Africa's Traditional Crops Under Threat as Big Ag, Gates Foundation 'Donate' GMO Technology
A new report from the African Centre for Biodiversity, a nonprofit that aims to protect the continent's biodiversity and food production system, accuses the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and GMO companies including Monsanto of introducing GMO technology in Africa "under the guise of philanthropy."
ACB Press Release: Africa to lose heritage crops to MNCs 'donating' GM technology. https://t.co/ChiV0qas2c https://t.co/S1r2vjGljo— ACBIO (@ACBIO)1459752986.0
The report, For your own good!, also warns that GMO companies are currently conducting R&D on the genetic modification of staple African crops such as cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea, cowpea, banana and rice. The report says that the key countries "targeted" include, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi.
According to a press release of the report, several multi-national companies including Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer Hi-bred have donated various patented GMO technology royalty-free to experimental programs led by government-employed African scientists. The main organizations carrying out the projects include the African Agriculture Technology Foundation and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program and the Program for Biosafety Systems. The on-going trials are focused on drought and salt tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, resistance to tropical pests and diseases and nutritional enhancement, or biofortification, the release says.
“This indicates that the GM industry, under the veil of technology donations and public financing, is effectively managing to make further inroads into imposing GM on the African continent," Mariam Mayet, director of the African Centre for Biodiversity, said in a statement. "By focusing the research on traits meant to ‘benefit’ farmers and malnourished populations, through inter alia, biofortification, the industry is intent on giving a humanitarian face to the real involvement, vested interests and expanding influence of these [multinational corporations] in African agriculture.”
5 Million Nigerians Oppose #Monsanto's Plans to Introduce #GMO Cotton & Corn https://t.co/nGUtASsbQ8 @nongmoreport https://t.co/wBewoirQxO— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1459256983.0
“There is no such thing as a free lunch for African farmers," Mayet said. "And to add insult to injury, these farmers will be precluded from saving any farm-saved propagating material. In this way, they will be expected to give away their age old farmers’ rights to freely reuse, exchange and sell seed and propagating materials in their farming and seed systems.”
Recalling the failure of Golden Rice and Monsanto’s GMO sweet potato research in Kenya in 2003, the report argues that the GMO projects are diverting both financial and human resources, policies and practices away from implementing the real solutions which can be found within the diversity of natural foods and farming.
“The real solutions to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be found in ecological farming systems, and traditional kitchen and home gardens, which can better contribute to healthy and diverse diets and empower people to access and produce their own healthy and varied food," Zakiyya Ismail, a consumer campaigner with the African Centre for Biodiversity, said in a statement.
Many in the continent would say no. Last month, five million Nigerians urged their government to reject Monsanto's attempts to introduce GMO cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems out of potential human health and environmental risks. Burkina Faso's cotton association is also currently seeking $83.91 million from Monsanto after saying GMO cotton led to a drop in quality.
"We went from 39.2 billion (CFA francs) in losses to 49.3 billion in just one harvest. If we continue like that we'll just dig the hole deeper," Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of SOFITEX, one of the cotton companies belonging to the Cotton Association of Burkina told Reuters.
Burkina Faso to sue Monsanto over GM cotton losses https://t.co/fJtMenQZYI https://t.co/e7fzpylt9H— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1459852231.0
However, as millions of people in several drought-stricken African nations face food insecurity, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant recently told Here & Now that GMOs are a solution:
"How do you change the slope in the curve of food security? Because as many parts of the world don’t have enough to eat, and Africa this year is heading into another famine," Grant said. "We see the front end of that right now."
For instance, in the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over GMO crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico.
Monsanto's Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds in Sub-Saharan Africa. The project is a collaboration between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID.
The world's largest seed maker now has small plots of land in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, Bloomberg Businessesweek reported.
How agriculture is taking on problems like climate change and food spoilage: https://t.co/3Yca1ZUYG1— Monsanto Company (@Monsanto Company)1459538152.0
“The long-term growth has to be looked at as a business opportunity,” WEMA project director Mark Edge told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The short-term challenge is creating the market and understanding what investments can do that.”
Edge added that the project involves hybrid seeds rather than the genetically modified varieties Monsanto produces, "which are controversial on the continent." (Read here to learn the difference between hybrids and GMOs but depending on how you look at it, they might as well be two sides of the same coin).
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, a number of other Big Ag companies have also set sights on Africa:
"Monsanto rival DuPont, which is bigger in Africa, has its own Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program to shift farmers toward hardier seed varieties. Cargill, the world’s biggest grain trader, last year expanded an animal-feed facility in South Africa. Olam International, among the world’s largest food traders, is boosting its investments in branded foods, including Tasty Tom tomato paste and Pearl biscuits. Agco, the world’s third-biggest maker of farm machinery after Deere, is developing small, solar-powered cooling facilities—a huge need in Africa."
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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