Nigerian cities in 2018 and in 2019.
“Nigeria does not need GMOs. They are promoted on false premises. Research has shown that GMOs do not give higher yields and are not more nutritious than normal crops. They do not use less herbicides and pesticides. With the many problems we are contending with as a nation, GMOs should not be allowed to compound our situation. We must not accept a technology simply because it is available. We must as a people determine what is good for us.
The NBMA Act confers enormous discretionary powers on the agency and gives little room for oversight. The conflict of interest inherent in the NBMA Act equally raises serious red flags about the administration of biosafety in Nigeria. We have the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) sitting on the board of the NBMA. “In 2016, two of the permits issued by NBMA to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited were applied for by the company for events that were to be implemented in partnership with NABDA. Imagine a developer/promoter of GMOs applying for a permit in partnership with a biotech company and sitting to approve the same permit. This is an obvious reason to worry about our biosafety regulatory architecture.”