|19 October 2003
THE GENETICALLY MODIFIED DOG THAT WON'T HUNT IN AFRICA
By Dan Kashagama,
AUF General Secretary
In the confounding debate brewing over genetically modified foods, I have once again been astonished by Uganda’s president Joel Museveni, who has lately become the poster boy of US-GMO promoters in the AU, causing me to wonder, what won’t Museveni do to sink deeper into the filth of international corruption?
In my history courses at university many many years ago, I recall my professor explaining to me that Africa had achieved a monumental agricultural legacy unmatched anywhere else in the world and surpassing in achievement any of the classic wonders of human civilization, on account of the fact that among other things, the ancient Baganda had, though genetic manipulation - via grafting, developed the greatest variety of plantains and bananas in the world. So why is it that Museveni and the people in Washington DC and UNECA feel that Africans need US agroslavery as a means of increasing food security?
If Africa is in need of accelerated GMO re-introduction, I would love for Amoako, the head of UNECA, and Museveni, to guarantee that agricultural productivity won’t also have vicious side effects. Even before I go into the biodiversity issues, from a purely economic point of view, higher yielding crops with greater output have continually depressed prices and forced farmers to produce even more to cover costs, thus perpetuating the cycle of overproduction and falling prices. Those pricing problems have driven people out of farming and into conflict and slums. Pricing and marketing and distribution problems need fixing, not just crop yields, in order for farmers in Africa to get out of poverty.
Just because you can get farmers to produce larger potatoes and more corn does not mean you improve farming in Africa. Consider that just last month Uganda declared a state of emergency and asked for international relief aid to save 2 million people facing starvation in North Uganda…while at the same time Southern Uganda has a food surplus. The farmers are worried if they take food to the north they won’t earn any money.
And did I mention that the reason there is a famine in North Uganda is because people, farmers, have been forced by the government to live like animals in concentration camps, prisons and displacement camps. Perhaps the agrobiologists should try to create grains and potatoes that are resistant to the political stupidity of governments.
Let us go back a few decades. Long before the new GMO problem hit the fan, colonialist scientists introduced high-yield monoculture crops. Monoculture is the basis of the much-touted Green Revolution in India and elsewhere. What is monoculture? It is a form of agriculture that generally involves the destruction of a diverse and complex ecosystem and replaces it with a single species system. In Africa this is most often a crop of little local value, but with profit potentials in other regions or countries (usually outside Africa). The introduction of monoculture crops led to widespread use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Monoculture crops were more susceptible to pest infestation and disease and weeds.
The current GMO debate is merely about new types of monoculture crops. Agro-slavery firms want to fix the monocultural disaster they created in the first place, by aggressively promoting newly engineered plants as “solutions”, ostensibly in order to solve Africa’s alleged underproduction of food.
People now know that growing only one kind of crop is bad for the economy. For example monoculture cotton is bad because it exhausts the soil. Moreover, any disease or parasite or predator or weather anomaly that can destroy that crop will destroy the economy it supports. As it happened in the US, the damage was done by the boll weevil. Together with bad weather, it destroyed the famed Sea Island Cotton strain and resulted in the Dust Bowl Depression, and allowed Africa to replace the US as the world’s largest supplier of cotton. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were displaced, thousands died in the misery, squalor and disease that followed the crop failure. But cotton wasn't the only monoculture crop that led to economic disaster. Recent world history is full of examples.
The only real guarantee of food security is crop diversity. We have to grow as many varieties of food crops as possible. What the UNECA has to tell Africans is to grow variety. Some of the variety won’t be genetically modified, some won’t be as productive, or as durable under some adverse conditions, but variety is vital for the economy, for ecology and for food security. Reduction of biodiversity means reduction of survivability and the end of sustainability. We should be moving away from monoculturalism. Instead of trying to produce allegedly indestructible super crop strains that will replace all others, we should be augmenting and protecting biologically diverse ecosystems. To use an American expression, the monoculture-GMO is a dog that won’t hunt in Africa.
Many of the export crops grown in Africa today are GMOs introduced in the recent past. That means that Africans are not intimidated by the progress of technology nor are we unconditionally opposed to gene science, which is unfortunately how some scientists are framing the debate. Africans have known about and used GMOs long before the US existed. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern agricultural science are the work of African farmers and agrobiologists working on a shoestring budget without the help of governments or agroindustry.
In recent times the GMOs introduced by colonialist Europeans and Americans have had mixed results. Most have been useless. A few have helped. But there have also been profoundly disturbing disasters. The development in GMO technology that is pushing the debate and causing fear is the terminator seed. This is why the GMO topic has suddenly become heated. But terminators are an evolutionary and economic dead end. If other GMOs haven’t stopped famine, perhaps we stop and rethink this dog. It may be strong, large, well-groomed, know a few tricks and be resistant to fleas and worms, but it can't hunt.
Good governance and biodiversity are the only real solution for resolving famine issues, not some lab mutant germs. How is a farmer in a war zone to prevent cross-contamination with Agroslavery’s GM seeds? If Africa is to have sustainable production in the agricultural sector, it must be completely organized as a systemic and accountable whole. If there is a drought in one location, fix it by delivering food from the other regions. Already we have foreign and GMO invasives destroying Africa’s grazing lands, Africa’s lakes are dying because of introduction of foreign fishes and weeds, and people are malnourished and susceptible to disease because economic planning is done by foreign firms who care nothing about African realities.
Good governance in Africa means Pan Africanism. It means people have to care about how their neighbours are coping, about instilling values of cooperation and peaceful coexistence among all the people. It is unfortunate that the language of Pan Africanism is not sufficiently developed among members of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. There is among them a glaring and distressing lack of consistency in the application of the terms and concepts that betrays ignorance of the aims and values of Pan Africanism.
But ignorance of is not limited to Heads of State, but pervades the media, and the business community, not to mention the international community, which purports to analyze developments and supply news about Africa. The African unification efforts are downplayed and understated almost maniacally. But not to blame Africans for not trying to create international awareness of African unity, the choice to ignore Pan Africanism is deliberate US Africa policy. Bush wants to preserve unilateralism between African states.
Inspite of the herculean efforts of Mbeki and other African leaders to make NEPAD the central instrument of future relations with the rest of the world, Bush has persisted in holding high profile media events where he is shown cutting unilateral deals of questionable value in contravention of the spirit and letter of NEPAD and the AU Constitutive Act. He likes Africa as cracked map, not as a unified federation. And into this cracked map is where they hope to continue pouring monoculture GMOs, weapons and mercenaries, while extracting cheap minerals and cheap labor.
The inadequacy of the planning and organization of African integration, is manifested in the inappropriate language, the insensitivity of it, the contradictions and incoherence, and the total lack of organic connection to the mood and mode & spirit of Pan Africanism, especially among diplomatic circles. The practical consequences of this confusion is harrowing, and it explains why Museveni likes GMOs, or why for instance, John Kufuor, the Chair of ECOWAS and popularly elected president of Ghana, can authorize joint military exercises for French and Ghanaian troops, at the same time that troops from several African states in training at a Ghanaian base, take part in an exercise of questionable value, styled as a war to defeat imaginary Ghanaian rebels. Whatever happened to training for peacekeeping and African military integration?
Is the leader of Ghana actually concerned about insurgency as a matter of his government’s policy or does he feel that supressing rebels should be part of the ECOWAS/African Union peace building efforts? And why is Ghana unilaterally buying weapons? There are several navies in Africa, why doesn’t Ghana do exercises with them instead of the French? Where and when does president Kufuor expect the African troops under his care to exercise their newly gained experience of how to kill and defeat other Africans? Neither the French naval exercise nor the anti-rebel exercise are consistent with the spirit or letter of African unity. Instead they reflect confusion in Kufuor’s head about what Africans ought to be doing with each other and to each other.