I-SIS miniseries - Hidden Lights at the Earth Summit, Sept 2002
The official World Summit on Sustainable Development has failed by all accounts, which is hardly surprising. But all is not lost. This miniseries brings you some of the many highlights overlooked by the mainstream media.
Zambia has ignited a fuse for African solidarity that could launch the continent on the road to sustainability and self-sufficiency. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on the real happenings in Johannesburg.
Zambias chief government scientist, Mwananyanda Mbikusita Lewanika, known to his friends in the biosafety protocol negotiations as Lewanika, has become a folk-hero to fellow Africans. This happened after he presented the Zambian governments case for rejecting GM food aid, first at the Third World Network teach-in on biotechnology, and again at an impromptu press conference a day later.
He described how Zambias president organised a big public debate and consultation in parliament. The tribal chiefs were invited to listen to the scientists, along with all other sectors of the country, the farmers, teachers, religious organisations, business, and so on. "The majority of the small farmers were against letting GE [genetically engineered] maize into our country. They said they would rather starve than use GE food."
A week later, the president announced the decision to reject the GM maize, and not to distribute any GM maize already in the country. He promised that money will be made available to purchase 300 000 tonnes of food for the hungry.
Lewanika stressed that aid was not offered to Zambia. Money (US$51 million) was given as a loan to the private sector to import maize from the United States. When this maize was imported, Zambia was not informed that it was contaminated with GM maize. "US did not get prior consent from Zambia before shipping contaminated food grain to us." He said.
"Hunger is a real issue in Zambia, however, there is still time to prepare and to provide GE-free food." Lewanika said, "We have food, but we have no capacity to distribute. We must put our house in order."
Offers of GM-free maize have come from Tanzania and Kenya as well as China and India to make up for the anticipated shortfall after the grain purchase, and a Christian organization also gave non-GM food after GM aid was refused.
"The president is under great pressure, nevertheless, to accept GE food," Lewanika warned, and urged his fellow Africans to send messages of solidarity to Zambia, to say, "We are with you!"
That was enough to set his audience alight. They cheered and applauded loudly. One after another, African delegates stood up to declare solidarity with Zambia.
Another offer of food came from a minister of Uganda there and then. She declared, "Lets stop fighting each other, and help one another instead."
"Money is controlling the science," said a delegate from Senegal.
A plant pathologist from Madagascar said he knew all along there were problems with GMOs. "They are saying to us, eat GMOs or die. Northern companies are conducting GMO research in Africa. Our laboratories are tied to Northern countries."
Supporting statements came thick and fast.
"All scientists in Africa should unite against GM."
"Draw the line: enough is enough!"
A delegate from Nigeria congratulated Zambia for taking a courageous stand, criticised the CGIAR for research that harms Africa, and called for African unity.
The delegate from Ethiopia, Million Belay, a speaker at the event, condemned the World Food Programme for "selling the interest of only one country", the United States.
"Why dont we put our house in order!" was the rallying cry.
African countries are doing just that. Sustainable intensification of agriculture has doubled and tripled food production in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the continent (see "Ethiopia to feed herself", this series). Many countries along the Sahara are pushing back the desert and turning the hills green, by integrating livestock in their farms and reintroducing traditional water conservation methods (see "Sustainable agriculture pushing back desert", Science in Society 2002, 15, 29).
Africa could well be on her way to self-determination and self-sufficiency, as the result of the United States widely condemned move to blackmail hungry nations into accepting GM food.
This could go down in history as the most significant, albeit unintended, gains of the World Summit.
Article first published 05/09/02
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