Does Ghana Have Anything to Fear From Monsanto?
Does Ghana — or Africa as a whole, for that matter — have anything to fear from Monsanto? The short answer is “yes.” Anytime a huge US conglomerate takes an active interest in developing nations or any geographic area perceived as being bereft of privilege, there is cause for concern.
I first heard about Monsanto while watching the documentary Food, Inc. I have to be honest: it was pretty terrifying stuff. The idea that one company had the power to change the face and nature of the types of food we eat, dictate how our crops are planted, and make farmers solely dependent on their agricultural products because the very nature of that product (i.e. seeds) had the capacity to alter the state of the very soil it was planted in so that nothing else but genetically modified seed could thrive there is a little disconcerting. The antics of the Greek god Ares come to mind, for some unexplained reason. I visualize carnage... carnage everywhere.
To hear a number of American farmers tell it, they feel “enslaved” to Monsanto. No doubt this sentiment arises from the voluminous contracts the company is the habit of handing out to those who be willing to make a deal with the Dark One. (You can read about it here.)
In fairness to Monsanto, the company has done some unquestionably impressive things in the realm of science since the company’s inception in 1901. Some of its more harmless achievements include creating and selling the artificial sweetener saccharin to Coke; it became the first company to start mass production of (visible) light emitting diodes (LEDs); and it gave us AstroTurf, which is an imperative must at the Super Bowl.
However, some of its more sinister inventions include DDT (which eliminated malaria in America, but destroyed bald eagle eggshells, sending the population into decline), Agent Orange (the toxic effects of which still persist 51 years later) and lastly, genetically engineered seed.
It is the last component that I am most concerned about with regard to Ghana in particular and Africa as a whole.
There is no doubt that Africa has a problem feeding itself. It is estimated that every 5 seconds, a child dies from a hunger related disease. As usual, and as it is with every African crisis, our leadership looks outside of its borders, way across the sea and into some Westerners’ science lab of carpeted offices for solutions to the same problems that these labs and offices created. Enter Monsanto. And Bono. And Kofi Anan. And President Obama.
Looking at the lineup, we should trust all of the gentlemen. They are Nobel Laureates and by the world’s standards, very intelligent and well-meaning individuals. The trouble is none of these guys are farmers; for if they were farmers, they would know better than to engage in this sort of sanctimonious frivolity which has gotten the Western world nowhere but fat, sick and nearly dead.
We don’t have to go very far into the past to see the future effects of genetically modified food. Take a stroll around Any Mall, USA, and you can see the direct effects of bovine somatotropin, a hormone injected into cows pituitary glands to increase milk production. Bigger udders on cows = bigger boobs on little girls. Throw a Σ and a few Ωs in there, and you’ve got yourself an equation for disaster. Other unforeseen consequences of genetically modifying our foods in such an aggressive manner include indecent acts against these unnaturally buxom young ladies of the R. Kelly variety, which then translates to increased prosecution rates and overcrowding of our prisons.
But for the purposes of our discussion today, we are looking to Africa’s fertile landscape... not the waxy surfaces of North Point Mall.
From the little that I have read on genetically engineered seed (GES), I have learned that these plants are extremely aggressive. They take over native crop varieties and either strangle them or at best, cause them to mutate. There is also the alarming phenomenon of Monsanto seed —marketed as ‘Roundup’ — causing glyphosate resistance, whereby overuse of Roundup creates aggressive, herbicide-immune super-weeds. In turn, these super resistant weeds require more toxic chemicals in order to suppress them. It’s the agro-equivalent of Super Gonorrhea.
Ghana, along with Tanzania and Ethiopia, has signed on for Phase 2 of the so-called Green Revolution, which in simplest terms is the business of creating ‘higher yielding crops’ (not necessarily higher quality) in Africa.
This is where I get stuck... because it’s obvious that someone in the Kufuor/Mills/Mahama administration did not do their homework before inking this deal (as usual) and putting the farmers — our country’s backbone — at risk. I smell a kickback.
I can’t speak for other African nations, but the fact is, Ghana’s feeding problems have less to do with output than how to get the product to market. How often have you driven through a village and seen women and children scrambling to sell their wares to passers through? Depending on the topography, they will all be carrying similar items: okro, garden eggs, tomatoes, and/or pineapples. People in the villages who carry out subsistence farming eat very well. Ironically, they produce more than they need to get by. The failure of the government, private industry and other stakeholders has been in engaging these farmers in a meaningful way, and helping them bring their goods to market in an efficient and cost effective manner.
Ghanaians die not only from hunger, but from malnutrition in alarming and needless rates. Because the cost of transporting food is so high, our diet is severely limited to basic carbohydrate saturated staples like kenkey, gari, rice and over fried fish, when we need to be eating more greens, fruits and legumes – which are grown in abundance. Tragically, every few months there are reports of crops tumbling from the sides of tipper trucks en masse, or worse, being left to rot in one production center or another because the lines of transportation were either ineffective or broken. Truthfully, there is no reason that a country that harbors iron ore in its hills and oil in its seas should not have an advanced rail system at the ready.
And now Ghana is going to let Monsanto come in with its high-bred GMOs to devastate the soil, alter our environment, and cause genetic mutations in our population because Obama and Bono said it’s an excellent idea? Tell me, someone, how do the major players plan to distribute this new-found genetically modified manna? On the wheels of ‘hope and change’? Pshaw!
Agriculture is big business, and there are billions of dollars at stake whenever these sorts of deals are hashed out. But at the other end of that of those negotiations also sits a mother who is trying to feed her family. How much consideration is she being given? Not much, I’d wager.