Protect local crops from Monsanto

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th October 2010 03:00 AM

Dear fellow Ugandans, A week ago today, I wrote a letter to President Yoweri Museveni in which I outlined my strongest objections to the plan to test genetically modified (GMO) maize in Uganda. The letter followed a news report that the testing is a joint project of Uganda scientists and agro-giant

Dear fellow Ugandans, A week ago today, I wrote a letter to President Yoweri Museveni in which I outlined my strongest objections to the plan to test genetically modified (GMO) maize in Uganda. The letter followed a news report that the testing is a joint project of Uganda scientists and agro-giant Monsanto.

I raised the alarm because Monsanto’s record does not match its promise to help poor countries like Uganda feed their population. After the article appeared, I was inundated with e-mails and letters from very angry Ugandans and readers from around the world supporting the call to stop the planned GMO testing.

Titus Nalinda wrote: “Having researched on GMO and their effect, I have found that they are of no value to Africa and no country should seek to adopt and use them as a solution to anything.” Allan Agaba pointed out the many health problems experienced because of GMOs. He wrote: “The effects of these GMOs are clearly seen in the rampant diseases you hear about here abroad.”

Another reader Eseza Mulyagonja from Oak Seed wrote about the huge response she got after sharing the article with colleagues and friends. She wrote: “Everybody thinks we can do something to save ourselves from a group that clearly has diabolical intentions.”

Meanwhile on the recommendation of another reader, this past weekend I rented the documentary film, Food Inc. by Robert Kenner, and sat down with my sons Oceng, 12, and Ogaba, 7 to watch it. The film exposes how four or five huge US multinational companies control the production of beef, pork and chicken in America and how Monsanto is part of this sickening food monopoly.

To speed the growth of beef cattle, the animals are fed on maize (corn) instead of natural grass and, in some cases, even meat of other cows! The chicken are crowded in huge darkened barns with no natural light and fed on syrupy food instead of grain to fatten them within the shortest possible period for the market. The consequences are chicken that cannot walk or run but lie down under their own weight; hundreds die each day and are thrown away. The rest are shovelled into containers to be processed as food. Sickening and depressing!

Meanwhile, contributing to this huge business conglomerates is Monsanto which controls almost all the maize and soybean production in America. Monsanto, for example, patented the genetically-modified soybean in the 1980s, and by 2008, 90% of soybean in the US contains Monsanto's patented gene.

Farmers who want to grow maize or soybean have little choice but to buy GM seeds from Monsanto with the clear understanding that they cannot keep any seeds to plant the following year. Those rebellious farmers who continue to plant organic indigenous maize are constantly fighting to keep their field from becoming contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified maize. This is an almost impossible task because the winds blow the corn pollen far and wide. Unfortunately when their fields become contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically altered maize genes, small farmers must prove that they did not steal Monsanto’s seeds. Scared small farmers often pay up to avoid being ruined by Monsanto’s powerful lawyers.

In one scene, a farmer whose face is covered to hide his identity spoke of paying Monsanto rather than face ruin. Now, why am I telling you this? For the simple reason that if the planned GMO maize testing is allowed to proceed, it will take less than a decade for all the indigenous maize in Uganda to be contaminated with the Monsanto maize genes. Let any scientist of repute tell me to my face that “Opiyo you are dead wrong on this.”

Secondly, once all the indigenous maize in Uganda carry the genetically modified gene, the multinational will swoop in to implement Phase 2, namely, to start collecting money from farmers found to have cultivated crops bearing the genetically modified genes. They will claim that they own the intellectual property to the genes. Despite the promise not to levy royalties on poor farmers, it is only a matter of time before the entire country and continent is on its knees, beholden to Monsanto or another giant multinational.

But, this is more than just about money. This is about losing our farming heritage altogether. Indeed, as I sat with my sons watching the film Food Inc., it occurred to me that Uganda’s struggle to stop Monsanto and other big multinationals from bringing in GMO is similar to the biblical story of Noah who placed in his ark all manner of animals and seeds in order to preserve them during the flood. From the documentary, it becomes obvious that this is a fight to save naturally organic agriculture harvests.

By the way, have noticed that the acronym for Naturally Organic Agriculture Harvests is NOAH? Fellow Ugandans, here is one more fact you should know in fighting the planned Monsanto GMO maize testing. In Food Inc., those American farmers who insisted on leaving cows to graze on grass instead of eating genetically modified maize, and chicken to run freely eating worms and seeds as they do in many homes in Uganda, are reaping the financial benefits now. Consumers drive hundreds of miles to buy these organic food products rather than risk their health eating mass produced food. The lesson is simple: Let the beautiful long-horn cows in western Uganda remain long-horns and not something completely different.

So here is the deal. Today you must decide whether you are going to sit around and do nothing or become an advocate of NOAH. From village to village, town to town, you must mobilise against the threat of Monsanto and genetically modified seeds from taking over small farms, animals and homes.

In small groups, form chapters of Naturally Organic Agriculture Harvests (NOAH). There should be a NOAH-Kapsora, NOAH-Gulu, NOAH-Anaka, NOAH-Pakwach, NOAH-Kisoro, NOAH-Apach, NOAH-Serere, NOAH-Masaka, and so forth. The choice is yours.

Protect local crops from Monsanto

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