Ghana And Genetically Modified Technology - Part ll

Tue, 22 Oct 2013 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

Ghana And Genetically Modified Technology: A Brewing Crisis—Part ll

“Don’t let anyone tell you hunger is a simple problem (FAO).”

“Risks that’re uncertain and dreaded tend to be more feared (James Hammitt, Harvard Center for Risk Analysis).”

Let’s begin today’s conversation. Closely allied with Edward Hooper’s “The River” is another scary factual scenario, a documentary called “Darwin’s Nightmare,” written and produced by Hubert Sauper. In summary, it showcases the radical environmental (marine) changes introduced into Lake Victoria by a foreign species of fish, the Nile Perch. Incidentally, the xenophobic presence of the Nile Perch expedited the extinction of several local species. Contextually, we must draw on the environmental horrors of Darwin’s Nightmare to make useful theoretical parallels with the dangers related to the politics of GM technology.

This unfortunate ecological act of environmental terrorism introduced by the Nile Perch dramatically changed the social dynamics and politics of dieting for the locals. Fillets from the Nile Perch are shipped to Europe to improve the diet of Europeans while endemic fishery resources for the African locals had disappeared into irrecoverable oblivion. The local economy and marine ecology are in near-shambles as we write.

Similarly, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment involving African Americans (See Harvard’s Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid”) and the Guatemala Syphilis Experiment, both conducted secretly by American scientists and public health officials, come to mind. These experiments and Darwin’s Nightmare constitute exemplars of environmental racism, which Clark Atlanta University’s Robert D. Bullard, PhD, defines as “environmental policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color. Environmental racism is reinforced by government, legal, economic, political, and military institutions. Environmental racism combines with public policies and industry practices to provide benefits for the countries in the North while shifting costs to countries in the South.”

Ironically, the cardinal compasses “north” and “south” roughly stand for Europe (the West) and non-Europe (non-West, Africa mostly), respectively! Therefore, the political and social actualities of environmental racism must awaken us from the slumber of environmental and biological dangers associated with GM technology. On the other hand, biotechnological ignorance is not an option. In fact, somehow, we, Ghana, may have to look critically at the question of possibly accepting and then shaping policies around genetically modified food, if we decide to go that direction, in the context of environmental racism, among other political, social, and scientific considerations.

However, Kofi Annan has said the African position on GM technology is a farce! Agra’s Africa Agricultural Status Report lists Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Kenya as the only countries in Africa which have banned GM crops. However, given our brief acquaintance with some of the biological hazards of GM technology, can we equally ask if it has benefits? Deborah B. Whitman’s essay “Genetically Modified Food: Harmful or Helpful” lists the following benefits: Pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought and salinity resistance, nutrition, pharmaceuticals, and phytoremediation.

However, unlike Smith, Whitman’s goes a little further as regards the hazards of GM technology. She makes a strong case for GM-related environmental hazards under which she lists the following: Unintended harm to other organisms, reduced effectiveness of pesticides, and gene transfer to non-target species. Elsewhere, that is, under GM and human health risks, she and Smith seems to share analytic concurrence. The problem of allergenicity in children and the unknown effects of GM on human health assume that analytic concurrence. Additionally, proponents of GM technology say it can be relied upon to reverse the effects of climate change.

How do we regulate GM products? First, we need to address the question of population growth. But more importantly, we have to look for any distortive anomalies in the food system. Do we have storage facilities (e.g., large scale refrigeration systems)? Alternatively, do we have effectively safe pest control technologies? How about the agronomic educational level of our farmers as far as employing productive farming techniques are concerned? Do our farmers have sufficient farming technologies, like tractors, to meet the scale of industrial agriculture required to feed the many mouths of our expanding population? Must we accept GM foods and label them accordingly? Aren’t GM foods already in the food chain?

Let’s see what the experts says. Isabella Denis, Brussels’ FAO Liaison Office, says the amount of food Africa throws away makes up 6 to 11 kgs per capita per year of world’s food wastage. As a result, the availability of proper scientific methods of food preservation or of technological facilities or storage systems may minimize the problematic of food “throw aways” in Africa to the barest minimum.

Furthermore, the Indian environmental activist Dilnavez Variava identifies a problem in the Indian food system which we want to bring to your attention: “The problem of sufficiency is not one of production, but of economic and physical access…Poverty, mounds of rotting food grain, wastage and leakages in the Public Distribution System are the real causes of food insecurity. GM food cannot address this (Seervai, “GM Foods Won’t Solve India’s Food Crisis,” Oct. 19, 2013).

Ghana (and Africa) has a similar problem. But there’s another urgent problem, the questions of agricultural research and scientific/technological logistics, which we need to address. The following is how Agra’s Africa Agricultural Status Report quantifies the gravity of the problem: “In terms of personnel engaged in agricultural research, Africa has the world’s lowest capacity, with only 70 researchers per million inhabitants, compared with the US and Japan with 2,640 and 4,380, respectively).

We don’t “number” is necessarily the problem. Moreover, it’s not that we don’t necessarily have the expertise. The problem may be one of a lack of continental or national coordination or collaboration among our scientists. The lack of political focus on national priorities may be another good reason. We have the world-renowned Ethiopian scientist, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, whose scientific persistence led to innovative breakthroughs in the creation of drought- and weed-resistant sorghum, earning him an international award, $250, 000, World Food Prize. Today, his sorghum feeds 500-700 million people worldwide. Many of these innovative scientists are based in the West. Therefore, there is the pressing need for African leadership to coordinate the research activities of our Western-based scientists. We must do more research work on improving as well as on expanding the supply chain of food delivery and storage in Africa.

We must also take full advantage of the research collaboration between the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Internationals Studies (CSIS) and African scientists and scientific institutions to build our agricultural know-how. Also, we must make good use of the $7.3 million grant given Michigan State University, America, to train African agricultural scientists.

Our national governments must reduce corruption to make it possible for them to invest much-needed resources in agricultural research across the continent. The case in which Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) unaccountably misappropriated GHS47 million earmarked for afforestation projects and guinea fowl farming comes to mind! We must seek social justice for aggrieved communities affected by lack of moral leadership. Environmental justice is another.

Money and technology must be made available to our natural scientists and agricultural scientists. Additional resources must be made available to “creative” students who may have to go abroad for advanced knowledge acquisition in agricultural technology. But we must not do this at the expense of building local scientific capacity in agronomy. In fact, we must build local scientific capacity, innovative technologies, that is, to the level where we can confidently conduct comprehensive research without Western oversight or intervention.

Our governments must guarantee local scientists research independence, as well as convenient accommodation, cutting-edge research laboratories, transportation, research assistant (s), etc. This, then, invariably calls for the eradication of political dictatorship, and, again, corruption. Also, political partisanship must not tail the scientific independence of researchers. Sufficient remuneration is also a must. We must build the necessary institutions to protect the intellectual property rights of researchers. We must implement land reforms: Conflicts among royal, government, and individual lands must be resolved. This calls for the implementation of progressive ideas from the discipline of land economy. Reducing or extirpating conflicts on the continent is another area we must look at. We need to free our artificialized political boundaries from the grip of conflicts for the practice of agriculture!

We must also be willing to renegotiate some of the unhealthy agreements we make with the IMF/World Bank. For instance, IMF policies demanded that Ghana import fowls from without, the West. This contributed to the decimation of poultry farming in Northern Ghana, consequently leading to youth unemployment. Originally, Ghana’s Northern Region accounted for a sizeable portion, 80%, we think, of local poultry production, but, has since reduced to 10% in the aftermath of the implementation of IMF’s unprogressive policies.

In this case, we may have to bring the African Development Bank (and others), the scientific arm of the African Union, policy makers, private investors and researchers, geographers, councils of kings and chiefs, agricultural engineers, geological engineers, women organizations, Council of State, legal experts, agronomists, quantity surveyors, economists (and African scientists from other parts of the continent) on board. Finally, we may also have to look closely at our food exports in the context of the volume of food we produce for local consumption. We must address any mismatch in favor of the external buyers.

A lesson for African leadership: Haiti’s Ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide stood up to the IMF/World Bank when they tried to impose Western rice on his country, which, in any case, ended up destroying Haiti’s local capacity for rice production. His righteous stubbornness factored into America’s ultimate decision to topple his government.

In the end, he and his family were kidnapped by the America marine, forcibly put on an American marine plane, and shipped out of Haiti. Ex-President Bill Clinton would later apologize to the people of Haiti because it was under his administration that the IMF/World Bank introduced those destructive economic policies to Haiti. Perhaps we may have to create our own versions of IMF/World Bank, as Gaddafi advanced before his calculated elimination by the West. The BRICS formula is a good model.

Finally, we must address the secret dumping of toxic wastes in Africa. Soil health is at stake here. It is ironic that Prof. Romano Prodi, an Italian, comes to Africa to tell Africans how to practice democracy, even while Italian neo-Nazis are doing everything in their power to drive the African-born Cecil Kyenge, Italy’s Integration Minister, from her ministerial position and, even, possibly, out of the country. A report came before the United Nations in which the paper alleged that the Italian government was working via the Italian Mafia to convince Somali pirates to allow Italy to dump toxic wastes on the Somali coast in exchange for weapons and sophisticated technologies for piracy activities. This connection makes perfect sense because no one knows where or how these pirates acquire their sophisticated technologies!

How do we conclude? We share Tamar Haspel’s view as expressed in “Genetically Modified Foods: What Is And Isn’t True”: “GMOs are relatively new, poorly understood by many consumers, and in violation of our sense that food should be natural. Not only are those risks uncertain and dreaded, they’re visited on people trying to feed their families healthfully and safely while the benefits accrue to farmers and biotech companies. All of that adds up to an atmosphere that makes a reasoned debate difficult.”

Our final words: “Is there any hope for us? Is there any hope for us? A poor man’s life as I see it, is living till he’s dust…If poverty ain’t no crime, then stealing sure ain’t none (Max Romeo, “A Poor Man’s Life”).

Listen Ghana!

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis