Activists in the U.S. have been fighting the good fight against the use of GMO seeds promoted by Monsanto. While GMO seeds have been hailed as the solution to solving world hunger and they have been exported to developing nations around the world, many are just as wary about planting genetically engineered crops and, also, about concerted efforts by Western nations to promote GMOs. A leaked cable suggests that the U.S. government has been involved in efforts to promote GMO crops to west Africa and even tied granting aid to their use.
Experts and scientists have heralded GMOs for their higher yields, resistance to pests and increased nutritional value for some varieties, but farmers in Ghana and other west African nations fear the loss of crop diversity and the costs of using genetically modified “hybrid” seed sold by American companies. As such crops do not pollinate, farmers who use them would then have no choice but to buy new seed from multinational companies every year, along with their pesticides and herbicides. Citing concerns about a lack of transparency, one activist group, Food Soverignty Ghana, recently refused an invitation to attend a roundtable on biotechnology at the U.S. embassy in Accra.
Our call for a moratorium on GM foods was met with an invitation to a closed-door discussion. We are deeply worried about what seems like an imposition of genetically modified foods on the good people of Ghana without any meaningful public discourse, compounded by attempts to stifle any opposition.
The leaked cable reveals that the U.S. played a significant role in drafting Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act, which instituted a plan for the introduction of GMOs. As part of the plan, the U.S. aid department was to offer technical assistance as well as some funding but with, as the leaked cables suggest, what appears to be some strings attached in the form of monetary aid.
Trials of genetically modified food have already been carried out in Ghana, according to the FDA. At issue is the legality of these: a new agency in the Ghanaian government, the National Biosafety Authority, is required to grant written approval of such trials. But, as activists point out, the authority does not yet exist.
For this reason, Kweku Dadzie of Food Soverignty Ghana says that there must be a “ban on the importation, cultivation, consumption and sale of genetically modified foods and crops” until the people of Ghana themselves have decided what they think about genetically engineered seed and its effects on their livelihood and environment.
“Higher Yields” Aren’t The Only Thing That Matters
Increasing yields via GMOs should not, say activists, be the only issue to focus on. Rather, farmers need improved access to markets for crops that are already being grown with low-cost methods using existing technologies. Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, says that a rise in the amount of total cultivated land irrigated in Africa (where about 6 percent of this is irrigated) could increase output by up to 50 percent.
There’s more than enough reason to listen to farmers. As new data put together by the Food and Agriculture Organization’s State of Food and Agriculture report shows, the more than one billion farmers in the world are the greatest source of investment in agriculture. Farmers from low- and middle-income countries collectively invest more than $170 billion a year in their farms (about $150 per farmer). This is, says the report, “three times as much as all other sources of investment combined, four times more than the public sector’s contribution and more than 50 times the size of official development assistance to those countries.”
Accordingly, it is crucial for governments to “provide adequate conditions for farmers to invest.” Large-scale corporate investment is not the answer, but rather developments that can affect farmers directly including rural roads, education and natural resource management.
As Food Sovereignty Ghana‘s Tagoe points out, ”farmers in Ghana have had their own way of keeping seeds year after year. …The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain.” Americans are hardly alone in not wanting Monsanto and other companies to be making the decisions about what ends up in our food supply.
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