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28.09.2018 Opinion

NGOs Are Causing Africa’s Agriculture To Stagnate

By Peter Wamboga-Mugirya                        
NGOs Are Causing Africa’s Agriculture To Stagnate
SEP 28, 2018 OPINION

A joke that is going around refers to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as “nothing going on.”

My experience over a 15-year period of studying, interacting with and experiencing NGO activities in my country, Uganda, has proven the joke to be spot-on, apart from those genuinely fighting or advocating for the protection of human and child rights. The NGOs that have emerged to fight against the transformation of agriculture are really up to the nasty mission of stagnating agricultural development in Africa, and developing countries in general.

Why? Because a focus on these NGOs and their anti-GMO activities has proven that they are hell-bent on selfishly opposing application of advanced scientific techniques or better methods of breeding crops/plants — particularly modern biotechnology or genetic engineering (GE) aimed at introducing drought-tolerant, disease- and pest-resistant and biofortified crops to our countries. They base their opposition to GM/GE-crop technology/foods on unfounded allegations that they’re unnatural, ungodly and inorganic. Yet it is our experienced and highly-trained breeders who call for and apply this technology as a tool where conventional breeding has failed over decades of trials to solve the problems.

If I may ask: are the challenges the breeders advance real or imagined? If they are real, should they be solved? If yes, who should solve them, scientists or NGO activists? And when these challenges are solved via genetic engineering (GE), does the product honestly become synthetic, unnatural or inorganic? The GE process is conducted by a scientist (a natural being) and the genes used or introduced into a plant are naturally extracted from the cells/DNA of a natural/living source [plant]. So why should the final product [GM/GE plant/crop] be considered unnatural, inorganic or ungodly? Isn’t GM/GE just another form of humans keeping ahead of diseases, pests and climate-induced adverse effects, such as flood, frost and-drought?

NGO-activism against the application of biotechnology in agriculture and the environment is misplaced, misrepresented, misdirected, a waste of time and uncalled for. The underlying motive of NGO activists agitating against the protection of crops from destruction or devastation by pests, diseases and droughts is to protect their sources of funding. Agriculture and environmentally-based NGOs want calamities such as hunger and starvation to happen so that they use it to continuously fundraise. They present frightening reports of crop losses and food shortages with pictures mainly of starving children and mothers that evoke emotions majorly in the West, where wealthy and kind people raise funds for the NGO coffers. So when GE enables scientists to protect crops from pests, diseases and drought, they “deny” NGOs the calamities presented to philanthropists for donations, relief food, medicine, equipment and other supplies.

That’s why today this activism is more pronounced in Africa [the least developed world], than anywhere else on the globe. There’s a grand plan to stagnate agriculture mainly in sub-Saharan Africa so that it doesn’t transform or improve beyond peasantry and subsistence-levels of agro-development. But when NGO activists discourage development of crops with resilience to drought and capacity to naturally repel/kill pests like stem/stalk borers and bollworms in maize and cotton — two vital food and cash crops, respectively, widely grown on large-scale — it raises the question, what functional alternative do they present? None!

Because the NGOs provide no alternative, science must pro-actively, unwaveringly and solidly move forward. For instance, the genetically modified Bt maize and Bt cotton enables farmers to reduce the spray of pesticides by close to 40 percent. In Uganda, both technologies have been successfully developed by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) and cotton project research that has been going on since 2008/2010. The drought-tolerant WEMA maize has also been introduced with genes that confer pest-resistance and is now called TELA. So we now have GM/GE maize with dual capacity to resist stem/stalk borers and protect the crop from the hot seasons/droughts that Uganda annually suffered even prior to the onset of global warming. Why do NGOs fight tooth and nail to ensure these technologies do not reach farmers?

My experience as a journalist/communication specialist, science advocate and small-scale farmer shows that whenever scientists talk of introducing drought-tolerant (DT) maize seed, activists wave the irrigation card as a better option. “No, let’s have irrigation for our farmers. It’s better, widely available and safer!” they scream. When scientists keep quiet about GM/GE [DT] seeds, NGOs also keep mum about irrigation. There’s no single NGO or activist that has made irrigation a very big agenda issue in Uganda across the years. It is only used to disorganize and block calls for DT seed in agriculture. Fairly and squarely, even medical experts and organizations like the UN’s WHO and FAO, the FDA of USA and European Food Safety Agency (have all stated that GM/GE-foods are as safe as their non-GM/conventionally-bred counterparts.

Then why do NGO activists continue to resist DT-seed? Is it due to safety concerns? No. It is economics. When GM/GE-seed is able to reach farmers quickly and effectively, local NGOs that also engage in soliciting for distribution of seed or food on behalf of the UN WFP, Red Cross or other big international NGOs lose out. When there are no crop- failures caused by pests, diseases and drought due to resilience from GM/GE-crop technologies, NGOs miss out on relief food purchases and transportation and distribution-deals. Since in most cases conventionally-bred seed is what is procured from regional markets, NGOs fear being edged out of such business by more superior GM/GE-seed (especially maize and soya) given out freely by big GM-crop growers like USA, Canada and Brazil. NGOs and traders in non-GM/GE-seed fear this new competition. So they go ugly!

As far as exports of foodstuffs are concerned, some NGOs or their business affiliates like National Organic Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), have captured niche markets, especially in Europe where their funders for anti-GMOs activism are based, and fleece consumers with what they cunningly label “organic.” This shrewd and misleading branding has helped NGOs and the organic industry create unnecessarily expensive foods in global markets, reaping profits from unsuspecting consumers. In Uganda and many other countries, these products are not as rigorously regulated as GM/GE food and are often derived from conventionally-bred crops. They are passed off as organic, with the connotation that they’re cleaner, better and more nutritious. They are billed as more worthy because nobody has maliciously labeled them harmful, as has been done with GM/GE foods.

Truth be told: organic and GMO are not opposites. In Africa, a farmer can grow GM/GE-crops organically. How? When scientists provide farmers with organic/natural GM/GE seed or plantlets/seedlings, and farmers grow the GM/GE seed or plantlets/seedlings with non-industrial/non-synthetic fertilizers and without spraying synthetic pesticides, why should these crops become “inorganic/unnatural” when they’re harvested. These are absolute lies spread by activists and those who deal in expensive “organic” food. Organic is strictly a farming method,

while genetic engineering is strictly a breeding process/method/tool. In North America and Europe, the NGOs in cohorts with the hugely-profitable organic foods industry dealers, have successfully confused the two and regulators and scientists have succumbed to the categorization of crops bred via genetic engineering as being “inorganic or nonorganic.”

Lastly, it is perplexing that when it comes to medical research, we never see the activists raise a finger against introduction of better vaccines or medicines, if what has been traditionally used doesn’t solve any given ailment or disease outbreak(s). Neither do we see these know-it-all and greater-lovers-of-the-nation-activists challenge engineers, computer scientists or architects on the new technologies they innovate, develop or introduce in our environment. Their targets are always in agriculture and environment!

In the early 2000s, some NGOs vigorously campaigned against the introduction of a national DDT spray program against mosquitoes to stem the very high number of malaria deaths in Uganda — ranked one of the highest mortality rates in the world. A study published last year by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene showed that malaria is still the major cause of death in Uganda with approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Ugandans dying each year from the disease, according to the State-owned The New Vision .

I recently asked friends why activists resisted DDT spray against mosquitoes, which have no useful purpose. One person privy to the environmentalists’ arguments told me if mosquitoes are killed, other creatures such as frogs, preying insects and lizards would run out of food. I laughed and asked, are mosquitoes the only food such reptiles rely on? The answer is a certain and clear NO! Then what is the reason for protecting them? And what is the connection between mosquitoes, DDT and malaria on one hand, with agriculture or farmers, on the other hand? Because at the center of the 70,000-100,000 Ugandans dying annually from malaria are farmers, with their children and pregnant wives the main victims. Malaria figures in Uganda are alarming, with 2017 Ministry of Health statistics showing the disease still claims 200 people every day — enough to fill 14 taxi vans that seat 14 passengers each. Between 20 and 23 percent of those dying from malaria are children under the age of five. That is about 40 children in this cohort dying every day, according to The Independent Magazine. These deaths mainly occur in villages, where the majority of the rural dwellers are farmers.

Malaria not only kills, but weakens its infected victims, rendering them unable to perform their energy-intensive farming activities. Therefore, in my humble opinion it’s satanic, to say the least, for anyone to fight efforts to control or eradicate malaria. Of course, it is a form of technology-resistance/denial/blockage via deception — acts NGOs are best at. DDT is a scientific and technological innovation, like biotechnology, and there’s a hidden agenda by NGOs who falsely claim it is carcinogenic and contaminates organic crops — the same allegations they make against GM foods.

The GM/GE revolution offers an opportunity to kill harmful stem/stalk-borers, cotton-bollworms, fall armyworms (FAWs), and even soil-based weevils and nematodes, just to mention a few insects. Like mosquitoes, they have to be eradicated or they eradicate man—first by decimating our sources of food and energy (crops), then leading to shortages and starvation as their ultimate effects.

This is my humble analysis of the anti-technology European-sponsored NGOs and activists on the rise across the continent. Only time that will exonerate me. Africa, please wake up before it is too late!

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