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Nigerians Need Biosafety and Biosecurity

Inline imageThe conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety Law, GMOs and Implications for Nigerians and Africa could not have come at a more critical time. We are at crossroads in the struggle for sustainable agriculture, safe foods, biosafety and biosecurity. Navigating this intersection and assuring Nigerians that their concerns are not pushed out of view by profit-driven biotech transnational corporations and their agents can only be achieved through a broad movement of vigilant Nigerians, and Africans at large.

The coming together of faith based organisations, farmers, consumers, academics, youths and non-governmental organisations to examine the critical issues under the co-coordination of the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Africa Europe Faith & Justice Network (AEFJN) and the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) indicates that the movement to pursue the best interest of Nigerians and Africans is on track.

The saying goes that a people united can never be defeated. Today we affirm that our unity is built on sound knowledge and on a commitment to ensure that our agricultural and food systems are not by any means compromised or corrupted.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with its Precautionary Principle, sets the minimum international biosafety standards for the trans-boundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and requires that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific knowledge shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective means to prevent environmental degradation. This key principle is lacking in Nigeria’s Biosafety law. With such a lacuna and many others – including lack of provisions for strict liability, labelling of GMO products, open and full public consultations – there is no guarantee for our biosafety and ultimately biosecurity.

The desperate push by the biotech industry to invade our agriculture and foods has come on the heels of coming into effect of the severely defective National Biosafety Management Act. That law was one of the last actions of the immediate past presidency. It is an act that threatens to enthrone a biosafety regime that caters for the interest of biotech industries seeking markets for their genetically modified crops and related chemicals.

· We demand that current applications by Monsanto to bring in genetically modified varieties of maize and cotton into Nigeria should be set aside until we have a system that can protect the interest of Nigerians and is in line with the African Model Law on biosafety as well as the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

· Although the law is recently enacted, we cannot avoid quickly repealing it or, at a minimum, drastically revising it to ensure that risky or harmful substances do not have a free reign in our land.

Our agricultural systems, including that of saving and sharing seeds, should never be tampered with. Our biodiversity is our strength and this critical inbuilt resilience will be lost if we allow GMOs to erode or erase our heritage and destroy our soils and water with harmful chemicals.

We call on relevant government ministries to jealously guard our crop and animal varieties, provide rural infrastructure, support agro-allied industries for food processing and preservation and expand extension services that were severely constricted by the requirements of the infamous structural adjustment programmes.

Nigeria is not a dumping ground for risky technologies and we are not about to yield to be used as guinea pigs for experimentation by profit driven entities and their local agents. We stand for support of small holder farmers, food sovereignty encompassing our right to safe and culturally appropriate food. We stand for agricultural systems that do not harm the climate.

*Statement by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the press conference marking close of the Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety law, GMOs, and Implications for Nigerians and Africa held at Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja from May 23-25, 2016.

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