Opposition to GMOs growing in Tanzania
The Citizen Reporter, 1 May 2011
Dar es Salaam - In spite of the weight thrown behind it by the government plus all the media campaigns it receives, the Kilimo Kwanza strategy has never been music to the ears of many activists in the country. In their routine convergence last week, some activists from the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) had other ideas; putting the much hyped strategy on the chopping board. The strategy, likened to the Iringa declaration of 1972 which also prioritised the agriculture sector, Kilimo Kwanza seeks to breathe new life into Tanzania’s agricultural sector.
However, the activists deemed the strategy as one favouring large scale producers at the expense of the smaller ones, and completely locking out the marginalized.
They are of the opinion that the strategy could go away with the winds if some matters are not carefully redressed. “Kilimo Kwanza will never materialise if the peasants, who are main players, are not fully empowered,” says Dr Aida Isinika, one of the participants in the forum.
Dr Isinika argues that artisanal farmers had been left out when the strategy was introduced in August 2009.
“Believe me, farmers would not understand this slogan which they come across on banners and other adverts because they were not fully involved in the first place,” she told the attentive gathering at TGNP offices in the city.
Sharing similar sentiments was Mr Tom Laizer from the network of small scale farmers of Tanzania (MVIWATA) who is at pains with the way the government has been disseminating information on the policy to small farmers.
He says that such information has only been passed on to big farmers, mostly from foreign countries. “To top all, the distribution of agricultural equipment has become pathetic”¦marred by utmost corruption,” he noted.With this, Mr Laizer believes that small scale farmers have an uphill climb of liberating themselves, thanks to Kilimo Kwanza initiative.
The slogan of Kilimo Kwanza was launched in August 2009 with the promise of creating a “greener revolution” in Tanzania within the framework of the Agricultural Sector Development Programme (ASDP) which has been in place since 2005 to implement the Agricultural Sector (ASDS).
The ASDP is dominated by the public sector and therefore is subject to systems of accountability.
Conversely, the private sector through the Tanzania National Business Council (TNBC) developed Kilimo Kwanza in order to seek financial commitments from government and donors, ostensibly to address lack of transformation of the sector. The participants in the forum also highlighted problems of low use of improved technologies, low levels of irrigation and persistent use of the hand hoe. Others highlighted were low lending for agriculture and poor performance of traditional export crops.
According to the participants, Kilimo Kwanza had now become a mere slogan that did not have a clear vision, mandate or budget and as such cannot be relied upon to deliver an agricultural shift that was likely to benefit poor marginalized farmers. Dr Isinika emphasized that the concept of ‘green revolution’ was highly contentious: a revolution for whom?
“This is a mere deepening of capitalist agriculture with dispossession and marginalisation of the majority, as happened in many areas of Asia and Latin America”, she remarked.
According to her, a corporate led ‘green revolution’ is based on the massive use of petrochemical fertilizers and insecticides, and genetically modified seeds(GMOs) - all of which not only required substantive amount of capital but are also considered hazardous both to the environment and to human health.
She added: They lock producers into dependency on the products of corporate agribusiness.The participants also agreed that the main impulse for Kilimo Kwanza was the effort by large scale producers to get preferential treatment from the government for credit, tax exemptions and other subsidies.
They suggested that an equally challenging aspect of the current agriculture policy was its aggressive promotion of genetically modified seed technology (GMOs) which were tied to petrochemical farm inputs including fertilizer and insecticides.
“Critics in Africa and Asia have documented the way that GM technology locks producers into high cost capital intensive production which is beyond the reach of all but large scale corporate enterprises, and this could deal a huge blow on Kilimo Kwanza” says TGNP’s Executive Director Ms Usu Mallya.
According to the TGNP’s boss, the technology was environmentally unfriendly and ultimately unsustainable. Ms Mallya adds that agribusiness corporations benefit as providers of the farm inputs and equipment, as well as the buyers of the crops, through horizontal and vertical linkages in agriculture.
“Big banks benefit, given the high demand for credit so as to finance the GM package,” she notes. GM seeds have been programmed so producers would not recycle seeds for planting the following season, thus forcing them to return to the same agribusiness for seeds every year.
The activists were of the opinion that there was a growing worldwide movement to promote organic agriculture which based on alternative sources of nurturing the land, consistent with indigenous technology in African agriculture. Organic agriculture represents a more viable option for Tanzania agricultural producers however the government had endorsed instead the petrochemical package, in part due to persistent lobbying from corporate agribusiness and certain multilateral and bilateral agencies.
The GM package is currently being aggressively promoted in the country by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and by the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGC) in southern Tanzania, according to TGNP. Other of the largest corporate agribusinesses in the world are ‘partners’ in the SAGC, including Unilever, Yara International, Dupont, Stanbic Bank, Monstanto, SAB Miller, Diageo, Syngenta and General Mills.
Such companies are investing in Tanzania to profit from export of food and bio fuels, whose prices have skyrocketed on the world market; and not to provide food security or employment for Tanzanians. For her part, Professor Marjorie Mbilinyi, also an activist from TGNP expressed her skepticism over the realization of KIlimo Kwanza strategy if the government continued embracing GMOs technology.
“This is a setback to such a strategy, let us have our own ways of agriculture other than depending on GMOs,” she says . Professor Mbilinyi also wonderes why the government was struggling to meet its stated goal of allocating 10 per cent of the national budget to agriculture.The agriculture sector was allocated Sh 903.8 billion in this year’s budget (2010/11) ranking fourth after education, health and Infrastructure.
Commenting on the strategy, Mr Bashiru Ally from the University of Dar es Salaam notes that the brunt that the agricultural sector was bearing was a result of the previous governments despising the sector.“ One of our presidents sold out some potential companies, that is why we are all going through such an experience, how can a sector that contributes 26 per cent of our GDP be mismanaged,” he queries.