GMO’s in Africa: The WAR on Africa’s Small Scale Women Farmers , on Food, Land & Medicinal Security.

GMO’s in Africa: The WAR on Africa’s Small Scale Women Farmers , on Food, Land & Medicinal Security.

By Najar Nyakio,

Chemicals in the Soil

Najar Nyakio is an Environmental Consultant and a Columnist for NFD DISPATCH

My first brush with the current food violence caused by a patriarchal government and the ignobleness of hunger was in the mid 1980’s and involved my favorite older aunt. She had been a farmer, and a teacher, but a farmer first and always, for if she did not grow food, what would her children eat – she would ask this with a chuckle and a giggle… if she did not care for her cows and chickens, of which she had many, how would her children live? Or visitors for that matter, how would she feed them? It wasn’t a question of whether she should farm or not, it was as natural to her as the nails on her fingers or the hair on her head.
We noise-some kids would be sent to shags for each of the school vacations by my parents away from the beautiful bustle of Nairobi town and it’s always electrical charge, and always, I choose to go stay with ‘Tata Arithi’ for her food was delicious and 36 acres of land was a huge space to play in, although we never really played but worked the farm from dawn to dusk – from milking the cows at 4:00 am for the diary – (pronounced “dee-ree“) to startling the hens from sitting on their white eggs which when cooked would have yellow yellow yolks – I was skinny even then, so she’d laugh with all her perfect dentures and tell me to get into the low-chicken stoop which was all of 3ft high spread over a 1/8 acre – to get eggs from the very ends…
From her I would get a million answers for my million questions, her always laughing at my curiosity and helping me in my geography, chemistry and physics classes years later while I was in High School..
  • Why did you put these seeds aside, why can’t we eat them?
  • Why are you planting the beans next to the pawpaw tree?
  • Why don’t you pick these mangoes – they look ready!
  • How come the bananas are red and not green?
  • Why do the pumpkins have prickly leaves?
  • Why are you picking the leaves off the pawpaw tree before they fall?
  • Why do you wait for the field to dry so long when you dig it up, why can’t you plant today?
  • Why can’t we use this to cover the plants?
  • Cows can die if they eat this? Really?
She laughed the day she was told she couldn’t use or sell her own seeds, and that she must spray her crops using a particular spray. The government inspector for that area knocked on the gate and as per the norm, was taken down a wandering path among sweet fat tomatoe plants and juicy pumpkins to where she was digging her bit of patch for the day. She opened the bottle and sniffed the contents and said, ‘… but this is poison’, and put it in her pocket, the front one, the one that is like a cooks smock but was her gardening apron with frills and bows. The Inspector knew her, as he knew all the ‘small-scale subsistence’ farmers in the area and told her she had to use it because the big people on the other side of her land were using it, and if she didn’t there was a problem with crop-cross pollination or some such thing – I wasn’t there, this is what my cousin told me much, much later. My aunt, tall for a woman at 5′ 11 as sweet and as toffee brown as a cup of milky tea with loads of honey and cardamom in it, laughed at the Inspector and said she wouldn’t kill her crops for the rich twat. He can afford to go and buy food from the supermarket, she retorted, I grow my food.
3 months later, the government inspector returned and of course, found a healthy lush growth of maize, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, nutmegs, banana’s, matoke and grass for the cows (Thaara). He tested the soil. No chemicals. I tell you, she was thrown in cell for a night and ordered to pay a fee to get out. My male cousins went there hopping mad, what was going on? They asked, born in the mid to late 50’s, they were grown old men…
“Mother went against the law!”.
She was released on the payment of some absurd sum, and told to follow the law from them on. So she did, and faithfully dusted and sprayed her crops with who the heck knows what it was? And the potatoes grew and grew and produced lovely flowers and it was time to harvest them.
She began early that morning I was told. Excited to harvest as usual… One plant after another, she’d dig, pull it out and find dust. The potatoes were so dry, as soon as they were touched, they disintegrated into a powdery substance. She worked all morning, back-breaking work – I’ve done it, I know, and she’s older than me by some 30 years.
At about 10am, she called her son, “..please harvest the rest for me, I just can’t….”. When a woman says ndigehota, she’s broken.
She wasn’t physically tired, just her heart was heavy. He did, her son, and they only got half a sack of tiny potatoes. The land was dead. Tata cried and cried. She became severely depressed. Got heart problems for the first time in her life, had to see a medical doctor and begin taking plastic tablets. She was so unstable and low and it took a long, long while for her rich laugh to ring out again.

Women and Healing Crops in Africa.

The arguments are proven, that it is women who have been planting crops for thousands of years, women whom have been taught by their mothers, their grannies, great grannies, their neighbours, aunts and other women friends – on the significance of what they grow, the uses and nutritional values, the medicinal tenets of each plant and their implications in our lives. These are not secrets, but real oral stories handed down from mother to daughters while on the field, in the house, while working, while walking, while sitting, while eating. These are not secrets pondered over in cold sterile rooms thousands of miles away in some university, but truths told over hot delicious food with plenty of laughter and sharing. Women were the bearer of some secrets – like the eating of pawpaw seeds will give one a natural pain free abortion, that throwing ‘mafangi’ leaves into a fire will cause a dense smoke that will calm a mother during birth, while wrapping and inserting sun-dried tobacco leaves into a new mother’s private parts would heal her birth wounds in less than three days. No pain no gain is not our heritage. Strange then that when the white man colonized us in 1886, that among the first crops women were banned from planting were tobacco or marijuana, while many papaya today from the supermarket come  seedless.
I lived with the waSwahili in Southern Tanzania. When it comes to food, women are the nourishers and providers of all health, and it is to them first, that both male and females, girls and boys ran to when ailing. Mothers’ concoctions were the” ish!” –  coconut oil for the face, hair and all skin ailments.  Babies nappy rash was unheard of – a little cardamom & black pepper tea to clear a cold, a spoonful of turmeric to clear a fever or a “frog in the throat”.  Spices from that ‘Spice Isle’ Zanzibar – were the Medicine Cabinet. The Meru speak of the “Mbariki” plant of which I was told recently, ‘boil the leaves to destroy the malaria fever’. When I researched this further, I found that the Mbariki is known as the Burdock tree, and that the root, the leaf and the seed are all used medicinally, each with a valuable set of benefits and has been used as a plant medicine for thousands of years worldwide. The oil from thembariki seeds clears ALL skin aliments including eczema, and is an ingredient of the famous Arimis sold in Kenya as a “mafuta ya kukamua ng’ombe”. 
Today the Japanese cultivate it on a large scale for the root (which they call gobo). They sauté it with carrots, top it with soy sauce and call it a delicacy! My fascination grew when I found out it was one of the plants that the late Dr Sebi used to heal his patients with.  What hurt and shocked me is that when the colonizer came here in the BC, his scientists told our men that it was a weed, and therefore to destroy it. To date the Mbariki plant is cut down and destroyed everywhere in Kenya – apart from mama Arimis. Where are our mothers’ voices? Why are we daughters of Africa silent?  “Burdock is a plant that is found all over the world. The Burdock root is sometimes used as food. The root, leaf, and seed are used to make medicine. Some people take burdock by mouth to increase urine flow, kill germs, reduce fever, and “purify” their blood. It is also taken by mouth to treat colds, cancer, anorexia, stomach and intestinal complaints, joint pain, gout, bladder infections, diabetes, complications of syphilis, and skin conditions including acne and psoriasis. Burdock is also taken by mouth for high blood pressure, “hardening of the arteries” (arteriosclerosis), and cirrhosis or liver disease which is caused by an intake of too much pork or alcohol. Some people apply burdock directly to the skin for wrinkles, dry skin (ichthyosis), acne, psoriasis, and eczema.” Holetz FB, Pessini GL, Sanches NR, et al. Screening of some plants used in the Brazilian folk medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 2002;97:1027-31.

Government Policy, GMO’s and Culture

If it wasn’t obvious before, I now state adamantly that I am not a proponent of GMO’s. Government policy will irrevocably destroy the little rags of culture that we have left and impoverish women farmers further. Apart from the alarming coverage over the media about the tyranny of Monsanto, Syngenta and the untold harm GMO has already done in America and India, I would hesitate to seek the advice of a “scientist” who works with lab rats, as compared to my Aunt whose life was dedicated to nourishing her husband and a brood of kids including myself, and whom was patient enough to answer my millions of questions – these scientists do not answer questions.
I cannot in all honesty put my trust in GMO companies however insensitive and assertive their sales personnel are, and however they may market their products. They have three missions:
A. One is to establish all the seed in the world and create a monopoly of seeds, or a dependency population – which they have done already in America,
B. the second aim, is to make money. Profit for shareholders is the bottom line, and we are millions of humans in Africa. We witnessed a hint of the greed of the American Corporations and shareholder gains and losses during the BOEING scandal when it was found out that they knowingly sold faulty equipment, after the crash of an Ethiopian Airline where all passengers were killed. Despite the anguish of the families and the tragic loss of human life a continent away, the company ‘marches’ on, and pays it’s ‘shareholders’. Capitalism will kill Africa.
C. Land for Debt. The suicide death toll of farmers across India is 100 per day, and is linked directly to Monsanto and ‘debt for land’ hardwired contracts that are brutal for the land owner. India is an agrarian country with around 70% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Through a corrupt government, farmers are forced through punitive laws to buy seeds or use sprays that are sold by the GMO conglomerates. Failure of the crop results in the farmer unable to pay back his debt, whereupon Monsanto takes over the land immediately ‘in an effort to repay the loan’. But the land take – over is permanent, even after Monsanto recoups its’ losses and recovers all monies. The land does not revert to the farmer. By the time the lawyers get through the thousands of cases to prove that Monsanto’s contracts were fraudulent, the family is traumatized, unable live off their farm land, are hungry, destitute and in servitude (not self-governing).
This conceited commercialization of seeds and land is why GMO companies disregard our women farmers so very flippantly – and they’re in Africa – being bullies to our mothers in the field who are growing traditional food crops and selling their seeds to their njirani’s (neighbors). These Women, are Monsanto’s imagined competitors and greatest enemy. The continuation of sharing seed knowledge around the world does two things, it destabilizes a GMO profit and turns markets (humans) away from them.  One of the many sarcastic questions flung out like a double-edged dagger with a flick of the wrist by men in sharp suits is the field of knowledge ” …how can an African peasant woman who has never been to school, who knows no english, have the know-how of a scientist? GMO is good!” My blood used to boil at this prejudicial and discriminating question, but today my reply is simple and quiet, and I don’t bother stating that my Aunt like many farmers, was a teacher and educated scientists. “Women work in the reality of the earth, while scientists work on theories. And we all know that a theory is a theory is a theory, and is not PRACTICAL.  Secondly, we’re not ‘practicing’ life out here in peasant Africa, we’re living it. When we experience ‘crop failure’ the PTSD that follows is as atrocious as it is life-and mentally threatening. We’re not lab rats. We’re real people.”
Women, our culture being lobbed aside – there must be a concerted effort to protect ourselves as Africans, as Kenyan women, as mothers and sisters! There should be more women rallying us, standing up and shouting NO MORE, stopping this dancing and skipping to the GMO pied piper lunatic tune towards making our mothers destitute and our children desperately ill.

Let’s go back to 2017, and I quote, 
“Tanzanian Farmers Face 12 Years In Prison For Selling Seeds As They’ve Done For Generations.

Seeds might not seem to have much to do with digital technology, but the DNA that lies at their heart is in fact digital information, and thus many of the issues that concern Techdirt also apply here. One of the key battlegrounds for seeds and their ownership is Africaas discussed back in 2013. The Belgian site Mondiaal Nieuws has an update on what’s happening in Tanzania. Things aren’t looking good there following a change in the relevant law:

“If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa”. Michael Farrelly, Organic Farming Movement, Tanzania. Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300 [about 21 BILLION Tanzanian shillings, a mind-boggling illogical sum for a poor Tanzanian ], or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.  “That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day”, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).
The article indicates that “certified” in this context means patented. That’s obviously a problem for small-scale farmers, since they would be unable to afford to go through the patenting process, even if that were even a realistic option. For multinationals like Syngenta or Monsanto, by contrast, patenting is as natural as breathing, and so the new system will strengthen their hand considerably.
“As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. “Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.”

Here’s why this is all happening:

Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What is particularly regrettable here is not just the loss of biodiversity, and the fact that African farmers will be beholden to Western corporations, but that the NAFSN program will achieve the opposite of its stated aims, which is ending up taking away what little independence Tanzanian farmers enjoyed under the traditional seed system. No wonder, then, that last year Members of the European Parliament called for the NAFSN to “radically alter it’s mission”.  Judging by what’s happening in Tanzania, there’s no sign of that happening. ” Glynn Moody, TechDirt, 2017.
How far then should we allow the Government to dislodge us from our cultural seats – from a millennia of knowledge that is inherited and taught by deed and memorizing, and not examined by writing or spoken English or by our foreign British accents? Different strokes for different folks NO? For how long shall we allow our Government and the Elite men in those spaces who are the pushers of the GMO licenses to parrot their lies to us – lies that will enrich them alone, lies that come from an America and a company that is already embroiled in the dangers of anything that is genetically modified?

Global Bully Beefs

Two (2) years ago I went to look a field that was dead – over chemicalized by a farmer. The poison was sold to her by ‘government people’. it’s a common story and sight, and many of us have thrown our hands up in the air – for these agents walk around peddling the poison as weed-killer. Who suffers? She does, because she would have to wait 4 years for the land to revert to normal. She was holding a new born baby in her arms and crying, not knowing what to do. “I put in all my energy, all my whole being,” she said – “but see – everything is dead, I only got one crop, the next one this one died. ” 

100 years ago, there was hardly any cancer in this part of the world and it has been stated recently that we are what we eat. Our mothers knew what we don’t teach today in a curriculum that debarred the “4K Clubs” for no good reason – that the African human body is alkaline, and not acidic, and this is the secret to our former balance and long physical lives. Now, the seeds that millions of indigenous women set aside in Africa, are the seeds that fed the people of this continent and they were healthy before colonization. I bring this timeline up again, as it is important for we as Kenyans to understand the implications. BC* (Before Colonization), we were a very healthy lot of individuals with incredibly long lives. 132 years later in 2019, those whom have developed the ‘supermarket syndrome’ are not only extremely unhealthy and plagued by disease such as asthma, heart diseases and blood diseases like Hbp, and Diabetes, a large number of Kenyans are totally dependent on daily medication from doctors – local or foreign. When we look at our lives, in the BC Early 1800’s, Black Africans did not have disease which decimated them in the thousands or millions. Today we have over 40 male politicians who are battling cancer, so not only are we being bullied by global conglomerates, WE ARE BEING LED BY ILL INDIVIDUALS!

In Brazil, among the indigenous women of Native America, in Tanzania and India, female Political leadership have risen up strongly against GMO’s.  They bludgeon the pretty GMO pictures and talk hard truths. Normally Tanzanian lawmakers would ‘prove’ their radicalism by blasting rival parties, state authorities, public corporations or ministers for shoddy work done or millions that go missing. They would hardly ever take a swipe at multinational corporation, much less an American one. Yet that is what happened in 2018 when Hon Halima Mdee called upon the government to sever its relations with the international seed company Monsanto, which is a major stakeholder in the country’s campaign for a “green revolution”. She reminded the government that the firm had caused farmers misery and suffering in many countries, including the US, where it is based. The company, known for the production of genetically modified seeds, has been blacklisted in India, Argentina, Chile and eight European countries because the seeds it sells to farmers at high prices have been a disaster, prompting some nations to institute legal action against it.
In 2017, Monsanto company committed $50 billion to “producing seeds for Africa”, but the firm is known around the world as a major producer of genetically modified seeds, which are harmful to both farmers and the environment. Given the company’s proven unscrupulous and ruthless reputation, our male leadership may have been misinformed but it is common knowledge these large multinationals have a tendency to use their financial muscle to compromise government leaders.
India herself has banned the use of the cotton seeds that were produced by Monsanto after Indian research established that they were a threat to both farmers and the environment. But before this, more than 1,000 farmers had committed suicide as a result of debts resulting from buying seeds from Monsanto at high prices, as farmers in India were forced to sign contracts – non payment to Monsanto for their seed would result in the land reverting to Monsanto. On being unable to pay for their seed because crops failed, many farmers in India lost their farms.
In collecting these stories from around the world I’ve learnt to question kindly. The answer is the same:- Given a CHOICE, a woman farmer would rather depend on her seeds or those of her friends because she KNOWS where they are from. In this effort to save the stealing of all seeds from women, many native women in America and India have broken the ‘laws’ and have began to collect and set aside indigenous seeds for the coming generations, creating links worldwide not just for the collection of organic seeds but for food knowledge and especially the medicinal value of what Mother Earth provides so freely.
I conclude with this article published in The New Yorker, 2014.
Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy, to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed. Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-GMO. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe was to focus attention there on “the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and GMOs.” At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world.  She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
Shiva began her fight for Indian Farmers in 2014. The least we as African women can do is learn from her and battle for our own billions upon billions of female farmers, so that GMO is not just halted but pushed out of this Continent.