Agriculture Is About Culture…It Is About Life!

In Abuja on Tuesday, 08 October 2013, Farmers, farmers associations, representatives of Communities, government agencies, international agencies, business, civil society groups, faith based organisations and the media spent a day at HOMEF organized workshop to discuss hunger politics.

Whistle while you work

The workshop focusing on Stopping the False Nutritional Kite & Understanding the Convention on Biological Diversity was held at the Protea Apo Apartments, Abuja. Since her launch in August 2013 with the multi-city HOMEF Sustainability Academy, HOMEF has engaged the Nigerians in such educational forums to produce resolutions on political and social responses to environmental justice, climate change and food insecurity.

The Director of HOMEF and lead instigator, Nnimmo Bassey, welcomed the participants and specially recognized the farmers who left their farms for a whole day to learn from experts on the policy dimensions of food and share their wealth of experience on food production. Bassey, while welcoming participants stated, “We are here because the world is facing a serious issue, not because food isn’t being produced but because food being produces isn’t reaching people. In fact, one-third of the food being produced is wasted. ” He continued by saying, “Agriculture itself is not just about food, it is our culture and farming itself has implications not just for nutrition but for the environment.” He also mentioned that he thinks farmers are important because small-scale farmers are feeding the world and will continue to do so. He also reiterated that “hunger and nutrition have become items for political manipulation but we won’t surrender our agriculture to forces of manipulation.”

Mr. Rufus Ebegba, a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Environment and an expert on biosafety issues, engaged the participants in a clear way that everyone could easily understand the rather complex issues of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Mr Ebegba although a public officer, is also a professional agriculturist and environmental biologist.

Mr. Ebegba emphasized, “The Earth’s biological resources are vital to humanity’s socio-economic development.” According to him, “Nigeria is currently in the process of developing a policy to avoid piracy of information on biological interest in the country.” He says that this is in response to the 4th article of the Convention on Biological Diversity that grants countries sovereignty over the biological diversity within their territories. However, he says that biodiversity must for no reason be depleted because such losses may become irreversible. He continued by saying that, “Nigeria is reviewing the national plan to adopt conservation strategies in its mainstream policies.” On the subject of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their implications for health of humans and the environment, Mr. Ebegba implores Nigerians to support a law which will regulate GMOs because, according to him, “without a law, you cannot guarantee not eating GMOs in Nigeria and we don’t want to become blind consumers.”

The workshop continued with a presentation on nutrition from Ms. Oluwayemisi Olowookere (RD), a certified dietician and nutritionist working with a General Hospital in the Federal Capital Territory. She joined the discussion from a nutritional angle, defining natural foods as those that have not been altered significantly through processing by the use of flavoring, antibiotics, hormones or genetic engineering. She also said that “food is the basic necessity of life.” According to her, “One Great Plate of food should be made up of 1/4 whole grains, 1/4 lean proteins and 1/2 fruits and vegetables.” According to her, “moderation is key as no single food can contain all the nutrients one needs.”

The workshop featured space for interactions and debate as well as a group activity session that produced solutions relevant for all the stakeholders in the hunger politics discourse. Mr. Adu Yarmia Charles who is the National Program Coordinator for the Association of Small Scale Agro Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN) asked why stakeholders such as small farmers do not have their voices represented during key conventions where important decisions concerning Nigeria are taken. Another pertinent question raised was that of Mr. Etiosa Uyigue of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who asked what the penalties were for countries who defaulted from the objectives of the CBD.

Madam Juliana Odey, a 72-year-old farmer who is popularly known as Mama Cassava, spoke eloquently on her opinions on GMOs. She said that she did not support their infiltration of the Nigerian market as the uncertainties surrounding them urges caution. “Where do we come in here,” she said, “I’ve been frying garri since I was 10. We don’t understand what these policies mean and so we don’t want chemicals or GMOs. I’ve grown my own food since I carried the Union Jack and I know we don’t need GMOs.”

Participants were encouraged to continuously keep their government representatives informed of their opinions and concerns on matters concerning food and GMOs. According to Mr Ebegba, “we must empower our farmers with enough resources and power to participate because the government represents the people at higher levels of discourse but farmers must remain involved.”

Participants agreed to always be ready to engage in public debates and to keep in mind that government policies are not cast in stone and can be changed where they are not in line with our quest for food sovereignty and the preservation of our biodiversity.

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