Tanzanian civil society and private sector organizations have come together to express their concern about the impact of GM technology on smallholder farmers and the environment.
Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity is a coalition of civil society and private sector organizations concerned with the conservation of agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty. The members of the alliance share the aims of conserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable development, promoting farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty, facilitating exchange of information and experiences concerning sustainable and healthy agriculture policies and practices, ensuring public awareness on issues of concern to the environment, agriculture and biodiversity, and promoting citizen involvement in the decision-making processes which guide the development of biotechnology particularly GMO.
Previously officially GM free, Tanzania has now opened the door to GM biotechnology. Research on GM cassava and field trials of WEMA maize have already started and Tanzania Cotton Board has announced their decision to introduce Bt cotton. Biosafety legislation is in place and regulators are under industry pressure to relax the strict liability clause, one of the last barriers to widespread introduction of GM crops. Alliance members believe that Biosafety regulations should be based on the precautionary principle and are convinced that introduction of GM crops or animals is not the right solution to fight poverty and hunger.
Organic farmers in Tanzania – around 100,000 of them, mostly smallholder cocoa and cotton farmers with a few acres each - are waking up to the threat of GM contamination, which would render their products unmarketable and destroy their main source of income. Tanzanian farmers and decision makers need to fully understand the potential impact of GM biotechnology, and ensure that the views of civil society are being taken on board in developing GM plans.
Just a few weeks old, the alliance has already brought together campaigners, organic exporters and NGOs including African Centre for Biodiversity, ActionAid International Tanzania, Biolands, BioRe, BioSustain, Envirocare, PELUM Tanzania, Swissaid, and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement. The alliance joins similar movements in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda, to resist the Africa-wide pressure from the US-driven biotech industry.
It is perhaps predictable that agribusiness corporations are selling a top-down technical fix for African food insecurity and poverty. But it is clear that the problems of African farmers are multi-faceted, including poor access to land, water, credit and investment, tried-and-tested technology, farm machinery, training, markets, roads, energy, and services. Rather than be seduced by the promise of high-tech miracle seeds, it is surely these issues that should be the focus of development efforts and resources.