Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and a coalition of CSOs have called on the federal government to focus on biological control as solution to pests invasion and augment it with provision of needed infrastructure and other necessities such as credit schemes, access to land and extension services to farmers for enhanced productivity and food sovereignty.
The Coalition also denounced the recent approval for release of Bt cowpea (beans) for cultivation in Nigeria and demand a rejection of the application for field trials of a cassava clone, asserting that the processes of making and approving these artificial crops presents enormous threat to human and environmental health.
A statement signed by Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey; Coordinator, GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and two others demanded that the National Biosafety Management Agency Act be critically reviewed to ensure that it protects the interests of the people, and that this should include strict provision on Liability and Redress, emphasis on the precautionary principle and on public consultation.
The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) had on 28 January, 2019 issued permits to the Institute of Agricultural Research, Zaria for the commercial release of a genetically modified cowpea said to be resistant to the Maruca vitrata virus.
The coalition in response to this, stated that the release of this genetically modified beans will contaminate indigenous varieties, place them at risk and expose our farmers and peoples to avoidable risks.
They made reference to study of pollinator characteristics of the natural West African wild cowpea populations which reveals that the Bt-gene will move from the genetically modified lines to non-modified lines of both cultivated and wild relatives, resulting to other plants gaining the resistance trait that will cause an alteration in ecological balance and present adverse effects.
“It is worth nothing that this cowpea containing the transgene Cry1Ab, has not been approved for commercial use anywhere else in the world. Use of this Bt gene was discontinued in South Africa where the cultivation of maize modified [with the gene] led to enormous pest resistance and infestation. Current research has revealed that protein produced by this transgene has toxic effects on human liver cells and induces alterations in immune systems of laboratory animals” they stated.
The coalition added that the projection that this GM beans will increase yield by 20% above current levels is a paltry reason for exposing the nation to risks as the challenges of agriculture in Nigeria are complex and cannot be solved by one genetic engineering silver bullet.
According to Nnimmo Bassey, director of HOMEF, “ It is clearly impossible to label genetically engineered beans and its products in Nigeria. Our socio-cultural setting makes it impossible to give Nigerians the right of choice through labeling of GMOs. This is one reason why the rush into GMO approvals is extremely perplexing. Where is the push coming from and why this reckless rush?”
He further added: “Within just a couple of years of Nigeria having a GMO regulatory agency, all we see are permits and propaganda, while the task of protecting the Nigerian people and our environment is being forgotten due to the blatant incestuous relationship with developers, promoters and merchants of these risky technologies.”
The groups call on the Nigerian Seeds Council or the Varietal Release Committee not to endorse recommendations from NBMA as doing so will dash the hopes of Nigerian farmers to preserve natural varieties; expose consumers to unnecessary risks and place the nation on an irreversible road to ecological disaster.