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Tanzania Told To Severe Link With Monsanto

By Nizar Visram

28 May, 2013

Normally Tanzanian lawmakers would ‘prove’ their radicalism by blasting rival parties, state authorities, public corporations or ministers for shoddy work done or millions that go missing. Hardly do they take a swipe at a multinational corporation, much less if it is an American one

Yet that is what happened recently when Hon Halima Mdee (Chadema) called upon the government to severe its relations with the international seed company Monsanto, which is a major stakeholder in the country’s campaign for green revolution.

She reminded that the firm had caused farmers misery and suffering in many countries, including the US, where it is based.

The company, known for the production of genetically modified seeds, has been blacklisted in India, Argentina, Chile and eight European countries because the seeds it sells to farmers at high prices have been a disaster, prompting some nations to institute legal action against it, Ms Mdee said

“Last year the company committed $50 billion to producing seeds for Africa, but the firm is known around the world as a major producer of genetically modified seeds, which are harmful to farmers and environment,” she cautioned

Ms Mdee suspected that given the company’s bad reputation, President Jakaya Kikwete might have been misinformed by his aides. “This is because we know that these large multinationals have a tendency to use their financial muscle to compromise government leaders.”

Shadow agriculture minister Rose Kamili noted that India has banned the use of cotton seeds produced by Monsanto after research established that they were a threat to farmers and the environment.

In fact more than 1,000 farmers had committed suicide as a result of debts resulting from buying seeds from Monsanto at high prices.

The points brought up by the two ladies hardly triggered any reaction or rejoinder. Probably the lawmakers were not well informed of the subject matter, or they were not too keen to irritate the conglomerates who promote genetically modified organisms (GMO) and the donor agencies that back them

Yet the debate is no doubt raging within the civil society, among groups that are running concerted campaign against GMO. But they are not having an easy ride, for Monsanto is applying pressure in the country for amendment to regulations so as to allow GMO.

They are using local scientists and researchers as well as state bigwigs. The firm reportedly provides all the means, from laboratory to foreign travels. In the course, they manage to get local spokespersons and mouthpieces.

Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity is not among them. This is a joint coalition that is trying to maintain agricultural biodiversity for food sovereignty and security. It aims at sustainable development, promoting self-determination and facilitating exchange of information and experiences among farmers

Alliance members are convinced that the introduction of GM crops or animals is not the right solution in fighting poverty and hunger as claimed by the likes of Monsanto.
They are concerned that while Tanzania has so far been GM free, the country has now opened the door to GM biotechnology.

The Alliance has collected various campaigners, including African Centre for Biodiversity, ActionAid International Tanzania, Biolands, BioRe, BioSustain, Envirocare, PELUM Tanzania, Swissaid, and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement.

They join similar movements in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda, to resist the pressure from the US-driven biotech industry.

On the other side, agribusiness corporations try their level best to promote what they claim to be high-tech miracle seeds for solving the problem of African food insecurity and poverty.

One supporter they apparently managed to bag is none other than President Jakaya Kikwete himself who, in March this year, came out in defence of Monsantos, heaping the blame on those who challenge them, saying they are “uninformed” and so need to educate themselves.

He called for a transformation of “negative mindset” on the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology in the country, challenging scientists in the country to conduct research to establish the “practicality of the technology”, stressing that as long as there are “no proven major negative impacts”, he saw no logic in opposing the application of the technology.

His prime minister, Mizengo Pinda also accused those who oppose GMO of being “slow in accepting the opportunity” offered by the technology, claiming that Kenya and Uganda are “far ahead of us in its application”

Thus, at the official level Tanzania supports the plan to conduct research on genetically modified crops in the country. Agriculture Minister said it is aimed at keeping up with the new technology in order to modernise agriculture and promote balanced economic growth.

He said the time for being rigid on the use of GMOs was over.

Nothing is said about the decision taken by the European Union who banned GMO crops on grounds such as pesticide resistance and threats to biodiversity or potential negative effects on the environment.

What the Tanzanian and African apologists of GMO have to keep in mind is that traditionally the seed and its control has been the foundation of their agricultural sector. After all some 80% of seed comes from local and communal resources and is adapted to local conditions. It is thus an integral part of the communal food security and agricultural integrity. With the onslaught of GMO this traditional system is undermined.

This is what happens when commercial interests, supported by the World Bank, together with front organisations and self styled philanthropists, attempt to alienate this crucial resource.

This is done by giant multi-national seed and pesticide companies that are promoting hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seed. While they claim to assist the development of African agriculture, the end result is disastrous.

One example is South African seed industry – the biggest in Africa – whose deal was recently sealed when the country’s court permitted the sale of the last remaining large seed company, Pannar, to the US multinational Pioneer, a subsidiary of DuPont. With this the US firm is to take over Pannar’s African network.

It means South Africa’s valuable seed industry is grabbed by world’s two largest US seed companies that are to use South Africa to gain inroad into Africa, with serious consequence for indigenous seed networks.

Meanwhile, organisations like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) claim that new seed being developed for Africa will be freely distributed to smallholder farmers.

What happens is that these giant seed corporates transfer the experience of South America to Africa. In South America the herbicide-resistant GM soya that was patented by Monsanto was surreptitiously encouraged.

When the soy industry became widespread, Monsanto started to claim royalties on all the soy grown, since it established the right to its intellectual property. Luckily the attempts in Brazil were over ruled in the courts and Monsanto was ordered to refund billions of dollars to farmers.

It is such practice that prompted the on-line campaign run by Avaaz to post a global petition aiming at exposing Monsanto’s worldwide grip, cautioning that the mega-company is gradually taking over our global food supply, poisoning our politics and putting the planet’s food future in serious danger.

The petition shows how Monsanto develops pesticides and genetically modified (GM) seeds, patents the seeds, prohibits farmers from replanting their seeds year to year, then sends undercover agents out to investigate and sue farmers who don’t comply.

The firm spends millions lobbying US government officials, contributing to their political campaigns, then works with them to push Monsanto goods into markets across the world.

Monsanto is trampling small farmers and small businesses as vast ‘monoculture’ farms of single crops leech the land of nutrients, diminish genetic diversity, and create dependency on fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. .

“Monsanto’s power in the US gives them a launch pad to dominate across the world. But brave farmers and activists from the EU, to Brazil, to India and Canada are resisting and starting to win,” Avaaz proclaims.

The on-line petition shows how farmers are lured into multi-year contracts, then seed prices rise, and they have to buy new seed each season and use more herbicides to keep out ‘super weeds’. In India, the situation is so dire that one cotton area has been called ‘the suicide belt’, as tens of thousands of the poorest farmers have taken their lives to escape crippling debt.

Not surprising, therefore, that, at the end of November 2012, Kenya banned the importation of genetically modified food on health grounds.

A stormy public ‘debate’ ensued. There were those on the side of ‘modernity’ and ‘science,’ denouncing the lack of ‘scientific evidence’ among their opponents.

Such ‘defence’ of GMO is not surprising. Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research provides USD25 million annually to biotechnology research globally. At the same time bilateral aid agencies - especially from the United States - provide 60 per cent of research funding for biotechnology

Private philanthropic foundations are also involved in funding the research. They include the Howard Buffet Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Multinational biotechnology companies, including Monsanto and Syngenta, also chip in

In so doing they try to stymie the debate that is going on globally. However, they only succeeded in extending the battle against GMO to Africa where farmers are putting up strong resistance to the so-called modernity

Nizar Visram is a citizen of Tanzania who has been writing feature articles for various media outlets inside and outside Africa for almost 30 years. Born in Zanzibar, he is retired senior lecturer in Development Studies at the Institute of Finance Management in Dar es Salaam He can be contacted at:nizar1941@yahoo.com





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