GMO’s, Food Security and Misplaced Philanthropy: An Interview with Jos Ngonyo

Many thanks to independent journalist Martha Baskin for her great work interviewing Jos Ngonyo, last week’s guest of CAGJ’s AGRA Watch Campaign, for Green Acres Radio!
           
Airs on KBCS 91.3 FM on Thursday May 6 at 5:40PM and Friday May 7 at 7:40AM and 2pm.
GMO’s, Food Security and Misplaced Philanthropy, An Interview with Jos Ngonyo with the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition      
Martha Baskin  May 6, 2010. You can listen to the radio interview here: http://greenacreradio.blogspot.com

Lede: Organic non-GMO foods aren’t just the preference of countries in the so-called developed North. 40,000 tons of GMO-grown maize was recently rejected in Kenya. Protestors are making sure it remains stuck in the port city ofMombassa. Jos Ngonyo, with Kenya’s Biodiversity Coalition spoke to Green Acre Radio in a recent visit to Seattle. Ngonyo spoke about why small-scale farmers reject the Green Revolution in Africa and about “dysfunctional aid”. The Gates Foundation helped launch the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa four years ago.
 
Narration: With Green Acre Radio this is Martha Baskin. There’s a tradition in Kenya. When maize, the locally grown corn eaten at every meal is harvested, farmers select the best seeds. “THEY WOULD ACTUALLY PUT IT ABOVE THE FIREPLACE SO THAT THE FIRE WILL CONTINUALLY WARM THESE SEEDS.” Jos Ngonyo, with Kenya’s Biodiversity Coalition, explains the procedure in a rare visit to Washington State. “AND THEY WOULD PLANT THOSE SEEDS AND INDEED THE CROP WOULD BE A FINE CROP.” A farmer without seeds, says Ngono, would borrow from other farmers. Today the tradition is under threat. Genetically modified crops have been introduced. “NOW WE’RE HAVING THESE SEEDS FROM MONSANTO, THE BIOTECH SEEDS THAT ACTUALLY THEY’RE PATENTED. YOU CANNOT REPLANT. YOU CANNOT HARVEST AND STORE BEFORE REPLANTING YOU’RE JUST TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON MONSANTO.” Genetically modified corn, says Ngonyo, contaminates indigenous maize, because of cross pollination.Kenya’s Agriculture Research Institute used to concentrate on seeds good for the environment, says Ngonyo, but now their focus is biotech seeds. “THIS IS A BIG THREAT TO THE LIVELIHOOD AND AS YOU KNOW THIS IS NOT THE WAY FORWARD.”
 
But it appears to be the way forward for AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Four years ago the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch AGRA. Their strategy was explained in the report, “Africa’s Turn: The New Green Revolution for the 21st Century”. The report emphasized hybrid and genetically engineered seeds, chemical fertilizers, training agricultural scientists for crop improvements and agricultural reforms. Jos Ngonyo, recipient of the Eastern Africa Environmental Leadership Award wasn’t scheduled to meet with the Gates Foundation during his visit. He says he would have welcomed the opportunity to explain why he thinks AGRA is a bad idea. “AGRA DID NOT INVOLVE THE PEOPLE IN AFRICA.THIS WAS AN IDEA PUSHED TO AFRICA AND THAT DOES NOT WORK. IT’S NOT ABOUT US WITHOUT US.” Ngonyo says people are so aware in the world “YOU CANNOT JUST BRING AN IDEOLOGY FROM OUTSIDE AND PUSH. THEY’LL ONLY TAKE IT FOR SOMETIME AND THEN REBEL AGAINST IT.”
 
In early April, protestors, lead by Kenya’s Biodiversity Coalition, rejected 40,000 tons of genetically modified maize grown in South Africa. The maize remains blocked at the port city of Mombassa. Protestors say the maize is a springboard to contaminate non-GMO crops. Again coalition representative, Jos Ngonyo, “WE ACHIEVED BLOCKING THE CONSIGNMENT THAT WAS COMING IN.  ACTUALLY IT’S ILLEGAL TO COME TO KENYA BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE TO DEAL WITH THAT.” Kenya, explains Ngonyo, has no way to protect indigenous crops from GMO crops. Health impacts are also a concern. “A LOT OF PEER REVIEWED SURVEYS AND RESEARCH HAVE SHOWN THAT THIS MAIZE SUPPRESSES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM, CANCERS, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE. ANOTHER IMPACT IS FERTILITY.” Kenya should follow the European Union and proceed cautiously, urges Ngonyo. “IN SOME PLACES THEY’VE BEEN BANNED LIKE IN FRANCE.”
 
The title of Jos Ngonyo’s talk during his visit was “Dysfunctional Aid and Misplaced Philanthropy: African Farmers Respond to the Green Revolution in Africa.” He gave the following example. Africa’s Agriculture Technology Foundation received $43 million from the Gates Foundation to develop genetically engineered “water efficient maize”. ‘WE HAVE WATER EFFICIENT MAIZE THAT DID REALLY WELL. IT’S CALLED KATUMANI.” That’s k-a-t-u-m-a-n-i. “AND THIS BREED DID VERY WELL. IT WAS GROWN IN DRY AREAS AND IT TAKES ONLY THREE MONTHS AND PEOPLE HAVE FOOD TO EAT.” But katumani was gradually abandoned when Kenya’s Agricultural Research Association switched its focus to GMO seeds. “SO WE NEED TO LOOK AT WHAT WORKS. WHICH SEEDS ARE BEST FOR WHICH SEASON AND ENCOURAGE THOSE AND BILL GATES FOUNDATION CAN PUT MONEY THERE.” People inAfrica welcome aid from the Gates Foundation, he says. “THEY MAY BE MEANING WELL BUT THEY’RE MISDIRECTED. IF THEY KNEW THE TRUTH AND HAD MEETINGS WITH FARMERS ON THE GROUND THEY WOULD PROBABLY PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE IT’S NEEDED MOST AND MAKE IMPACT THAT WOULD BE POSITIVE TO THE SMALL SCALE FARMERS.” 95% of Kenyons are small scale farmers.
 
A 2008 UN- sponsored report, The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, called for urgent changes in the way food is produced. Soaring food prices are at risk of driving millions into poverty. 400 experts spent three years researching the report. Again Jos Ngonyo, “THAT REPORT RULED OUT GMO’S AND STRONGLY RECOMMENDED ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AS THE WAY TO GO TO ENSURE FOOD SECURITY.” 
 
Jos Ngonyo’s visit to the area was sponsored by AGRA Watch, a non-profit that supports farmers self-determination and food sovereignty. For more information go to cagj.org/agra-watch.
 
Green Acre Radio is brought to you with support from the Human Links Foundation and the Russell Family Foundation. Engineering by CJ Lazenby. From the studios of Jack Straw Productions and KBCS, this is Martha Baskin.

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts.

One Comment

  1. Thanks so much for sharing parts of the interview! “Misplaced philanthropy” is the perfect way to describe the donation of GMO crops to the developing world. Just this week, the Director-General of FAO recognized that family farming is the way to ensure food security in Africa and encourage investing in infrastructure, rather than blindly forcing foreign food aid on nations in need.

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