Business News of 2014-02-04

GMO Debate: Dr. Abu Sakara lock horns with CPP’s Ernesto Yeboah

SAKARA’S RESPONDS TO ARTICLE BY GMO ACTIVIST
First of all let us get the issue of ideology out of the way it clouds the arguments. There are many people who are against GMO’s that have never heard of Nkrumahism, so you don’t need to be an Nkrumahist to be against GMO’s.
If some Nkrumahists have decided to throw their weight behind the anti-GMO crusade it does not mean that others should not have their own opinions provided they don’t express them as the position of the party.
I have always taken the trouble to make it clear that I express my personal view point based on my profession.
For avoidance of doubt my personal position on GMO's is that I am for informed choice on the adoption of GMO's.
GMO crops may be used beneficially as an integral part of a comprehensive agricultural development strategy to ensure food security and contribute to economic growth.
I do not support a ban on GMO's under all circumstances, neither do I accept the blind adoption of GMO's under any circumstances.
Each country must make a critical examination of its decision based on scientific evidence and strategic policy considerations. If other Presidential candidates have not commented on the issue perhaps it is because their political parties did not put them in the position of having to take a stand after the fact.
I am aware of a number MEAs (Multilateral Environmental Agreements) that Ghana is already party to. Prior informed consent, the Polluter Pays Principle in environmental impact assessment and the precautionary principle have informed my expectation on the use of GMO’s.
l expect that GMO's will be used to complement efforts in conventional agriculture to achieve sustainable food systems with greater productivity. GMO's are certainly not the panacea to all the problems in food systems. Also other efforts in conventional agriculture (storage, irrigation and rural service centers) do not stop just because GMO's are introduced, that is a very uninformed view of agriculture.
In fact GMO's can be integrated into the agricultural production system to enable us get better returns to investments than for previous efforts with conventional seed. GMO’s technologies have demonstrated significant reduction in some operational costs and improved profitability. More than 5.5 million farmers growing GMO crops on more than 56 million hectares in twenty six (26) countries cannot be wrong about their profit margins.
I also doubt very much whether farmers need an activist or even an economist to tell them whether they are making profit or not. It is a common mistake to arrogantly assume that Africa’s small scale farmers don’t know what is good for them because they may be illiterate. Advancements and innovations in agriculture are a process and not an event. The institutions dealing with Bio-safety for both food and environmental regulatory standards should be strengthened as part of the process of any future deployment of GMO’s.
Now that my stand point is out of the way I will continue with an objective and transparent discussion without indulging in insults, coercion or character assassination. For the record I do not work for Monsanto, any multinational corporation or any NGO which are for or against GMO's. I share this information for you to make an informed choice.
I have noticed a consistent pattern of anti-GMO activists taking the path of least resistance in this GMO debate. Instead of looking for win-win solutions to the problems they have identified, they simply go for a ban or moratorium. The simplistic rejection of GMO's along with the opportunity for knowledge and other benefits associated with the technology seems to be the easiest option for most. So if anti-GMO activists start off from the stand point that everyone must agree with them, how do you expect to get a workable compromise if other people also dig in their heels?
There needs to be an intellectual wake up call for solutions and not simply creating obstacles to progress in the name of public concern.
Everyone should note the following facts and keep them in mind in their future comments:
1) Each country is free to have their own seed law and Ghana already has one governing the formulation, release and commercialisation of seeds in general. Additional specific provisions are now being made for GMO's. So to think that the preparation of a legal framework for GMO's is now bringing commercialisation of seed into Ghana is gross ignorance. Seed growers have been selling Obantanpa, Dobidi and other seed varieties in Ghana on commercial basis for a long time under the seed law.
The seed production system is regulated by the Seed Inspectorate Unit based between Dome and Nsawan. It has been there for more than 15 years if not more. In that time no single farmer has been prosecuted for recycling commercial seed varieties produced by any of the local private seed growers.
Even hybrid seeds of normal seed varieties (pannar) have been successfully recycled by many farmers without incident. O f course diminished yield performance has accompanied each cycle with increasing years replanting. No one has come to collect royalties from them under our existing seed law. My point from the beginning is that the LI for GMO’s should not compromise the reliefs our farmers enjoy under our seed law. I have directed the anti-GMO activists to this point several times but people were busy arguing and ignored that approach.
2) No country should accept GMO's without proper legislative frame work. A legislative frame work allows each country to set the provisions for how GMO's should be developed, released and commercialized within the country. Nationals do this themselves using their legislature, Nobody does it for them! So why are people who are concerned about risk of seed monopolies not interested in drafting anti-trust laws to amend the LI on GMO's even before it comes to parliament again? Are they not aware that recently in a landmark ruling in Brazil, small scale farmers have been awarded a multi-milllion dollar judgement against Monsanto for illegally collecting royalties from them against the stipulations of the national seed law?
Why have those people expressing concerns not yet positioned our farmers in this advantageous legal position in the event that the Bill is accepted after the reading in parliament?
Who are they waiting for to do that work whilst they are demonstrating and repeating the same anti-GMO rhetoric every day? Could that money not have been better spent on employing one of our legal brains with international experience to look at the required amendment in the LI?
I am just asking because I prefer action rather than talk! Of course it is naïve to expect any pro-activeness for solutions when it is much easier and more fun to demonstrate.
What if after all these loud objections the parliamentarians find insufficient grounds on health basis to ban GMO's and go ahead to pass the bill as is? Would the activists have done their best for the anti-GMO campaign just because they raised objections? What concrete option did we create to avoid the fears we suspect? I am in favor of looking at the LI critically to ensure our farmers are protected from royalties on recycled seed grown for household needs.
This is Africa and our situation is different to Latin America. So there is no reason why we should have worse terms than Brazillian small scale farmers who use GMO's just because we ignored our own existing seed law.
3) Finally, let us not behave like ostriches by believing that GMO is some weird “out of the mainstream technology” that only fools adopt. Farmers don't adopt anything that they don't find beneficial to their enterprise. They may not be as educated as we are but they are not fools. In all my years of service in rural and agricultural development in many countries, I never met an illiterate farmer that did not know how to count money!
My credentials in my profession are well established by my career, so I won’t even justify the silly snipes at my person with any defence.
The facts are that:
More than 5.5 million farmers in 26 countries have introduced and are growing GMO's commercially on a total of more than 52.6 million hectares. This is a conservative estimate. The anti-GMO activists want us to believe that Ghana is one of a few countries in West Africa to consider GMO technology because Mali has rejected GMO’s.
The truth is that Ghana is surrounded by Cote D'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria who have accepted GMO technology in strategic crops. The choices of these countries will have far greater impact on us than Mali’s rejection.
Together the impact of GMO in these countries may collectively put Ghana at a trade disadvantage within five years from now because of their reduced costs of production and higher productivity in these strategic crops. Don’t be surprised to see plantains from Ivory coast flood our coastal areas in the south, or to see the resurgence of cotton production in Burkina Faso sending our textile industry into a final dive if we fail to compete due to lack of cheaper raw materials. Also potential Maize, Cowpea and Rice boom in Nigeria will have its own possible impacts regionally.
Whatever the case, does anyone really believe that we will be able to prevent GMO products and crops entering our country? Even if we could do so at our land borders, what about inflows of GMO through international food trade? The facts are that more than Ninety percent (90%) of Soya bean crop in USA is GMO. Also more than eighty percent (80%) of maize in USA is GMO and more than ninety percent of beet root crop (90% ) is GMO.
All these go into processed products, feed and animals which are freely traded in Europe, Africa and Asia. Also most of the wheat for the bread most Ghanaians eat so lavishly on daily basis is from USA and Canada. Will we ban that too due to possible GMO contamination?
Am I expected to understand that we should ban growing of GMO's in our country but will continue to permit importation of GMO products for consumption? How does that benefit our farmers and the economy, bearing in mind our long time failure to raise agricultural productivity significantly because we have not made needed investments in technology, infrastructure and market constraints!
Why have the needed investments not been forth coming? Could it be that at our current level of productivity those investments would not result in profitable products that are competitive in the local market? I strongly support growing our own food industry using the most productive technologies available to make us globally competitive,
For a brief while, we have a window of opportunity to resolve our concerns based on other people's experiences. We have opportunity to negotiate better terms for GMO's to operate within the framework of our own national law so that they don't deprive our small scale farmers of income from recycled seed. Indeed for some GMO products this has already been negotiated (Bt Cowpea).
Let us stop misinformation for advantage in this debate. Once and for all there is no such thing as terminator gene active in any GMO materials to date. So the idea seed saved from GMO crops won’t grow again is just plain false and mischievous. If it won't grow how does the company get to charge royalties for recycling the seed?
Some common sense will be useful in parts of the debate too! The issue of relief from paying royalties is the main one to be dealt with. So the lawyers should deal with it by presenting a draft amendment to the Legislative instrument on the GMO bill even before it comes to parliament. Secondly they should seek to strengthen our existing seed law to protect our farmers and ensure that it is not compromised by any new bills.
I can understand that lack of knowledge and information can be cause for concern. For this I will squarely state that our national scientists have not done enough and took too much for granted.
On the other hand the anti-GMO concerns are not being raised primarily by farmers but rather by an NGO that receives foreign (European) funding. It is therefore hypocritical to accuse the scientists and anybody who is not anti-GMO of being under financial influence from Monsanto. Such reckless and irresponsible attacks on integrity of individuals diminishes the seriousness accorded to the accusers because they are then assumed to be immature.
For the moment let us give the benefit of doubt and be glad that objections have been raised and the debate has been heard. Now let us make our own informed choice and not one driven by external interests or preconceived populist positions. We must certainly not allow fear and intimidation to drive our choice.
Some of us do after all belong to a political tradition whose stated ideology is scientific socialism. For that reason this same party has championed nuclear research for nuclear power with all of its attendant risks of radiation and the undisputed health hazards it could cause to the populace.
Is there not a contradiction between the position on nuclear energy and GMO’s on grounds of public safety, environment and potential catastrophy?
Finally the tone of this debate leaves a lot to be desired in a democratic society. The blatant, arrogant and irresponsible assertion that anybody who expresses a contrary view to anti-GMO activitism is on the pay roll of Monsanto and multinationals is cynical, childish and false.
Such underhanded methods of debate have become the stock in trade of the very same people who within their parties seek to slander and tarnish images of their political rivals for their own selfish agenda. They are part of a now full grown culture of tyranny and insults in our political dialogue. These insulting brigades must be stopped! If you want to know how trust worthy they are look closely at their backgrounds and personal lives.
Much can be said about where all the funding for anti-GMO activism is coming from and the apparent motive to defend our food sovereignty. Where was is this much touted desire to protect our food sovereignty when fish stocks in our oceans are being overfished for sale in Europe resulting in the destruction of our ocean beds?
Why don’t these NGO’s fund some demonstrations against the prodigious granting of fishing licences beyond what our fish stocks can bear? Why does fish leave a country and a continent deficient in protein as hunger and malnutrition ravages the populace. Is the value of fish leaving our shores not more than all the AID Africa receives?
My point is that there are equally pressing if not more pressing issues that we can actually do something about so why the selective focus on GMO. Is it perhaps that is what the external funding is interested in? We must be careful not to get caught up in a proxy war between the USA and Europe in their looming trade war on GMO’s products.
Those who ardently want to take an ideological stance based on neo-colonialism should be quick to remember the many wars fought between Africans on behalf of others during the cold war. Let us work towards finding workable solutions and not just focus on confrontation where it is not necessary.
For those of my political fraternity, one may ask the question as to whether the imposed anti-gmo stance is not in part a diversionary overhyped publicity stunt to turn attention away from other areas of our responsibility to build grass roots of our party. I want to make it clear that the Ghanaian public will consider voting for us only when they can see that we have built a robust political party with strong grass roots in the rural areas. Our policy alternatives will only be the “cherry on the cake”. But if they don’t see any cake and see only cherries then forget it! How effectively we build and manage the party machinery is what they will use to judge us. They will not believe we can manage the country to even implement our fine policies if we cannot manage the party!
This is why internal cohesion and unity is important. No one faction or person can take on the task of rebuilding the party as their own pet project for very personal sentimental reasons, no matter how admirable that maybe. So let us get our priorities right and get our party in shape.
Let us revitalize the party by activities that directly impact on our capacity to have a stronger linkage from national level to grass roots. Let us set a date for NEC to focus our energies meeting the challenges we know so well. Let us do the things that will bring us together and not those that divide us.
Most importantly let us accept that we are a broad church that must learn to tolerate different views without resulting to insults and character assassination to win points or positions.. Those who wish to practice their brand of toxic politics where the end justifies the means must desist from poisoning internal and external debate.
The country has enough of that and the CPP can be different in its approach and in its substance!
ERNESTO RESPONDS TO GMO ADVOCATE
Dr. Sakara starts off by assuring readers that he is going to be factual in his presentation, decent and would not descend into the gutters of unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks as others have done. That was refreshing. But not too far deep into his submission he accuses anti-GMO activists of belonging to “an NGO that receives foreign (European) funding”. I am deeply saddened by this.
He states that “More than 5.5 million farmers in 26 countries have introduced and are growing GMO's commercially on a total of more than 52.6 million hectares. Dr. Sakara forgets that that is just 52.6 million hectares out of an estimated total world hectare of 148 million representing only about 35%.
The fact is also that, together with the EU, which is our second largest trading partner, more than 166 countries across the world including Japan, Luxemburg, Australia and the state of California and Hawaii have all BANNED genetically modified foods. Economically, what sense does it make when your major trading partners are not ready to accept your produce based on their standards?
Genetically modified foods in those countries where they are produced are said to cost more than three times the price of organic foods. Dr. Sakara mentions that because our surrounding countries such as Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast have accepted GM, we should also do same? As intelligent as we are as a people, does it not make more business sense to stick to organic and brand Ghana an organic nation where we can earn higher foreign incomes? Would it not serve our competitive advantage where in the abundance of GM foods our scarce organic products would be maintained at high prices? For positive branding purposes, does it not make sense to position our country such that when you mention GHANA the word that follows is ORGANIC?
Again, Dr. Sakara seems inexplicably worried that his favorite bread might be affected in the event that we say no to GM foods in Ghana. He seems rather comfortable to use the inefficiencies of past governments and the failings of the Mahama administration to justify why GM foods should be allowed into Ghana. For a man that belongs to a party that preaches self-determination one would have thought that Dr. Sakara’s prescription would have been one that takes advantage of the vacuum that would be created as a result of our inalterable stance against
GM foods to say, now let us as a people grow our own wheat and let us build our own wheat industry, let us stop our lip service to agriculture, a field that employs 50% of our country’s workforce and contributes 23% to GDP; let’s build the factories to convert our oranges into fruit juice and our tomatoes into tin tomatoes; rather than sea faring and fish hunting let us encourage fish farming. I thought that this would have been the posture of the man who courageously led my party in battle in the 2012 general elections.
Again Dr. Sakara insists that “there is no such thing as terminator gene active in any GMO materials to date”. That is not the point of the argument; the question is can it be done? And if the answer is yes, then terminator genes do exist contrary to what our local Agronomist would have us believe in the face of the SCIENTIFIC possibilities and the reality of the heartless capitalist order of arrangements.
He quizzes “where was this much touted desire to protect our food sovereignty when fish stocks in our oceans are being overfished for sale in Europe resulting in the destruction of our ocean beds? Why don’t these NGO’s fund some demonstrations against the prodigious granting of fishing licenses beyond what our fish stocks can bear? Why does fish leave a country and a continent deficient in protein as hunger and malnutrition ravages the populace. Is the value of fish leaving our shores not more than all the AID Africa receives? My point is that there are equally pressing if not more pressing issues that we can actually do something about so why the selective focus on GMO….”
To this Dr. Sakara must understand that our selective focus on GMO is simply because GMO is not the answer in any of the cases he has mentioned. GMO is not the answer to our fish stocks in our oceans that are being overfished for sale in Europe; GMO is not the answer to resolving the destruction of our ocean beds; GMO is not the answer to stopping the prodigious granting of fishing licenses beyond what our fish stocks can bear. Yes, we agree that the value of fish leaving our shores is more than all the AID Africa receives but how does the introduction of GM in Ghana resolve all these problems Agronomist Dr. Sakara has raised?
Finally, an observation. I recall that Dr. Abu Sakara was not as spirited as he is now even on his own campaign to become vice president in 2008 and even president in 2012. Whilst other critical observers take to examining the fundamental questions of what has changed, I would recall that Dr. Sakara disappeared so many times and was totally missing at very crucial times in the middle of his own campaign, added to this, not a single article did he attempt into the newspapers or even on facebook, he would give all manner of excuses why he would not be able to appear in the media, and I thought they were genuine. As a man I still love and respect maybe I should be thankful that we have a “new Abu Sakara” ready to be seen everywhere advancing the cause of GMO’s. Forward ever!
SAKARA AGAIN…
I am not surprised at yeboah's response. you took a position before you had a debate and now you have to live with it.
Please look at agricultural trade between Europe and USA to get you facts right. The contradiction of banning GMO seed and buying GMO products is the point I am making.
This is also the same in Europe which imports soya bean for its animal industry from usa. if europe was not buying agricultural products from USA why would the issue of labelling be important in their trade negotiations.
Also if you knew your agronomy you would know that wheat is not a tropical crop the figures i gave were a conservative estimate and an article by Dr Charles Annor Frimpong gives updated information which shows much higher proportion of global land under GMOs.
In any case, the primary point is about quantity of traded agricultural products the largest proportion of which is from USA. More importantly 1000 ha in Africa under cultivation produces much less of global food production than 1000 hectares in the top 26 agricultural countries.
If you guys want to debate our professionals in agriculture instead of shouting the same rhetoric in news papers and quoting scientists from other countries it can be arranged.
In fact our scientists tell me that representation anti-GMO activists at their open forums and workshops is very weak.
ERNESTO YEBOAH
I shall respect the honour of our party and shall remain focused on the subject of Genetically Modified foods and dispense what the real experts have to say according to their research findings. But before that may I respectfully know what point you seek to make when you say “that wheat is not a tropical crop”? Of course, but that is trite, the fact that a crop is not tropical does not mean it cannot be grown in the tropics. Currently wheat production in the tropics contributes less than 2% of the total global wheat harvest. But that is entirely different from suggesting that because wheat is not a tropical crop we should not think of mastering its production.
In Africa, very little wheat is grown south of the Sahara. What little is produced is grown in rainfed systems in the East African highlands or as irrigated winter season crops in southern Africa.
Rainfed wheat is produced only at altitude: Kenya, for example, grows all of its wheat on land above 2000 metres. In west and central Africa, small amounts of wheat have been grown for centuries on small irrigated plots during the dry season in the Sudan and the Sahel.
The potential for wheat is improving with the development of irrigation schemes, notably in Nigeria, Chad and Ghana. So sir, I know my agronomy but we are talking about Genetic Modifications, not agronomy? So part of situating this whole debate within its proper jurisdiction would be to seek the views of the proper persons. Unless you are suggesting that between the Genetic Scientist and the Agronomist on the subject of Genetic Modification I should settle on the latter on sympathetic grounds?
Dr. Sakara appears worried once again that I will quote extensively from foreign scientists. But who else should I quote when our scientists have no research to show but have sinfully concluded Ab initio that GM foods are safe for human consumption? Now what is the essence of science if Dr. Sakara is uncomfortable with the findings of other scientists? Is he telling all of us that 1 + 1 does not produce the same results in Ghana as it does in America? I thought this was the essence of science that you should be able to arrive at the same conclusion once the same conditions are met; so that if rats ate GM potato in Germany and died after 3 months, those GM potatoes should kill rats in Ghana too.
Dr. Thierry Vrain, a Genetic Scientist with a solid track record of 30 years researches and his findings are as follows: that, GMO’s can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts. He concludes that they do not necessarily increase yield potential; they do not reduce pesticide use but increase its; they create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant "superweeds"; they compromise soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops which have mixed economic effects; he said they harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity; they do not offer effective solutions to climate change; they are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops and they cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes.
In your mother piece you alluded to an imaginary trade war between USA and Europe. Unlike you I won’t question your knowledge in Geography as you did of me in agronomy, I would respectfully ask if you realize that California, Hawaii etc which recently banned GM foods are not annexes of Europe? The American Academy for Environmental Medicine in their research findings have stated that Natural breeding processes have been safely utilized for the past several thousand years. In contrast, "GE crop technology abrogates natural reproductive processes, selection occurs at the single cell level, the procedure is highly mutagenic and routinely breeches genera barriers, and the technique has only been used commercially for 10 years."
3. They further state that “despite these differences, safety assessment of GM foods has been based on the idea of "substantial equivalence" such that "if a new food is found to be substantially equivalent in composition and nutritional characteristics to an existing food, it can be regarded as safe as the conventional food."
4. However, several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system”.
It is very easy and indeed cheap for anybody to be dismissive of the facts but I would appreciate it if you can rise above that to give us YOUR own research contrary to what the experts have said. I believe this is how we can elevate the debate to make this whole discussion meaningful.
Ernesto Yeboah Ghana.
CPP Deputy Youth Organiser
Source: myjoyonline.com
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