A network of about 40 civil society organisations working with smallholder farmers in Tanzania has cautioned the government against its plans to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country, saying stakeholders in the agricultural sector must be involved in approving the move.
“GM crops and foods have a potential negative impact on the environment, economy, culture and health,” the network said in a statement on Friday.
The network comprises PELUM, an umbrella body for 30 civil society organisations that work with farmers in 14 regions of the country, and then MVIWATA, a network of farmers’ groups in 17 regions of the country.
“Even GM [genetically modified] crop-producing countries in the north have been unable to ensure the safety of GM crops,” the organisations said.
They said GMOs reduced small-scale farmers into “slaves” for big companies in the rich countries, which have a monopoly of the technology, setting the stage for diminished food production.
“Blind adoption of the technology will bring a lot of problems to farmers as it will lead to dependency, loss of natural biodiversity, promotion of inappropriate farming systems and denial of farmers’ right to save, share and choose seeds to plant,” the network said.
The network was reacting to a decision by the government to form a team that would look at the feasibility of introducing GMOs in the country and to prepare relevant rules to govern imports.
Another environmental organisation, the National Environmental Management Commission (NEMC) said the threat of GMOs at global and domestic levels were real, particularly the impact on natural biodiversity.
“We may, for example, lose natural strains of maize after bringing in GMO maize seeds,” Magnus Ngoile, the NEMC director-general, told IRIN on Monday. “Likewise, GMO animals could wipe out the indigenous species if the imported ones have problems that could lead to disasters.”
However, he said because of globalisation, it was impossible to avoid the importation of GMOs, therefore, strong monitoring and control mechanisms must be put in place.
Ngoile said GMO seeds were normally patented and care should be taken to ensure the indigenous strains were not lost; otherwise the country would remain dependent on foreign firms forever.
“We must build up the capacity to control the imported stuff,” he said, “and where possible, we can allow the importation of maize flour instead of seeds.”