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The science of agribusiness profits, versus science for healthy, chemical-free, patent-free food

Ghana is on the verge of starting to test Genetic Engineering (GE) of seeds. It will poison Ghana's and Africa's food supply as well as co-opt and contaminate its land and water. African farmers must be free to maintain their own forms of agroecological farming

The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week was held in Accra from 15-20 July 2013. Many of the people attending Science Week are good people with very good intentions. They want to develop African agriculture and make sure no one goes hungry. Many of the sessions listed in the agenda appear very relevant. For example, there were sessions to discuss ways to have a more gender sensitive approach to agriculture, improving access to micro-finance for small holder farmers, exploration of how ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) can assist in promoting more sustainable and productive food production.


Despite this, we have a deep concern that our efforts in sub-Saharan Africa to use 'science' for the benefit for a more climate smart, resilient and productive agriculture, that improves food nutrition of small scale farmers in particular, is being heavily distorted and influenced by well-funded information campaigns of the big agro-chemical companies, such as Syngenta, Monstanto, Dupont, Bayer, and more. Many agricultural organizations in Africa, such as AGRA, FARA in Ghana, and their partners, are generously funded by these giant corporations, by the governments that host and sponsor them, and by the foundations such as Gates and Rockefeller that invest in them.


These agribusinesses, and their allies are doing all they can to increase their profits by selling chemicals and inputs. A key objective is to introduce patented Genetically Engineered seed into Ghana and Africa. They call this science and claim it is to help feed more people. However, Genetic Engineering is not about science, it is about money.

We support science, the most important science for farmers and food production, agroecological science, that supports a multi-functional and a farming systems-approach to agriculture, is being grossly neglected. There are numerous studies that show the productive potential of agroecological principles, including agroforestry, green manures, inter-cropping, mulching, crop rotations, bio-pesticides, livestock integration to not only increase overall productivity of small scale farmers, but also reduce risks of climate change, improve nutrition, regenerate soils and making farming more sustainable. The main thrust of investment in science, however, is on industrial approaches to farming, including genetics and use of vast quantities of herbicides and pesticides.


Recent research shows GE seeds are less productive than conventional seeds. Where they have been productive they require more water, and they require expensive chemicals that are toxic to humans and animals. Far more factors go into plant productivity than just genetics. Once a country or a region is growing GE crops, farmers lose the choice of whether to use GE seed or not. Where GE crops grow the pollen contaminates the surrounding natural crops. An entire region or country can very quickly become contaminated. The spread cannot be controlled or recalled. Farmers and consumers then have no choice, there are no natural or organic crops left, all have been contaminated.

The farmers' only option is to buy the expensive GE seed from the foreign corporations that own the patents to those seeds. Those seeds can have terminator technology, meaning seeds from the GE crops are barren. Even when they are not barren, the patents prevent farmers from legally saving and replanting the seed. In the US and Canada, Monsanto has been vigorously suing farmers even if they grow crops from their own seeds. If the farmers' natural seeds are contaminated, Monsanto claims it owns the rights to the crop and the farmers must pay Monsanto.


This is not sustainable agriculture. This is not the way to overcome hunger and malnutrition. This is not the pathway for Africa to adapt to climate change, and conserve our soils. Genetic Engineering has long promised that as a scientific approach, it can solve hunger. Most GMO crops in the world, however, are used as feed for animals in industrial systems. There is very little record of successes in developing countries for small scale farmers. There is little evidence that GMOs have enabled small scale farmers to improve productivity and adapt to climate change.


Another major concern is that GE seed is far more expensive for farmers than saving seed for the next planting. This forces farmers into a downward spiral of debt. Obviously, it is more expensive for farmers to be forced to buy new seed every year than when they can save seed for the next planting. This is not sustainable agriculture. Farmers cannot save seeds from GE patented crops. They have to buy new seed, new and stronger chemical fertilizers, and new and stronger pesticides each year. And the price of the seed keeps going up.

If GE seeds lived up to claims, if science might support these claims, the multinational corporations who own the patents would be glad to allow independent testing and encourage labeling. Instead they try to shut down testing and labeling altogether. The only testing they permit is sponsored and reviewed by them.

Ghana is on the verge of starting to test GE seeds. This is part of the investment in 'agricultural science'. Genetic Engineering will poison Ghana's and Africa's food supply and co-opt and contaminate its land and water. But in Ghana and Africa more generally, GE science is failing to improve the entire farming system. There is very little investment in ecological science to improve the agricultural productivity, sustainability and resilience to climate change.

The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week is not about true sustainability. Genetic Engineering's most lasting effect is that it allows stateless money to decide who plants what and who eats what around the world. Ghana has good seeds, well adapted to its climate, even as the climate changes. What small scale Ghanaian farmers need is research and extension in support of agroecological farming. And if 'hunger' is the key problem to solve, beyond agroecology, what small scale farmers need is access to markets, infrastructure, good roads and transportation, and protection from landgrabs. Above all, what Ghananian farmers and consumers want is healthy, chemical free, patent free food.

*Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah is Chairperson of Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG)

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