International biotechnology conference calls for a moratorium on genetically modified foods
Swiss Aid, 15 November 2011

Dar es Salaam - An international conference on Food Sovereignty calls for Government to suspend plans to spread GM biotechnology across Tanzania. The conference, hosted by international NGO SWISSAID, explores why communities around the world are rejecting GM foods and standing up for the rights of farmers and consumers to choose what they grow and what they eat.

Addressing the conference, SWISSAID’s visiting food sovereignty expert Tina Goethe congratulated Tanzania on having some of the best biosafety laws in Africa, but warned that agribusiness industry pressure to abolish the safety regulations would put millions of farmers at risk. She also outlined Swiss involvement in the ongoing GM Cassava research at Agricultural Research Institute Mikocheni, and expressed SWISSAID’s concern about it. She noted that Swiss company Syngenta the world’s second largest agro-chemical corporation with an annual turnover 50% higher than Tanzania’s national budget has also entered the Tanzanian market as a partner in the SAGCOT initiative and is linked to the controversial 800,000 acre Agrisol land deal in Rukwa.

Ms Goethe set out the global facts: that despite 20 years of industry investment in GM biotechnology, adoption by small farmers all over the world and in Africa has been poor, and the technologies have largely failed to live up to the empty promises of increased yields and incomes. 

She explained why Switzerland, despite its history of high-tech innovation, does not embrace GMOs. Swiss farmers prefer organic or conventional production. In comparison with GM maize and GM canola yields in the US, Swiss farmers achieve better results with their models of production. Swiss consumers are rejecting GMOs because they are concerned about its impact on their health, environment and biological diversity.

Ms Goethe shared the experiences of groups in West Africa, Latin America, and India, who are campaigning for the rights of farmers and consumers to protect their biodiversity, to be able to keep seeds from their harvest to plant the following year, and to be able to decide which agriculture system best suits their needs and circumstances.

Ms Goethe explained, “Genetic modification is now a human rights issue. Farmers should not lose the right to keep their own seeds, to grow and eat the food of their choice, to protect their biodiversity, their lands and livelihoods. Around the world rural movements and people in capital cities are protesting against the power of global corporations". 

The African Union, the United Nations, and 400 leading scientists from 60 countries including Tanzania agree on the need to develop sustainable alternatives to the high-input fossil-fuel dependent agriculture that is degrading the environment and accelerating climate change. They call for the adoption of modern agro-ecological methods that champion biodiversity, protect farmers’ rights, and benefit rural poor communities.

A spokesperson for Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO), an alliance of 15 Tanzanian NGOs and businesses, welcomed Ms Goethe’s visit saying: “This conference comes at very good time. The pressure is on to convert Tanzanian agriculture to a high-tech high-input GM model, while very few farmers are aware of what this will mean to their farms and their livelihoods. Yes of course Tanzanian agriculture needs increased investment, but it must be investment that conserves the environment and benefits the 4.8 million small farmers not just the 1,200 big ones. Hopefully the conference will help to make people aware of how much Tanzania stands to gain – and to lose.”