Backlash Against GMO Cowpeas Being Released Commercially in West Africa

Summary by AGRA Watch intern Sarah Muniz

As reported by the African Centre for Biosafety, in the spring of this year, a coalition of NGOs, research experts, and farmer groups demanded that the Nigerian government prohibit the release of genetically modified cowpeas (Bt Cowpea) for public sale.  Cowpeas, popularly known as black-eyed peas in the US and beans in Nigeria, are an indigenous crop to Africa and a primary source of protein, playing a critical role in food and nutrition security.  Because Nigeria is a prime producer of cowpeas, many small-scale farmers rely on this crop for their livelihoods.  

Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) also filed a lawsuit this spring against the commercial release of Bt cowpea in Ghana, in addition to a GMO rice (NEWEST rice).  The lawsuit raised concerns about Bt Cowpea’s effects on human health, the environment, and non-target organisms.  Bt Cowpea contains a “broad spectrum” insecticide, which is undesirable when considering the need to preserve non-target species while also preventing the possibility of super bugs that are resistant to insecticides. This may have widespread implications for environmental and human health. In addition, there were concerns about farmers being uninformed on this new variety of cowpeas and having a lack of choice in purchasing alternatives, as food labeling isn’t always feasible or available in markets in Nigeria, where food is in bulk and sold in cup measurements.  

As demonstrated in both Nigeria and Ghana, movements are pushing African governments to strengthen biosafety legislation, ensuring more caution when human and environmental risks are uncertain.  They also demand more support for small-scale farmers who are at risk of becoming trapped in “unsustainable, unsuitable, and unaffordable farming practices” due to use of GMO seeds.  The threats to food and nutrition security, as well as to farmers’ rights and livelihoods are high, and coalitions and groups like these in Nigeria and Ghana are demanding that testing be done to examine GMO cowpea safety, that laws are strengthened in support of the public’s health, and that small-scale farmers are supported with information about the options available to them.

(Photo credit African Centre for Biosafety: https://www.acbio.org.za/coalition-demands-ban-bt-cowpea-nigeria-and-neighbouring-west-african-countries

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