Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deliberate GM Contamination of Kenya's Maize?

India's notorious genetically modified (GM) cotton plantations, which even Monsanto now admits are a failure, were not established after consultation or adequate research. The GM seed was introduced surreptitiously and spread far and wide and was eventually accepted on the grounds that it was too late to avoid it. Monsanto have profited considerably from this 'accident', having upped the prices for their seeds and other inputs many times over the years. One of the many failures of these GM seeds is that fertilizers and pesticides need to be used in ever increasing quantities.

Now, the pests have developed resistance, no amount of pesticide will control the problem. Yet Monsanto's solution to this is to roll out a new version of their GM cotton seed, with a new set of inputs and even higher prices. The seed has contaminated much of India's cotton growing areas and much of the country's arable land. But no amount of destruction is enough for Monsanto. They want to control what India does with its cotton and, eventually, all its other agricultural products.

I have argued elsewhere that what happened to India could also happen to other countries and whole continents. Well, it seems like someone is already trying to contaminate Kenya's staple crop, maize, with GM maize. 40,000 tonnes of GM maize was imported from South Africa earlier this year, at a time when the country had a surplus of the crop. A Kenyan company called Louis Dreyfus Ltd imported the stuff. It is sitting in Mombasa Port right now.

Questions are being raised about how this could happen and worries are being expressed about some of the possible effects of GM contamination. It is possible that some Kenyans are confused about the dangers that GM contamination poses. If this consignment were distributed and used as seed, farms directly affected would also contaminate farms around them. Maize is the most commonly grown crop here and it's grown for Kenyan consumption.

But other crops, grown for export, could also become contaminated. One of Kenya's top exports is fruit and vegetables and much of it goes to Europe. Europe has fairly strict laws about allowing the importation of GM contaminated foods. Kenya could end up exporting very little. Tea and coffee are also among its top exports but they too could end up being compromised by GM contamination. Anyone who thinks that opposition to GM foods is just anti-scientific, luddite or in any way mistaken should do some reading up on the subject.

One wonders who is behind allowing GM products to enter the country, who could profit from such a move? Has it happened before and is Kenya's maize already contaminated? And will this consignment of contaminated maize be allowed to be distributed or will it be sent back to South Africa, who have already fallen for the GM trick? I don't feel very confident about the future for some of Kenya's most important exports.



Anonymous said...

Across Africa HIV transmission is highly correlated to maize consumption. Maize is the major source of both aflatoxin and fumonisin which are connected to the transmission and progression of HIV. Aflatoxin also promotes opportunistic infections in HIV infected people. Fundamental to the issue is that Africa's food supply is commonly contaminated with mycotoxins that suppress immunity and nutrition. Sadly maize is productive but also vulnerable.

Simon said...

Thanks for your comment Anonymous, I have certainly never heard about a possible connection between HIV and aflatoxin poison, though I know such poisoning is common in parts of Africa, such as in Kenya right now. I'll see what I can find out!

It's interesting how the worst HIV epidemics are sometimes associated with former British colonies and Anglophone countries, which tend to have worse prevalence rates than non-British colonies. Also, maize was introduced by colonials and used as payment for work. In East Africa, the mills for grinding maize are called posho mills, posho being the word for wages.

I see maize as slave food but in Kenya, people are pathological about it and don't consider anything else to be real food. It keeps people undernourished and it is not too resilient against prevailing conditions, not being indigenous, so it also keeps people poor and dependent on food aid. I'm sure it could be associated with many developmental and social problems.