Expert Groups across Nigeria Slam Monsanto over Plans to Introduce GM Crops

Nnimmo BasseyOne hundred groups representing over five million Nigerians, comprising of farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, are vehemently opposing Monsanto’s attempts to introduce genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s food and farming systems. In written objections submitted to the Nigerian biosafety regulators Monday, the groups have cited numerous serious health and environmental concerns and the failure of these crops, especially GM cotton, in Africa.

Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited has applied to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) for the environmental release and placing in the market in Zaria and surrounding towns of GM cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985). A further application is for the confined field trial (CFT) of two GM maize varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria. READ MORE

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Minister seeks more research, transparency on biotechnology

Amina-MohammedThe Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, has called for more research, transparency and openness, as Nigeria ventures into commercial biotechnology.

Amina, who answered journalists’ questions on concerns raised by anti-GMOs on Nigeria’s venture into biotechnology, yesterday noted that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) had government backing to police the technology in Nigeria.

At a meeting with officials of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in Abuja, Amina called for greater public engagement on the technology. “We need more research and we need to listen to people where they have concerns. We have to answer those frequently asked questions because without responding to people’s concerns, we are leaving perception of not caring or not doing our homework. We have to be more open to people and transparent to everyone, also hear every one’s concern and address them. With the Biosafety Agency now in place, we can begin to do that a lot more.” READ MORE

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Biotechnology: ‘Don’t make restrictive bill’

A principal state attorney in the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has called for flexibility in the drafting of the National Biotechnology & Biosafety Bill 2012.

The bill that has already been tabled in Parliament is still under scrutiny, with groups calling for amendments especially in relation to fines and penalties.

Harriet Ityang was presenting a paper ‘Understanding the Scope and Relevance of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill’ at a media BioCafe at the Uganda National Farmers Federation conference hall in Nakasero. READ MORE

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20 Years of Success – Global status of commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2015 (ISAAA)

isaaa-infographicToday, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, “20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015,” showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops. Since 1996, 2 billon hectares of arable land – a massive area more than twice the landmass of China or the United States – have been planted with biotech crops. Additionally, it is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. READ MORE

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Fighting ignorance through new technology

Samuel Owiti Awino was an agricultural gambler, so to speak.

supportTormented by unreliable rains and the destructive Striga weed, he was ready to try any crop that came his way. “When you are sick and you don’t know what ails you, you will take any concoction hoping that one of them will eventually cure you. In farming that is what I had been doing for quite a long time.”

Samuel Owiti Awino

Samuel Owiti Awino at his farm

But this was before he encountered agricultural extension services during a field day facilitated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in Homabay Town two planting seasons ago.  They introduced him to new ideas such as soil testing, planting appropriate crops, and the use of certified seeds and fertilizer.

He also got to learn about the Imazapyr Resistant (IR) seeds, popularly known as the StrigAway or Ua Kayongo technology that is changing fortunes in the Lake Victoria region. He was told that Striga survives by siphoning off water and nutrients from the host crops for its own growth. It can reduce output by 80%.

The AATF – established in 2003 to help small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa improve farming in order to fight hunger and poverty – has partnered with four commercial seed companies to make available the IR seeds to farmers. Its Striga Control in Maize Project also trains its beneficiaries in better farming practices.

“Even though we knew they (extension officers) were experts, there were so many questions as to their motive. Some farmers just laughed off a suggestion that if they prepared the fields properly, used the right seeds and used fertilizers, their harvest would multiply ten times. It is a language they never heard before.”#

Samuel Owiti-Awino

Samuel Owiti Awino

His farm was among those hitherto heavily ravaged by the Striga. In fact when he was approached to be part of the demonstration group whose farms would be used as exhibition sites, he gave them a parcel he had long abandoned due to its low yields.

To his surprise, even his most fertile land did not produce half of what he eventually got from the demonstration plot he had up till then neglected – the parcel he had abandoned.

“I managed (140 kilos) from the demo plot yet only a few buckets from the one I planted the kienyeji (seeds recycled from previous harvest)”, he recalls.

Ignorance is a key contributor to food insecurity in Kenya, according to Awino.  “Many people have been growing maize for a long time and their choice of seeds is usually informed by what they see others plant. They don’t seek expert advice. And it takes time for them to accept latest technologies.”

Samuel is now a delighted man. He no longer depends on the hand-of-fate to give him a bumper crop. The StrigAway seeds came in handy. He can now afford food for his family even as he handily pays school fees for those who depend on him.

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Women take the war over to ‘cereal’ killer

Busia is among the most fertile of Kenya’s 47 counties.  Its rich soils receive between 760mm and 2000mm of rainfall. “Most parts of the County have high potential for agriculture and promises of faster growth,” according to the Busia County Integrated Development Plan 2013-2017.

supportYet this frontier region lags behind in virtually all key indicators of life. Poverty level is 20 percentage points higher than the national figure, life expectancy is 17 years short of the national level, literacy level is 75% against the national’s 79%, and only one in five of teenagers are enrolled in high school.

The situation in Funyula, the most affluent rural area in the county, is even more poignant.

So, sometime in 1999, a group of farmers in Funyula decided to attack the dilapidating poverty. The 37 members (29 women and eight men) gave themselves the name, Becha Inyuma (loosely translated as Start Late but Pick up Fast) Women Group. “Since we were all farmers, the first push in the war against poverty was to improve agriculture,” says the chairperson Margaret Auma Aleke.

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The Chairperson of Becha Inyuma Women Group Margaret Auma Aleke

They reached out to the Ministry of Agriculture for answers to the perpetually poor farm yield.

It was during such visits that they got to understand the curse wrought by the Striga, which takes away up to 80% of the maize harvest. They were told about the latest anti-Striga technology, Imazapyr Resistant (IR) technology (trading as StrigAway or Ua Kayongo seeds), and they were referred to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) whose Striga Control in Maize Project is making available the seeds to thousands of farmers in the Lake Victoria region.

AATF is working with four seed firms to make the seeds commercially available in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The Becha Inyuma Women Group members, each with average 2.5 ha farms and five children, pooled resources and acquired the IR seeds. The farm yield was startling. It was not business as usual.

Aleke is now able to harvest about 40 bags (3.6 tonnes) of maize from one hectare, up from six bags (540 kilos) formerly. “Maneno ya gorogoro tumesahau hii area yetu (we have buried hunger; food handout is now history),” she quips, remarkably excited.

IMG_1739#

Owing to improved yields, the members have built stone houses, now afford clean safe water, and handily meet their school fees obligations. They managed to raise enough money for a commercial groundnuts shelling machine, bought an ox-plough, and now plan to acquire cattle. All now rear goats for milk.

Because women don’t own land and control no resources, they’re disadvantaged in negotiations for credit. And this explains why they form into women groups and other “chamas” (groups).

Busia has 175 women groups and over 150 youth groups, all involved in credit facilities.

“The IR seed is a boon. It came just at the right time. Now we know our farms aren’t cursed,” Aleke says.

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The Striga witch has left

Richard Amolo takes this writer around his farm. He just ploughed it in readiness for the short rains that were expected the previous week.

supportYes, the rains delayed. Amolo says he is afraid they may fail altogether.  But there’s one thing that no longer gives him sleepless nights – the Striga weed, known locally as Kayongo. He’s among dozens of farmers in Got Bondo village, in Central Asembo, Siaya, in Western Kenya, battling the destructive purple-coloured weed that attacks cereals, including maize, sorghum and millet.

“I have witnessed the fruits of the battle; now I can eat and sell the surplus. Previously I barely managed to feed my family. I plan to extend the cropland. I want to get into agri-business.”

Striga-storo1

Richard Amolo, a farmer (left) supervising his farm. On his right is AATF’s field officer Caleb Adede

Rains delay in this area. But they never fail. “As long as I can remember, we have blamed rains for all our farming problems. Even when we had enough rainfall we still received minimal maize harvest. Rain has been the classic scape-goat,” Richard recalls.

However, the biggest torment for millions of farmers in the Lake Victoria region has been the prolific Striga weed which can destroy 80 per cent of the crop.

According to experts, this poisonous weed survives by siphoning off water and nutrients from the host crops for its own growth. It thus leaves the host stunted.

“A plant attacked by Kayongo looks like an emaciated HIV/Aids patient,” Amolo says, in his native Luo language.

He used to harvest just one bag of 90 kilos on one of his parcels of land outside the well-kempt homestead. He harvests four bags (360 kilos) nowadays, since he decided to try the Imazapyr Resistant (IR) seeds – the latest technology in the war against the weed.

Strigaa-storoRichard Amolo (left) a farmer in Siaya, pointing at his farm as AATF’s Caleb Adede looks on.

According to Gospel Omanya, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Senior Manager for Projects Management and Deployment, the IR technology acts in two ways: It stops Striga attaching itself to the crop roots; it kills the weed’s seeds in the soil.

The AATF-established in 2003 to help small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa improve farming in order to fight hunger and poverty – has partnered with four commercial seed companies to make available the IR seeds to farmers. Apart from the seeds, the Striga Control in Maize Project also trains its beneficiaries in better farming practices.

For Amolo, a retired hotelier, the science that is transforming his livelihood is beyond his compression.  “All that’s important to me is that Striga has gone; the witch has left.”

He then gestures towards the sky, where dark clouds are forming. The rains aren’t far, he muses without effort.

“The rains can delay, but they will come eventually. But the Striga weed is fatal, unless you control it with the new (StrigAway) technology. It can wipe out your livelihood.”

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Rainmaker battles ‘cereal’ killer

Leonida Andewa, a mother of seven, is transforming a community hitherto ravaged by the effects of Striga. Her village is a few kilometres from Luanda Town, Vihiga County in Western Kenya.

supportThe widow, a former primary school teacher, has been farming since 1975. Implicitly, she’s an opinion-shaper, not only among women-folk but even within the highly patriarchal society of West Bunyore Sub-location, whose residents are famously known to be traditional rainmakers.

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 Leonida Andewa, a farmer in Vihiga County at her farm during the interview.

And because of her position in the society African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) officials and the Ministry of Agriculture extension officers selected her to headline the revolutionary Imazapyr Resistant (IR) technology that is used to control the destructive Striga weed in maize farmlands. AATF has partnered with seed producers to make available IR seeds to farmers.

Leonida has what area agricultural experts describe as ‘a model farm’ – two adjunct plots that extension agents or researchers use to study and highlight to the public the effects of opposing technologies, in this case the IR seeds and the kienyeji (seeds recycled from previous harvest).

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Leonida Andewa during the interview.

“I receive on average 30 visitors a month, who come here to look at my crop. They admire the way I go about my farming. They replicate on their farms what they witness here.”

Maize is a critical component of food security in Vihiga. Agriculture provides 61 per cent of all employment. Yet farming is still backward; about 98.7% of farming is subsistence. Use of fertilizer and certified seeds is just 25%.

The inapt farming practice is witnessed in the output – Vihiga County managed to harvest just 329,280 bags (29.6 million kilos) of maize in 2012 – not enough to feed its 570,000 residents. (Kenya’s per capita maize consumption is 88 kilos)

Leonida wants to change this. She believes Vihiga can be a self-sufficient county in matters of food. “If we fight Striga and employ good farming practices, we can become a maize surplus county.”

At times, Leonida’s 4-acre farm is turned into a field day, an annual forum where farmers and agricultural officers showcase their best practices and learn new farming techniques. Field days – apart from radio programs, on-farm demonstrations, chief’s baraza (public rallies), pamphlets and brochures, and agricultural extension agents – are the key sources of farming information in the rural areas.

Naturally, the fact that she is a woman was empirical in her choice to headline the new technology. In parts of western Kenya, women have been relegated to the periphery yet they provide 65% of farm-work. They own just one per cent of the land and resultant farm income. Thus, any technology that sidelines women is futile. “It must begin with the woman. We are open, and we provide the bulk of farm-work.”

Leonida sums up IR’s benefit, thus “There has been drastic change in the yields”.

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At the forefront in war against ‘cereal’ killer

In a region where the youth have apparently shirked farming despite the soaring poverty, Mercy Mwende Onyango stands out as an island. She’s leading the way in embracing technology. And she hopes that her agricultural exploits will not only silence hunger pangs in the community. Click to support:

supportThey will also fuel an appetite among the youth to return back to farms.

Mercy runs a demonstration plot where farmers in Nyangoma, Siaya County in Western Kenya, witness the miracle of the Imazapyr Resistant (IR) technology. This model farm is critical to the livelihoods of tens of families in the area, for it is one of the training venues for members of the Hagonglo, a community based organization (CBO) that benefits 723 households in matters farming and health.

Mercy Mwende Onyango, at her model plot in Nyangoma, Siaya County, Kenya.

Mercy Mwende Onyango, at her model plot in Nyangoma, Siaya County, Kenya.

“They (farmers in the area) can witness technology at work,” she says

Watch video on Farmer Mercy Mwende Onyango MPEG-4

The youthful mother of two got to know about the IR (popularly known as StrigAway or Ua Kayongo) technology during a field day organized by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). She would later plant the H528 seeds produced by the Kenya Seed Company, one of the four seed producers AATF partners with to make available the technology.

Founded in 2003, the AATF assists small-holder growers fight hunger and poverty through new technologies.

“I got a big yield; very good harvest. I also realized that Striga was gone. And the farm is fertile because we used fertilizer for the first time; never before.”

Mercy Mwende Onyango plating the StrigAway seeds on her demonstration plot under the guidance of AATF’s Field Officer Caleb Adede.

Mercy Mwende Onyango plating the StrigAway seeds on her demonstration plot under the guidance of AATF’s Field Officer Caleb Adede.

Her harvests has improved from 5 bags (450 kgs) to 15 bags (1350 kgs). She has preserved some of last season’s harvest until the price of farm produce improves on the market, which is probably early next year. “My family can now move into the next season without having exhausted the previous harvest. We are food sufficient,” she says.

It is hardly surprising that Mercy’s story is important to Siaya authorities.

While Agriculture provides 61% of all employment, the youths in the area have not been keen about faming. Thus, employment is a key pillar in Siaya County government’s current development strategy. “(There’s need) for more resources to be channeled to employment-driven investments to reduce the burden of dependence and poverty,” states Siaya County Integrated Development Plan 2013-17.

The County Government – buoyed by the noteworthy success of AATF’s Striga Control in Maize Project – plans to allocate funds towards Striga control in the next budget, according to Samwel Ongonga Wambisa, economic adviser for County Governor Cornel Rasanga Amoth.

“Mercy decided to try the new technology and moved very fast to embrace it, and that’s why we picked her farm as a demonstration plot,” says Pamela Ogutu, coordinator Hagonglo CBO. “While her fellow youth find farming hectic, she is moving very fast to clasp the very best technology that gives the ultimate benefit. She isn’t shy about farming. She’s a role model who’s likely to change the mindsets here”

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Removing drudgery from cassava farming – success for farmer Stephania Kunda in Zambia

Cassava, a highly nutritious crop, can be time consuming to plant, maintain and harvest. This has caused many farmers to shun planting the crop and those who plant cassava neglect its maintenance leading to below optimum yields. Cassava Mechanisation and Agroprocessing Project (CAMAP), currently being implemented in Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda, is aimed at reducing drudgery, and increasing productivity and incomes for farmers.

Stephania Kunda (extreme right) with the CAMAP team (left to right: George Marechera, AATF, Lazarus and Mr Mutondo, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) ) on her farm.

Stephania Kunda (extreme right) with the CAMAP team (left to right: George Marechera, AATF, Lazarus and Mr Mutondo, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) ) on her farm.

Stephania Kunda is one of the farmers participating in the project’s implementation. She was part of the first group of farmers selected for the CAMAP project in 2013 who planted 1 ha of cassava using machines for preparing the land and planting the cassava. One and a half years later, she boasts of a bountiful harvest of cassava as a result of the project. She harvests 55 baskets of cassava that weigh about 50kg before peeling from a 25 sq metre of land and sells them at 15 Kwacha (USD 2.2) each. This price varies and could go up as high as 30 Kwacha (USD 4.4) per basket. In total, she earns 825 Kwacha (USD 121) from 25m by 25m land and ultimately 13,200 Kwacha (USD 1,941) per hectare of land.

Family members peeling cassava on Stephania’s farm

Family members peeling cassava on Stephania’s farm

This season, Stephania has decided to increase the area she is planting with cassava to increase her profits. She can now afford to pay for machine services to cultivate the new piece of land from income gained from the previous harvest. She is also saving some money to buy a bicycle and more goats which feed on cassava peelings.

CAMAP continues to change lives of smallholder farmers through helping them plant cassava on larger tracts of land by providing machine services at a subsidized rate. The subsidized payments are used to build a revolving fund that ensures the sustainability of the project.

–    Grace Muinga, AATF

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