In the February 26 edition of the Daily Nation in an article titled ‘GMOs will play role in feeding our world’, Patrick Charagu stated: “The debate in Kenya about safety of GMO crops has been in the most part been driven by ‘fear of the unknown’. It has been a case of little, or even lack of knowledge of what the technology is all about or what its value is in feeding an increasing world population”.
Charagu is a senior geneticist with Hendrix Genetics, a leading multinational company with great interest in promoting GMOs around the world, including in Africa (Hendrix’s website).
Having participated in GMO debates as an independent researcher, one feels obliged to respond to Charagu’s proclamations about the purported benefits of adopting GMOs as well as his disdain for the highly-qualified Kenyan scientists, international well-wishers of Africa and the small and poor farmers and consumers, who oppose his views.
A February 23 report in a highly acclaimed international electronic-journal Common Dreams, titled “US offering its ‘assistance’ to push GMOs on Africa”, states: “The US government and multinational corporations have capitalised on African nations’ voids in regulatory frameworks to push genetically modified crops, standing to gain lucrative corporate profits while decimating food sovereignty in Africa”.
But, it is not just food sovereignty that is sought to be decimated by such actors, their nefarious scheme is aimed at destroying any hope of indigenous food security in the continent unless adequate regulatory frameworks for food production are developed and rigidly implemented in all African countries, including Kenya.
One only has to do a Google search with the words ‘GMO lobbying expenses’ to dig up information from multiple and reliable sources about the hundreds of millions of dollars the multinational agri-businesses and pharmaceutical companies are spending each year to push GMOs adaptation all around the world, especially the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Common Dreams also reports that research commissioned by the environmental network Friends of the Earth International, and titled ‘Who benefits from GM crops? The expansion of agribusiness interests in Africa through biosafety policy’, looks at how US interests have used the mantra of addressing food security to push these crops despite local opposition.
“One example noted in the report is an initiative called the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, which is implemented in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Monsanto has partnered with the initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G Buffet Foundation have pledged $47 million (Sh4.2 billion) for it”. Notice that all the countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and two of the richest foundations in the US are investing heavily in the project.
According to a report issued by the Environmental Working Group, at the same time lobbying to stop labelling of GMO-produced food in the US tripled from 2013, to reach $27 million (Sh2.4 billion) in just the first half of 2014. The Grocery Manufacturers’ Association and major food makers such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and top biotech seed makers Monsanto Co and DuPont were among the heavy spenders on GMO labelling-related lobbying, among other food issues.
In contrast, supporters of GMO-labelling spent $1.9 million (Sh173 million) in lobbying expenditures in the first half of 2014, up from $1.6 million (Sh146 million) spent in 2013. As of now, many Western European countries and at least eight states in the US have legislation mandating labelling of GM food and animal products.
The Center for Food Safety reports at least 70 bills going through legislatures in 30 US states to require such labelling. The movement is spreading in many Asian countries, including India, which certainly has a huge food insecurity problem for quite some time to come.
So, one must ask Charagu if he thinks that all those opposed to promoting GMOs in Kenya and Africa as a whole, without first implementing very tight and mandatory regulatory frameworks and requirements, are doing so because of “fear of the unknown” or is theirs “a case of little, or even lack of knowledge”?
Or, is it a case of their being opposed to someone peddling merchandise with highly questionable “benefits”? Shall we also hear about what courage (not fear) and what special scientific knowledge (not the lack or absence of it) Charagu’s attempts to sell GMOs in Africa are based on?
Arun P Elhance is a writer and social commentator based in Nairobi.