For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

‘Hope of Nigeria Foods Dominating Global Markets Will Turn a Pipe Dream…..’

By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja

The Director, of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Dr Nnimmo Bassey has said the hope of Nigeria dominating Nigeria and African agricultural markets will remain a tall dream unless there is better investment in the handling and trading of beans and other seeds

Dr Bassey in his welcome remarks at HOMEF’s Dialogue with Decision Makers, with the theme “Pesticide Hazards and the Need for a Holistic Food Policy for Nigeria”, in Abuja today, further charged that liberating the nation’s food system requires the independent development of policies and laws which serve the interests of the people

In his words “The hope of dominating the Nigerian and African markets and generating billions of US dollars is bound to turn a pipe dream as nations who do not endorse genetically modified crops will not accept the beans unless we wish to further make capital on the opacity in the handling and trading of these and other seeds. 

Lamenting that Nigerians have been ambushed to plant and eat what they do not know mostly because they trust in government agencies, he was optimistic that the gathering with key policymakers affords the opportunity to look closely at the food crossroads and our food future.

“As we consider the issues of pesticide use as well as the adoption of modern biotechnology in agriculture, we will chart the path toward the development of a holistic food policy for Nigeria”.

Bassey quoted a report by the Alliance for Action on Pesticides in Nigeria (AAPN) which highlighted that “Nigeria is one of the largest importers of pesticides in Africa by volume with importation of 147,477 tonnes in 2020. In 2018 the country spent about USD 384 million on importation of pesticides according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Globally, up to two million tonnes are used per year with many of them designed to accompany genetically modified seeds produced by the same companies that produce the pesticides. In the US, more than 90% of corn, soybeans and cotton grown are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. Shockingly, up to 80% of the pesticides used in Nigeria are classified as Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPS) and 40% of those produced in the country have been banned in European countries”.

“One of the most concerning aspects of pesticide use is the impact on the environment with their ability to leach into soil and contaminate groundwater, leading to long-term damage to ecosystems; destruction of beneficial insects, disruption of pollination, and damage to soil microorganisms that are vital for maintaining healthy soils. The indiscriminate use of pesticides has led to the emergence of resistant pest populations, which further escalates the need for stronger chemicals and intensifies the cycle of destruction” he said

Noting that the consequences of pesticide exposure on human health could not be overlooked” he stated that pesticide poisonings have become a regular occurrence.

“A key case that cannot be forgotten is the pesticide poisoning which took the lives of nearly 270 people in Benue State where their water source was contaminated with Endosulphan. Many of the pesticides used by Nigerian farmers contain active ingredients linked to cancer or proven to be carcinogenic, including Glyphosate, Atrazine, Butachlor, Chlorpyrifos, Dichlorvos (DDVP), Endosulfan, and Mancozeb. Farmers have reported health problems like difficulty in breathing, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, eye problems, skin rashes, catarrh, acute diarrhoea, and respiratory problems that are linked to their use of pesticides.”

“In addition to the deleterious human and environmental health impacts, the dependence on inorganic pesticides in Nigeria seriously affects our economy. Export markets are closing against us because of pesticide residues above allowable standards. 

He noted that one of the arguments often posited is that food security can only be achieved with the adoption of modern agricultural biotechnology noting that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are mostly engineered to withstand dangerous herbicides which kill other varieties except the engineered ones.

“GMOs are not the solution to food insecurity. After almost three two decades since their introduction, they have not eradicated hunger. Rather, they lock in the system that promotes hunger by degrading soils, reducing biodiversity, disregarding the knowledge of local food producers, and concentrating power in the hands of a few market players. 

He added that despite that Nigeria has a National Biosafety Management Agency Act which ought to safeguard human and environmental health from the risks associated with GMOs, instead, the law is fraud with several lacunas that allow the free movement of these products.

GMOs are not the solution to food insecurity. After almost three two decades since their introduction, they have not eradicated hunger. Rather, they lock in the system that promotes hunger by degrading soils, reducing biodiversity, disregarding the knowledge of local food producers, and concentrating power in the hands of a few market players. 

To liberate our food system requires the independent development of policies and laws which serve the interests of the people; which recognises/promotes local knowledge and experience; and which safeguards human and environmental health while strengthening our national economyDr Bassey noted that Nigeria has a National Biosafety Management Agency Act which ought to safeguard human and environmental health from the risks associated with GMOs but instead, the law is fraud with several lacunas that allow the free movement of these products.

Some of the gaps in the Act, he said include the areas of risk assessments and management; access to information; public consultation and participation; liability and redress; labelling and the right to know; decision‐making and appeals and reviews. The composition of the Governing Board of the agency is arbitrary and constitutes a conflict of interest. For example, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) which is the major promoter of the technology sits on that board, yet there is no sufficient representation of civil society and no representative of farmers and consumers. NABDA should not be on the board since it is their conduct, their technology, and products that the law aims to regulate. 

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