By Bernard Wainaina
For weeks now, an interesting controversy has been raging in Kenya about a popular seasoning product made by the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever.
The government through the National Biosafety Authority announced it would stop the sale of Aromat in the country because it contains
genetically modified ingredients that could harm consumers.
Kenya banned production or importation of genetically modified organisms in 2012.
Unilever has gone to court, arguing that Aromat has been on shop shelves for 13 years in Kenya and that the GMOs ban,although a Cabinet decision, is not backed by any law.
The multinational further argues that the government has not tabled any evidence indicating that Aromat has any adverse
effect on consumers arising from its GMO ingredients.
While the hearing of the case is awaited, Aromat remains in the shops.
But there is now a bizarre twist to the whole issue.
It has emerged that the government of Kenya is in fact planning to lift its ban on GMOs.
So, why purport to stop the sale of Aromat?
Last week Deputy President William Ruto told an international agricultural conference here in Nairobi that the government was considering allowing GMOs to boost food production and alleviate poverty.
In a 2009 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists stated,“recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic
fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The problems afflicting small farmers in Africa,and in fact everywhere else, have very little to do with technology, but almost everything to do with unequal access to land, water,affordable inputs, markets and other resources.
Biotechnology helps industrial agriculture and yet it is small farmers, largely made up of women in Africa, who feed the world.
Additionally, it has been shown that hunger, which afflicts a billion people today, is not a result of inadequate food production, but about issues of access and food distribution.
That is why people starve to death in one part of the country while food rots in another.
There are three basic concerns about GMOs.
First, the science is at best inconclusive regarding the safety of genetically engineered organisms on human health and the environment.
The bulk of research that supports GMOs is funded by big agribusinesses like Mosanto who have vested interests on GMO’s.
Still, there is evidence that GMOs could have
deleterious effects on people and the environment.
The second concern is about food sovereignty.
Opponents are convinced that the campaign for GMOs is part of the neo-liberal agenda to place agricultural production in the hands of a few
corporate giants through seed patents and deny small farmers in Africa and elsewhere control of production.
It is instructive that 95 percent of genetically modified crops planted worldwide come from
Monsanto, the world’s leading biotechnology and genetic engineering company.
The results of tests on animals exposed to GM crops give serious cause for concern over their safety.
In 1998, Scottish scientists found damage to every single internal organ in rats fed blight resistant GM potatoes.
In a 2006 experiment, female rats fed on herbicide-resistant soybeans gave birth to severely stunted pups, of which half died within
The survivors were sterile.
In the same year,Indian news agencies reported that thousands of sheep allowed to graze on BT cotton crop residues had died suddenly.
Further cases of livestock deaths followed in 2007.
There have also been reports of allergy-like symptoms among Indian labourers in BT cotton fields.
The story that GM crops yield higher is nothing other than mere stories.
Considering that the best seeds are selected for modification, it is a huge minus that GM crops do not generally yield more than natural seeds.
GMOs are linked to artificial fertilizers and fossil fuels.
The use of these two contribute to climate change.
GMOs depend on industrial, large-scale mono cropping thus negating the facts of our integrated agricultural systems and getting set to promote land grabbing and impoverishment of
our population of farmers.
So far, only four African countries grow GM crops commercially (South Africa, Egypt, Sudan and Burkina Faso).
But from the way things are moving, it will not be long before the GM gospel is embraced across the continent.
GMOs supporters say biotechnology holds the key to prosperity in Africa where agriculture accounts for about two-thirds of full time employment and for more than half of the export earnings.
Genetic modification will increase yields, improve nutritional quality, help crops to withstand adverse weather conditions and protect plants and animals from pests and
diseases, among many other benefits.
This narrative has all the ingredients of trying to make the whole of Africa a field trial for GMO’s in an obscene experiment where we,the Africans act as guinea pigs in furthering profit interests of a few agribusiness multinationals.
This is an experiment I won’t allow in my dinner plate any time soon!
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®