Nnimmo Bassey is Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), a Nigeria-based environmental think tank and advocacy
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Civil society organisations throughout Africa are campaigning for agroecologial and indigenous approaches to maintain food sovereignty. But their umbrella organisation, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), warns that a corporate industrialisation of African agriculture could destroy the biodiversity and ecosystems that these approaches are based on. Taking the introduction of genetically modified organisms in Nigeria, our author looks at how such industrialisation processes can come about.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It is estimated to have about 170 million inhabitants, accounting for close to 50 per cent of the West African population. With this numerical strength, the biotech giants no doubt imagine that Nigeria is the market to grab for their genetically modified products. More so, as Nigeria remains a major influence in Africa, it is clear that the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country will facilitate the acceptance of their risky technology in other African countries. Nigeria is currently faced with intense pressure to adopt modern biotechnology as a solution to food challenges.

It took many years for Nigeria to develop a National Biosafety law. The country had the benefit of an existing Biosafety Model Law developed by the African Union (AU) in 2003, which was meant to serve as guide to African countries as they drafted domestic biosafety frameworks and legislation at country level in order to robustly regulate the production of GMOs or their entry into their territories. Due to corporate and global political pressures, the reality has been the production of biosafety laws that fall below the bar set by the AU’s model law.

The Nigerian National Biosafety Management Agency Act was signed into law in April 2015 in the last days of the administration of the country’s former president Goodluck Jonathan. This law established the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), which was saddled with the responsibility to provide a regulatory framework and to safeguard human health and the environment from potential adverse effects of modern biotechnology.

Within a year of the setting up of the NBMA, the tides changed dramatically in the wrong direction for the country. The NBMA issued three permits on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd. for the commercial release and placement in the market of genetically modified cotton (MON 15985) and for field trials of genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON89034X NK 603).

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