Appropriate technology: industrial fertiliser or cow poo?

Hard to believe, but such is the faith in chemical fertilisers that it came as a complete revelation to farmers in Tanzania’s Dodoma region that you can fertilise your fields with animal manure.

Agro-pastoralist farmer Gilbert Masiga explained: “The project has changed me. In the past I was not using farmyard manure in my farm but now it is a great resource. GilbertCombined with Good Agriculture Practices I am now getting enough food for my family and surplus for sale. I advise other livestock keepers to preserve livestock feed for use during the dry season and use farmyard manure to increase crop yield.”

But you can see why the G8 New Alliance of powerful governments and corporations is pushing the industrial agriculture approach into Africa. There’s just no corporate profit or export revenues to be made from African farmers collecting farmyard manure and spreading it on their fields, or planting nitrogen-fixing beans between rows of maize. It obviously makes more economic sense to pump non-renewable fossil fuel from beneath the ocean floor, convert it to chemical fertilizer, ship it halfway round the world, generating corporate profits and greenhouse gas emissions at every step, and then sell it for more than a dollar a kg to farmers earning less than a dollar a day.


PhilanthroCapitalism – Enemy at the Gates?

Probably a bad idea having a pop at the world’s second richest man, or the world’s largest independent aid agency, but somebody had to post a rebuttal to the outrageous comments in the East African newspaper interview with the great man.

I suppose it’s only to be expected that the man who became the world’s second richest through technology development and the pursuit of global market domination should back techno fixes and big business interests – hell he even hired a Monsanto vice president to head up the Gates Foundation’s GMO African agriculture programme, and then bought half a million Monsanto shares. But being so rich presumably means that you can make unsubstantiated and misleading assertions with impunity. Take for instance this double whammy: One key benefit of GMOs in Africa is that they reduce the need for pesticides, which is why a lot of the anti-GMO work is funded by the pesticide industry.”

First – GMOs have actually increased the use of pesticides, notably the use of ‘RoundUp’ glyphosate herbicide (pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and bactericides). According to Reuters U.S. farmers are using more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies that are sparking a rise of “superweeds” and hard-to-kill insects, according to a newly released study. Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. Of that total, herbicide use increased over the 16-year period by 527 million pounds while insecticide use decreased by 123 million pounds.

Secondly – who are these anti-GMO pesticide industry people? The pesticide industry largely owns the GM seed industry. The ‘Big Six” pharmaceutical and chemical companies have acquired, and created joint ventures with hundreds of seed companies over the past 15 years. Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and world leader in GMO seeds is also the worlds fourth largest pesticide company, and now controls more than one-quarter (27%) of the commercial seed market. Three companies control more than half (53%) of the global commercial market for seed. As a proud member of a coalition of more than 200 African civil society organizations resisting the spread of GM industry seed control across Africa, its outrageous to suggest that any would take money from the pesticide industry.


The kingdoms of Experience
In the precious wind they rot
While paupers change possessions
Each one wishing for what the other has got
And the princess and the prince
Discuss what’s real and what is not
It doesn’t matter inside the Gates Foundation.

(with apologies to Bob Dylan)

Pro-GMO lobby seeks to weaken Tanzania’s environmental protection legislation.

The world is deeply divided on GMOs, with – on one side – multinational agribusiness corporations / US government / USAID / Gates Foundation pushing and promoting the export of GM biotechnology, and – on the other side – UNCTAD / UNEP / African Union / IAASTD / NGOs / CSOs / environmental organisations / consumer’s rights organisations / civil rights organisations / biodiversity organisations calling for ecological approaches that support agricultural biodiversity and strengthen seed and food sovereignty.

The pro GMO lobby has been aggressively lobbying Tanzanian Government officials to relax environmental legislation so as to speed up the introduction of GMOs. They have been pressing for the abandonment of the ‘precautionary principle’ enshrined in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the removal of the ‘strict liability’ clauses that protect citizens and the environment. Tanzanian TV reports that one or two MPs have begun calling for the legislation to be relaxed.

The International Regulatory Framework

Tanzania is one of 163 countries that signed “The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity”  – an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.”

It is interesting to note that the USA along with other major exporters of GMOs refused to sign up to this international agreement.

The protocol commits signatory countries to set up national laws, policies and procedures to prevent or reduce the risks to biological diversity and human health as a result of the development, transport, use, transfer, or release of GMOs. It also requires countries to establish a national focal point and provide information on GMOs to a central database.

The Precautionary Approach

A central pillar of the Cartagena Protocol is the ‘precautionary approach’ which refers to a principle established by the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ 1992

Principle 15 states: In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Liability under International Law

The original Cartagena Protocol (adopted 2003) failed to agree on common liability rules, however international negotiations continued and culminated in the Nagoya Supplementary Protocol being adopted in 2010. The Protocol establishes an internationally binding claim for countries importing GMOs to make the responsible producer in the exporting country liable for any possible damage caused by the imported GMOs. Especially for developing countries the treaty offers better legal compliance.

In the case that it is proven that the cultivation of imported genetically modified plants has had negative consequences for the biodiversity of a country and limits the economic exploitability, the affected country is entitled to demand redress payments or reparation of the damage. The affected importing country is responsible for proving that its biodiversity was in fact harmed and that the damage was caused by a specific imported GMO.

Tanzanian law

Under its commitment to the international agreement, Tanzania developed The Environmental Management (Biosafety) Regulations 2009. This covers the procedures for dealing with applications for the testing, risk assessment, release and commercialization of GMOs, including liability for any damage caused by GMOs.

In terms of liability the Regulations have adopted a ‘strict liability’ approach, as follows:

6. All approvals for introduction of GMO or their products shall be subject to a condition that the applicant is strictly liable for any damage caused to any person or entity.

 56.-(1) Any person or his agent who imports, transits, makes contained or confined use of, releases, carries out any activity in relation to GMOs or products thereof or places on the market a GMO shall be strictly liable for any harm, injury or loss caused directly or indirectly by such GMOs or their products or any activity in relation to GMOs.

 (2) The harm, injury or loss includes personal injury, damage to property, financial loss and damage to the environment or to biological diversity as well as taking into account socio-economic, cultural and ethical concern.

 (3) Liability shall be attached to the applicant, the person responsible for the activity which results in the damage, injury or loss, as well as to the provider, supplier or developer of the GMOs or their products .

 (4) In case of harm to the environment or biological diversity compensation shall include the costs of reinstatement, rehabilitation or clean-up measures which actually are being incurred and, where applicable, the costs of preventive measures.

58. In the case of harm to the environment or to biological diversity, redress shall include the costs of reinstatement, rehabilitation or clean-up measures actually incurred or to be incurred and, where applicable, the costs of preventive measures and any loss or damage caused by the taking of the preventive measures; provided that the person responsible may be required to carry out the reinstatement or rehabilitation at its own cost and to the satisfaction of the National Biosafety Focal Point.

 59. Liability shall also extend to harm or damage caused directly or indirectly by the GMOs or products thereof to the economy, social or cultural principles, livelihoods, indigenous knowledge systems, or indigenous technologies. Such harm includes the following: disruption or damage to production systems, agricultural systems, reduction in yields, and damage to the economy of an areas or community.

The Regulations also require GMO introducers to take out liability insurance in case of damage – at considerable cost, which the GMO lobby would likely prefer not to pay.

Liability (Strict Liability versus Fault Based Liability)

The Tanzanian Biosafety Regulations apply ‘strict liability’ meaning that whoever introduces the GMO shall be automatically liable for any damage caused. The pro GMO lobby want Tanzania to remove this liability and perhaps replace it with ‘fault based liability’ which would mean that anyone claiming compensation for damage would have to prove that whoever introduced the GMO was somehow at fault.

For example, under the existing strict liability rules, if a farmer’s crop was contaminated by GMO seeds then the farmer could expect to get compensation from whoever imported or introduced the GMO.  Under the proposed ‘fault based liability’ the farmer would have to prove that the person introducing the GMO was somehow at fault, e.g. that they had failed to follow correct safety procedures.

Similarly the introducer of the GMO is currently strictly liable for any loss of biodiversity, damage to the economy, reduced yields etc.

The pro GMO lobby claim that their products / technologies are safe and beneficial yet they do not want to be liable for any damage caused. Is there something they are not telling us?

 Why should Tanzania retain the Precautionary Principle?

Because it is the internationally accepted pillar of good practice in environmental legislation and policy, and because it makes obvious sense to be cautious about untested technologies. And frankly it is outrageous that GM biotechnology lobbyists are suggesting Tanzania should throw caution to the wind.

 Why should Tanzania retain the strict liability approach?

Because Tanzania’s Parliament supported by the best national environmental and legal experts have adopted this approach recently (2009) following considerable thought and discussion of the pros and cons. Why should pressure from outside interests overturn their wise decision?

Tanzania is one of the 20 most biodiverse countries on Earth. In a world facing environmental meltdown Tanzania should be justly proud and fiercely protective of its rich environment.

Any person carrying out an activity that seeks profits should be prepared to pay for any damage that results. An innocent party that suffers damage should not have the onerous burden of proving liability and be uncompensated for others’ profit ventures.

Strict liability will deter reckless behaviour and claims in the development and marketing of GMOs. Strict liability may also be one way of operationalising the precautionary principle which governs the key elements of the Biosafety Protocol.

Tanzania has very limited capacity for policing / enforcing regulations relating to GMOs, because of it large area, porous borders, lack of GMO testing equipment, shortage of trained staff.  Therefore the strict liability approach is more enforceable / feasible to implement.

Typically in many countries, strict liability is applied for those activities that are deemed to be hazardous and in respect of damage where the victim has not agreed to risk the injury by his own conduct. Hazardous activity also incorporates those situations where the probability of the incidence incurring may be low but the magnitude of the harm huge. Such as in the domains of marine transport of crude oil, transport and management of toxic chemicals and wastes, and nuclear activities. There is growing evidence that no matter how low the incidence of occurrence is claimed to be, the magnitude of the resultant harm from a GMO gone wrong could have catastrophic results – causing irreparable harm to agricultural ecosystems, crops, export earnings, indigenous knowledge systems and threatening food security. This qualifies any activity relating to GMOs as ‘hazardous.’ As such, strict liability would be an appropriate standard for liability for damage caused by GMOs.


Tanzania needs to wake up to the very real threat posed by the ‘race for what’s left’ of the planet’s natural resources, and balance the desire to attract inward investment against massive environmental risk, loss of biodiversity and food sovereignty, and further impoverishment of its many millions of small scale farmers.

[With grateful acknowledgement of Third World Network for a discussion of liability issues.]

Pikipiki Trauma

Saturday lunchtime, just done some yoga at home, riding towards the ferry to pick up a friend to go to the beach, doing about 60kph, helmet shorts tee shirt shades, some guy coming the other way decides to turn right into the gas station, no warning, no indicator, he just didn’t see me, just puts his car in front of me. I hit the brakes hard, lock up front wheel, bike skids off to one side, I go down, no recollection of the bouncing down the road bit, happens so fast the next thing I know I’m slid under the front of his car face down about up to my chest. Luckily I didn’t hit the car, and it didn’t hit me. Driver gets out, sees me, gets back in and reverses off me!!! I feel bits of the car scraping my back. Instant crowd forms, picked up / dragged to side of road, it starts to hurt, feel the hot sun beating down. Taken to village dispensary where they patch up the scrape wounds – knees elbows shoulders – by stuffing with cotton wool and dabbing with iodine. I scream. I ask the medic to check out my chest as I cant breathe properly, he says nah it would be swollen if there were any broken bones. I ask can you please check my knee because its not working, he says nah it would be swollen if there were any broken bones… He gives me painkillers and antibiotics. So I go home and go to bed, extremely uncomfortable, everything hurts, stay in bed Sunday, till monday morning when i can feel liquid sloshing around when i breathe, and can only breathe halfway, while my leg is not able to take any weight. Find AAR emergency number on the internet, they send an ambulance and take me to Aga Khan – one of the better private hospitals. X rays show several fractured ribs (5or6), fractured collar bone, and fractured knee, plus a collapsed lung. Apparently the other stuff can wait, but one of the broken ribs has scraped the lung spraying air and blood into the chest cavity. Local anaesthetic to cut, dissect and push a tube between ribs into my chest. Phhssshhhh as the air comes out, followed by blood/fluid, into a bottle that I am attached to for 5 days in a nice room with a sea view and pethidine on demand.

Abolishing starvation needs GM crops… like a fish needs a bicycle!

A response to the Mark Lynas article in The (London) Times 5 July 2011.

African farmers have a long history of being told by foreign experts how to solve their problems. Whatever happened to asking farmers what they really need?

The colonials brought ‘the gospel of the plough’ recreating Africa in the image of their green and pleasant lands as they grabbed the rich well watered soils, and displaced the indigenous farmers onto the marginal dryland. Now the USAID / Gates Foundation backed American export drive is pushing GMOs onto African farmers, few of whom have ever heard of a GMO let alone understood the ramifications of entering into a ‘technology stewardship agreement’ with Monsanto. That’ll be the same Monsanto that brought the world DDT, Agent Orange, Aspartame, PCBs and Bovine Growth Hormone BST. Google health risks and Monsanto if you’re feeling brave, and while you’re there check if the increased yields claimed by Mark Lynas are supported by the evidence, and how much ‘more benign’, as he puts it, their Roundup herbicide actually is. And see if you can find a good word said about GM by a small cotton farmer in Makhathini, South Africa – the site of the last disastrous ‘GM in Africa’ experiment.

And we’re not in Kansas anymore. University of Dar es Salaam has identified 230 different agro-ecological zones in Tanzania, and not too many of them look like the Midwest. If Mark Lynas is so keen to bring the US system of agriculture to Africa, perhaps he could start by allocating Tanzania’s farmers the average US farm subsidy of upwards of $10,000 a year. Except that would cost $50 billion, or roughly 100 times Tanzania’s agriculture budget. By the way can anyone explain why the USA is paying their farmers billions to massively overproduce GM maize to feed cattle, and then dumping the surplus on unsuspecting refugees the world over?

So what about solutions? According to Mark ‘the solution must be a radical change to agriculture on the continent.’ The World Agriculture Report (IAASTD), the UN and the African Union share this sentiment, but definitely not the idea that the shift should be towards GM.

Developed over four years by over 400 scientists and endorsed by 61 governments, the IAASTD report is a call for governments and international agencies to redirect and increase their funding towards a revolution in agriculture that is firmly agro-ecological. The core message is the urgent need to move away from destructive and chemical-dependent industrial agriculture and to adopt environmental modern farming methods that champion biodiversity and benefit local communities. The report also concluded that such techniques as genetic engineering are no solution for soaring food prices, hunger and poverty.

Meanwhile the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is urging governments to resist the introduction of genetically-modified varieties as a threat to crop diversity, which he called ”a crucial asset in the face of future threats and unpredictable changes brought about by climate change” and necessary in fighting hunger. And the African Union advice is: African policymakers should radically shift their attention and resources in the direction of sustainable agriculture, including organic agriculture.

Who are you going to believe – them or the industry lobbyists?

For the record, biotechnology is alive and well in Africa. The industry has tried to co-opt the term ‘biotechnology’ to mean GM, and thereby sell the myth that if you don’t like GM you’re a flat-earther. Conventional biotechnology, like tissue culture and marker assisted crop breeding, has ensured there are plenty of safe, non-GM, high-yielding, drought resistant, insect resistant seeds and adaptive techniques on the shelves of the plethora of government agricultural research centres across Africa. The problem is that due to decades of low public sector investment, very little of this actually gets out to the farmer.

It is entirely predictable that the agribusiness corporations are touting a top-down technical fix for African food insecurity and poverty. But if you bother to ask the African farmer what she really needs, she might well say: access to land, credit, markets, training, tried-and-tested technology, farm machinery, roads, energy, and services. Rather than be seduced by the promise of a high-tech miracle, maybe we should refocus on what the farmer actually wants?

The word on the street is that despite all the expensive GM hype and bluster, big business is getting turned off by GM biotechnology creating more problems than it solves, and are asking themselves if this really is a long term earner. This ‘recession busting’ attempt to penetrate African markets could be the last gasp. We’re just hoping they don’t contaminate the 4.8 million Tanzanian small farms before they quit.

Tanzanian NGOs Challenge GM Biotechnology

Tanzanian civil society and private sector organizations have come together to express their concern about the impact of GM technology on smallholder farmers and the environment.

Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity is a coalition of civil society and private sector organizations concerned with the conservation of agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty. The members of the alliance share the aims of conserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable development, promoting farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty, facilitating exchange of information and experiences concerning sustainable and healthy agriculture policies and practices, ensuring public awareness on issues of concern to the environment, agriculture and biodiversity, and promoting citizen involvement in the decision-making processes which guide the development of biotechnology particularly GMO.

Previously officially GM free, Tanzania has now opened the door to GM biotechnology. Research on GM cassava and field trials of WEMA maize have already started and Tanzania Cotton Board has announced their decision to introduce Bt cotton. Biosafety legislation is in place and regulators are under industry pressure to relax the strict liability clause, one of the last barriers to widespread introduction of GM crops. Alliance members believe that Biosafety regulations should be based on the precautionary principle and are convinced that introduction of GM crops or animals is not the right solution to fight poverty and hunger.

Organic farmers in Tanzania – around 100,000 of them, mostly smallholder cocoa and cotton farmers with a few acres each – are waking up to the threat of GM contamination, which would render their products unmarketable and destroy their main source of income. Tanzanian farmers and decision makers need to fully understand the potential impact of GM biotechnology, and ensure that the views of civil society are being taken on board in developing GM plans.

Just a few weeks old, the alliance has already brought together campaigners, organic exporters and NGOs including African Centre for Biodiversity, ActionAid International Tanzania, Biolands, BioRe, BioSustain, Envirocare, PELUM Tanzania, Swissaid, and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement. The alliance joins similar movements in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda, to resist the Africa-wide pressure from the US-driven biotech industry.

It is perhaps predictable that agribusiness corporations are selling a top-down technical fix for African food insecurity and poverty. But it is clear that the problems of African farmers are multi-faceted, including poor access to land, water, credit and investment, tried-and-tested technology, farm machinery, training, markets, roads, energy, and services. Rather than be seduced by the promise of high-tech miracle seeds, it is surely these issues that should be the focus of development efforts and resources.