NIGERIA – A coalition of non-governmental organizations, farmer groups and research experts have called on the Nigerian government to immediately ban the distribution of Genetically Modified (GM) Cowpea, a popularly known bean among Nigerian farmers.

The group known as the Health of Mother Earth Foundation also called for the urgent need for the Nigerian government to reinforce the nation’s biosafety legislation in line with the Precautionary Principle which advises caution where there is no certainty of environmental and health safety.

It further demanded adequate support for smallholder farmers, who have over the years resisted pest and disease invasions and improved food productivity, through indigenous knowledge and innovation.

The group which made the call at a press conference titled “Nigerian Farmers and GMO Crops” said GMO Cowpea possesses severe long-term negative implications on the environment and farmers’ seed and populations as well as production practices.

It said Nigerian farmers could become trapped in unsustainable, unsuitable, and unaffordable farming practices, deepening the threat to food and nutritional security and ultimately farmers’ rights. It also counselled other African governments to desist from the use of this variety and other GM crops on the continent.

Speaking at the event, Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, noted that they can’t separate their culture from their food.

“When this is contaminated or eroded everything changes and why we are having this conversation is because this issues are very central to our being and it does appear that sometimes we don’t lay sufficient emphasis on those.

“A well-fed population is also a healthy one. When you eat food that is not good for you, that is not safe, you  can’t be healthy and if you are not healthy in a way that the health system will not support you, you are simply on your own and at this time most Nigerians are on their own,” he said.

From recent studies, it was revealed that because of the pollinator characteristics of the natural West African wild cowpea populations,  BT-gene will move from the genetically modified lines to non-modified lines of both cultivated and wild relatives.

As a result, other plants will gain the resistance trait that will cause an alteration in ecological balance and present adverse effects.

Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje an environmental, human and food rights advocate and the coordinator of the food sovereignty programme at Friends of the Earth, Nigeria/Africa pointed out that the cowpea containing the transgene Cry1Ab, has not been approved anywhere else in the world.

Use of this BT gene was discontinued in South Africa where the cultivation of maize modified with the gene led to enormous pest resistance and infestation.

Current research has revealed that protein produced by this transgene has toxic effects on human liver cells and induces alterations in immune systems of laboratory animals.

GM Cowpea a cause for concern

“The introduction of GM engineered cowpea is a great cause for concern for farmers, consumers and civil society organizations across the continent.

“While the technology is said to be provided royalty-free, the long-term implications of transforming the environment, farmers’ varieties, and production practices, will trap farmers into unsustainable, unsuitable, unaffordable farming practices, and deepen the threat to food and nutritional security,” Mariann said.

She noted that this was particularly worrying since Nigeria is one Africa’s centre of diversity of cowpea, and therefore extensive wild relatives and local varieties exist, with significant cultural value and traditional knowledge associated with cowpea production and consumption.

According to her, several countries of the world have banned such crops, making Nigeria and  Africa a dumping ground for them.

Also giving his remarks, Ifeanyi Casmir, a Medical and Molecular Microbiologist at the University of Abuja, called for the unbundling of the National Agency for Food & Drug Administration & Control (NAFDAC) to be able to effectively carry out its overburdened responsibilities.

“NAFDAC is an overloaded lorry. We advocate that it is disbanded so that it will have agencies to take up some of its responsibilities,” he said.

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