Transforming the FISP to diversified agroecology practices in Pemba District, Southern Province, Zambia

 

The third in the series of four farmer exchange meetings in Zambia
took place in July, in Pemba District, Southern Province.

Through a partnership between the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB), Kanchomba Farming Institute (KFI) hosted the field visit and dialogue, together with Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC). The 58 participants included farmers and representatives from local organisations and the Department of Agriculture.

This region’s generally hot, dry climate has been exacerbated by severe droughts in recent years. The current farmer input support programme (FISP), with its strong bias to chemical fertilizers and hybrid maize seeds, has not resulted in sustainable farming practices nor has it enhanced climate resilience.

The objective of the meeting was to exchange ideas on transitioning to a smallholder support system for diversified agroecological farming, with discussions on topics including farmer seed, organic soil fertility management, water harvesting, intercropping and mixing livestock and crop farming.

Indigenous seed is a vital part of sustainable organic practices. And yet, while 75% of seed is still accessed through the farmer seed system, the knowledge of how to maintain indigenous seed varieties, which is linked to the preparation of local foods, is under threat.

But there are glimmers of hope, with local groups having initiated their own exchanges and training on seed multiplication, which has flourished into the creation of a community seed bank and demonstration plots. The meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on progress made and what should follow.

Please click here for the briefing.

“Sustainable organic agriculture is environmentally friendly. We do not introduce harmful chemicals into the soil or pollute the water. It is acceptable to our local culture. Just as we won’t introduce harmful chemicals into the soil, in the same way we won’t introduce things into our communities that are harmful. Sustainable agriculture involves a lot of effort and planning, but as time goes on, it is more fruitful and more profitable. There is a lot of indigenous technological knowledge we have. In agroecology we tap that knowledge and put our ideas together with science.”
Brian Chavwanga, Kanchomba Farm Manager

Transforming the Farm Input Support Programme (FISP) to diversified agroecology practices in Shibuyunji District, Central Province, Zambia

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This is a second briefing paper to come out of farmer exchange events held in Zambia in May. The first exchange took place in Kalulushi District, Copperbelt Province, and you can find that briefing paper here. Then a second exchange was convened in Shibuyunji District, Central Province, where the objective was to continue sharing ideas on transitioning to a smallholder support system for diversified agroecological farming.

In Zambia, food and farming systems have changed rapidly, and for the worse. Increasingly, farmers use chemicals and poisonous inputs, which they need to purchase. The nation’s agriculture budget subsidises fertiliser and seed through the Farm Input Support Programme (FISP), which enriches big companies while soils are impoverished and a few crops take over the diverse local traditional crops.

Bingo Farmer Field School (FFS) hosted the field visit and dialogue, through a partnership between Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB) and African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB).

Participants visited the host farmer Mercy Shibeleki’s kitchen garden and the farm of Noel Chalimbwa, a seed custodian working with CTDT. The visits sparked discussion on the technical merits of various agroecological techniques, including production and use of manure, compost and organic liquid fertiliser, and dealing with pests.

Moving from the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) to Agroecology in the Kalulushi District, Copperbelt, Zambia

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This briefing highlights key issues raised at a farmer exchange and learning event held in May 2019 in Kalulushi District, in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia.

The overall objective of the meeting was to share and exchange ideas on transitioning to a smallholder support system for diversified agroecological farming. Participants discussed the roles that farmers, government and other organisations can play, as well as how to involve youth.

The Zambia College of Horticultural Training (ZCHT) Chapula, Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB) and African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) co-hosted the field visit and dialogue.

Fifty-six participants attended, which included farmers from cooperatives in the district and representatives from KATC, Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), ZAAB, Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA), East and Southern Africa Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Zambia, ZHTC-Chapula and ACB; as well as the National Coordinator for Public Agricultural Colleges, the Ministry of Agriculture Kalulushi District Agricultural Coordinator (DACO), extension services and agronomists, and journalists from the National Agricultural Information Service (NAIS).

“I urge farmers to interact and discuss what they know, and to come up with resolutions to inform government to transform the farm input subsidy programme [FISP] into a long-term sustainable programme.” – Joseph Phakati, Principal, ZCHT Chapula

“Climate change has come to stay and it is real. Usually they talk of the southern part being affected but even Central Province where I come from was badly affected this year. I am a beneficiary of FISP, and so are other farmers, who are producing mostly monocultures. But some did not get even one cob from the field. When you add urea, you are adding to the dryness of the field. It is being used as a booster. You are boosting the crop, not the soil.” – Mary Sakala, farmer, Rural Women’s Assembly, Mumbwa

“I am trying to do organic farming. When you go to the farm you can see different types of things – small ruminants, broilers and local chickens, production of medicines for vaccines and treatment. I am doing minimum tillage. I use wild plants to treat pests in the small garden. There is still a challenge of soil pests – nematodes. I use manure and liquid manure for foliar fertiliser. Some methods are in the process, some are already matured. I started cultivating the land using conservation, not burning after harvesting but rather burying residues in the soil, also diversification, increasing the number of crop types, and using ashes to remove insects.” – Theresa Mataka, farmer, Kalulushi

Securing equitable farmer support and the transition from the Farm Input Subsidy Programme in Zambia

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We are pleased to share with you this discussion paper, co-published by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB).

In Zambia, as in many other African countries, decisions related to food production and consumption increasingly lie outside the control of those responsible and accountable for food and nutrition security at both household and national level.

Farmer support is almost entirely directed at subsidising smallholder uptake of Green Revolution (GR) technologies, which is based on the flawed claim that if farmers can access finance and commercial inputs they have an opportunity to break the cycle of rural poverty. Thus, they are supported to produce monoculture commodity crops to sell for cash, in order to be able to purchase food from the commercial retail sector. The result is reduced, rather than increased, local farmer and consumer agency, and their collective power and sovereignty over food and farming choices.

And, in the long run, GR technologies externalise the real costs of production, which is borne instead by the environment, by the public health system coping with chronic widespread malnourishment and non-communicable diseases, and by future generations forced off the land: often into urban slums, unskilled, hungry and unable to live fully functional lives. This is coupled with the dislocation caused by climate change – driven in itself by GR and the industrial trade-orientated global food system.

This discussion paper provides an overview of the well-documented policy and development challenges related to farmer support in Zambia and then focuses on some of the more systemic and cross-cutting issues that are of growing concern. It can serve as a foundational working document for a broader Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) project and will be used as a basis for further dialogue within ZAAB and in wider engagements with the multiple stakeholders involved in crafting a more equitable food system in Zambia.

Farmer support needs to be reconceptualised to encompass systematic long term enabling of smallholder farming systems in their entirety – aimed at building local resilience rather than undermining it. This is a foundational principle of farmer and peasant organisations around the world in their calls for systematic support to agroecology and the fulfilment of people’s demands for food sovereignty.

Download Pdf:    Securing equitable farmer support and the transition from the Farmer Subsidy Input Programme in Zambia

PRESS RELEASE, 07/03/2019

PRESS RELEASE, 07/03/2019

There is public outcry over news that the ban on GMO food in Zambia has been lifted. Questions were raised as to “whether the ban on the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms food stuffs (GMOs) is still in effect” in The National Assembly on 27 February 2019.

According to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), by presence of the Biosafety Act 2010, imported food containing processed products of GM crops, are allowed into Zambia, as long as they go through a strict application and safety testing process by the NBA, full public consultation processes are upheld, and final products are labeled.
LIVE GMOs ARE NOT ALLOWED IN ZAMBIA – i.e. GENETIC MODIFICATION OF LIVING ORGANISMS, AND THE PRODUCTION OF GM CROPS REMAINS PROHIBITED.
The Minister of Health responded to questions in the National Assembly on the 27 February 2019, with some open-ended comments related to the safety of consuming food products containing GMOs (27.02.2019)1. These statements have now been picked up by the international Pro-GMO Public Relations (PR) groups that are publishing with triumph, that Zambia has changed its position on GMOs. This is false, fake news, generated and pushed by the Biotech industry.
Zambia’s NO-GMO position has not changed and no legislative changes have taken place. An initial Pro-GMO PR article was published internationally by The Genetic Literacy Project2 with fake news on Zambia, 4 March 2019. Those who look a little below the surface see that this ‘project’ is funded by ‘a front group that works with Monsanto on PR projects without disclosing those ties’ (The United States Right to Know has very detailed record of these dealings3). It is the same family of Biotech promoters, as those funding the African Biodiversity Network of Experts (ABNE), who are supporting the Zambia Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and NBA, to draft the new guidelines for live release of GMOs.
31 CSOs, farmer and consumer groups wrote to the MoHE and copied all other relevant Ministries in December 2018, raising serious objection to the bias interference in Zambia’s legislative drafting processes, and resultant undermining of human rights. Many Zambians are horrified by the NBA announcements that even some licenced GMO containing food products are sold in Zambia. Many of these are unlabelled and the authority lacks necessary capacity to control this. The country certainly does not have the capacity to regulate the release of live GMOs, nor cover the opportunity costs of lost export agriculture markets, long term public health bills and destruction of the farming sector to the power of corporate control. CSOs, research institutions, concerned consumers, farmers and churches, continue to call on Government to protect Zambia’s people, their health, environment and the national economy.

END.
For more information contact: ZAAB Chairperson, Mr Emmanuel Mutamba
1 https://diggers.news/local/2019/03/01/gmos-safe-for-consumption-health-minister
2 https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/03/04/zambia-lifts-ban-on-gmo-imports-says-biotech-crops-are-safe-to-consume/
3 https://usrtk.org/tag/genetic-literacy-project/

Ongoing national concerns; consuming GMOs without consultation and changing policy spaces

PRESS RELEASE, 27/02/2019

The ZAAB has been engaging with the NBA and governing ministry regarding GMOs since 2010. Major concerns at the time were: unregulated and unlabeled imported food containing GMOs; the lack of institutional capacity and funding to adequately address the wide range of issues and challenges related to modern biotechnology use; and the increasing foreign lobby push for Zambia to change its non-GMO position. The NBA have worked hard to better regulate imported processed foods containing GMOs and enhance public communication. Given the difficult economic constraints as a publically funded agency, we applaud and are grateful for their concerted efforts. There  are two broader issues that the ZAAB remains concerned about. These have not been addressed properly, nor is the public adequately aware.
Our concerns relate to the two different aspects of GMO governance in Zambia:
1) The importation of processed GMO food products
2) The ongoing policy amendments to change the country position on production of LIVE GMO crops.
We deal with the first issue: The importation of processed GMO food products and the limitation to public participation
The NBA are working hard to ensure food products are regulated and go through the correct licensing processes.
The ability of the public to object to these imported products, as per their legislated rights, is however extremely constrained. In order for citizens to participate in the pubic consultation process and object to GMO food imports, they must physically visit the NBA offices in Lusaka, and are then allowed to view only the non-confidential elements of the application dossier. The application details may not be copied electronically or distributed to those not in the capital city. Objections based on scientific analysis, submitted within the 30 day window, are then considered by the NBA scientific advisory board. The admired position and legacy of Late president Mwanawasa was that all citizens, and the nation as a whole, have a right to be protected and fully engage in GMO decision making processes. This was not limited to those privileged and able to compile scientific objections. It also included consumers concerned about social, economic, cultural and ethical issues. It considered market gaps, or opportunities to instead protect Zambia’s market and enhance value addition and support local livelihoods. For importers to simply publish an advert in two newspapers and submit an application dossier to the NBA offices – that is only accessible to an elite minority in Lusaka – does not constitute public consultation. This argument is backed up by the fact that the NBA has never
received a scientifically considered objection to an application. Given public opinion, the lack of objections does not reflect the wishes of the Zambia public. It instead reflects the inaccessibility and limitations of the public consultation process. Many citizens have recently been horrified to find out that GMO processed products are
entering Zambia and that the ACT actually facilitates this. The public have a right to a broad and accessible consultation process, to effectively engage in decision making on GMO products. If public consultation processes cannot be duly filled, then perhaps the products should not be imported and Zambia’s non-GMO market protected and local diversified production and processes supported instead? The second issue we raise relates to: The ongoing policy review processes and national concerns, that are unaddressed by the Ministry of Higher Education and related authorities In September 2017, the NBA/MoHE held an exclusive initial consultation process on a new draft of the national biosafety policy, in collaboration with COMESA and NEPAD. In December 2018, another exclusive meeting was held, in collaboration with Gates funded ANBE, to develop regulations for the release of LIVE GMOs in Zambia. I.E. the production of GMO crops. ZAAB fully appreciates that ministries update policies from time to time and that stakeholders have been promised national consultation on this matter. HOWEVER, if the Ministry of Higher Education and the NBA are indeed neutral in their policy position, then why are they allowing pro-GMO institutions to help craft Zambia’s new national policy and regulations – that in draft are written to favour the promotion, of GMOs? The ABNE is funded by the Gates foundation that has spent millions of dollars trying to develop GM
crops and smooth the regulatory environment for the introduction of GMOs across Africa. The ABNE may be the advisory body to the Africa Union, of which Zambia is a part, but this does not mean that as citizens we should just accept their role in writing national policies that are meant to protect and uphold sovereign interest. The NBA has shot back at ZAAB and other CSOs for objecting to the ABNE and Gates influence in national policy development, arguing that it made economic sense to use experts available to it through the continental body, despite their well-known pro-GMO position. We remain opposed to this biased interference in national legislation drafting.
If the Ministry of Higher Education does not have the financial resources to draw on local expertise to craft its policy documents, then it does not have the financial resources to manage live production, adequate nation-wide testing, control export and imports, or contamination of seed and local food systems. It cannot deal with long term ecological, social and health impacts; loss of biodiversity, further malnutrition and soil infertility. It certainly
does not have financial resources to compensate the economic opportunity costs of changing Zambia’s advantageous NO-GMO position. The primary element within the current National Biosafety Policy of 2003, is its basis on the
precautionary principle, and directive for strong liability and redress. These are the two major aspects of the national legislation that will be weakened if amendments are approved.

Until then, GMO producers (biotech industry) will not apply for license in Zambia, because they do not want to be held accountable for the negative consequences or contamination arising from their technology. Industry have made this clear and hence why they want policy changed.

The ABNE is a key service provider within the Programme for Biosafety Systems and the Agriculture Biosafety Support Project, launched by the United States to fight back against the strong precautionary stance taken by African countries in the development of the Cartagena Protocol (something that Zambia proudly stood by). These high profile projects of the US aim to align African and Asian policy environments with the USA goals: the widespread adoption and acceptance of GM food from the US, enabling dumping of GM food onto local markets and control of African agriculture production. The International Services for the Acquisition of Agriculture-biotech Applications (ISAAA), recently quoted in media and known for their unsubstantiated statistics to boast of adoption of GMOs around the world, are part of this same US backed project, funded also by private sector itself. ZAAB wants policy makers to recall where Zambia’s GMO history comes from. As far as the people of Zambia are concerned, Zambia remains a NO-GMO country. The NBA mentioned that this was the ‘old position’. For this position to change though, requires the citizens of Zambia to firstly, demand for this change. It is not for multinational seed and agro-chemical
companies or pro-GMO policy lobby bodies to enable this change.

ZAAB appreciates that the NBA are working hard to increase public communication mechanisms despite minimal public funding. We recognise that the MoHE has assured the public of consultation prior to policy changes; and applaud decision makers working to ensure this happens in a genuine manner. However, we remain with extremely concerned citizens who ask why given economic constraints, the Ministry is going ahead with developing regulations that will fundamentally change Zambia’s GMO position, and accepting support from pro-GMO policy lobby groups in the policy re-drafting phases. It is well documented that global GM crop production has primarily benefited transnational corporations and the wealthy, rather than the poor and hungry of the world. We again appeal to the Ministry of Higher Education, the NBA and related decision makers to uphold the best interests of Zambia’s people, as well as its economy; to implement commitments to diversify the agriculture sector and enable the realisation human rights for all.

END.

For more information contact:
ZAAB Chairperson, Mr Emmanuel Mutamba
network@zambianagroecology.org

Notes to Editors: ‘Modern Biotechnology’ and the resultant Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are defined
as different to ‘Conventional Biotechnology’ or traditional breeding, as the application of the “Fusion
of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or
recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection”
(IAASTD, 2008).

Joint CSO statement on the weakening of Zambia’s bio-safety standards-11/01/2019

ATT:

P.S Ministry of Higher Education

Maxwell house, Los Angeles Boulevard

P.O Box 50464,

Lusaka, Zambia

C.C:

P.S. Ministry of Agriculture

P.S Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries

P.S Ministry of Justice

P.S Ministry of Commerce

P.S Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources

Honorable Members of Parliament

House of Chiefs

Dear Sir / Madam,

 Zambia Must Continue To Uphold The Highest Biosafety Standards 

Zambia’s approach to the use Modern Biotechnology[1] and the use of genetic engineering in the food and agriculture system has rested on the Precautionary Principle. The objective is to maintain the highest biosafety standards, thereby ensuring Human Rights are upheld, national sovereignty maintained, economic market interests protected and the health and well being of people and the environment prioritised.

In the past 14 months, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has developed  a new draft of the National Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy, and is now forging ahead with the process of developing regulations for live Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Zambia. We  are witnessing how the NBA is being influenced by, and prioritising  international and regional trade and policy lobbyist, whilst minimising the policy opinion of national stakeholders.

Recent collaboration with the African Biodiversity Network of Experts (ABNE) to develop the regulations for the updated new draft National Policy, allowing for works on Live Modified Organisms (LMOs) is seen as particularly problematic. The ABNE has a clear objective to promote the use Modern Biotechnology, including new technologies under the broad umbrella of Synthetic Biology[2]. This  is a biased influence in the National Policy formation process. The NBA are required to hold a neutral position. Their recent collaboration and deliberate exclusion of local actors brings their position and actions into serious question.

The NBA is a public institution mandated by the people of Zambia and maintained through tax payer money. The NBA has a directive to work for the peoples’ best interest and to ensure that their rights to prior information and public consultation are duly fulfilled.

We the undersigned strongly object to the recent moves by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to radically change the national position on genetic engineering in the food and agriculture sector.

Acknowledging this, we:

  • Demand that the NBA consult the people of Zambia if indeed they actually want the National Position of No-GMOs revoked, before continuing to forge ahead with proposed new policy and regulations that are incongruous with current national opinion;
  • Reject the influence of the African Biodiversity Network of Experts (ABNE) in the formation of our policy and law and call on the governing Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) to intervene appropriately;
  • Call on the NBA to stop prioritising the interests and policy stance of international and regional institutions over and above national interest groups and policy experts;
  • Call on the MOHE to explain how the country will compensate financially for the opportunity costs of export market losses after Zambia loses its GMO free reputation; how they will finance the required international standards for regulatory systems to be effectively institutionalised, and expand regulatory testing and monitoring facilities country wide; respond to downstream ecological effects, contamination and loss of livelihoods; finance the long term public health bill, especially resulting from increased use and consumption of GMO associated systemic agro-chemicals.

Therefore – as people of faith, in agriculture training institutions, civil society, farmers and consumers alike, we raise our voice of concern at the NBAs determined attempts to weaken biosafety standards regardless of public opinion and interests.

We support our leaders in their efforts to prioritise the interests of Zambia’s farmers and diversify the agriculture sector to enable sustainable and healthy production systems.

Presented and signed:

  1. Action Aid Zambia
  2. Africa Consumer Union (ACU)
  3. Birdlife Zambia
  4. Caritas Zambia
  5. Centre for Environment Justice
  6. Chimwemwe Farmers Association
  7. Chongwe Organic Produces Association
  8. Civil Society for Poverty Reduction
  9. Community Technology Development Trust
  10. Consumer Unity Trust Society – CUTS Lusaka
  11. ESAFF Zambia
  12. Grassroots Trust
  13. Green Living Movement
  14. Greener World Alliance
  15. GreenFox Organics
  16. Kaluli Development Foundation
  17. Kanyongoloka Multipurpose Cooperative
  18. Kanuseka Cooperative
  19. Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre
  20. Katuba Livelihood Project (KLP)
  21. Luumuno Farmers Association
  22. Luili Farmers Club
  23. Mumbwa Cooperative Union
  24. Mumbwa Seed Growers
  25. Mwange Women farmers’ Association.
  26. Nyausenga Farmers’ Association
  27. Rural Women’s Assembly Zambia
  28. SCOPE Zambia
  29. Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA)
  30. Zambia Land Alliance
  31. ZNFU Mumbwa


[1] ‘Modern Biotechnology’ (as opposed to ‘Conventional Biotechnology’ or breeding) means the application of the “Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection” (IAASTD, 2008).

[2]The umbrella term, Synthetic Biology, (i.e. artificial / unnatural) describes next generation genetic engineering tools that facilitate and accelerate the “design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems” (CBD operational definition). Techniques incorporate DNA/RNA synthesis (building DNA/RNA from scratch in the lab), sequencing, Genome Editing and Gene Drives. The results enable designing and making biological components or ‘parts’, altering organisms’ genetic sequences and modifying living organisms with new synthetic traits for agricultural or ecosystem changes. Gene Drives are artificial genetic traits inserted into the DNA of a sexually reproducing organism. This creates a new Gene Drive Organism (GDOs). GDOs are designed to pass on a specific engineered trait to all their offspring. By releasing a few organisms, an artificial trait can be deliberately spread throughout an entire population, either to alter the population or cause it to crash (die out).

Zambia supports the global call for a moratorium on Gene Drive releases- Press Release 15/11/2018

The citizens of Zambia, have repeatedly stated their absolute objection to Modern Biotechnology and the production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Today, this position is reiterated as we support the global call for a moratorium on Gene Drive releases, including applied research such as open field trial releases, until there is further understanding of the potential risks and technical issues. We request our National Representatives to do the same at the upcoming 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity due to take place in Sharm El -Sheikh, Egypt 17-29 November 2018.

The global meeting in Egypt will discuss new and highly controversial genetic engineering technologies. Extreme and invasive forms of Genetic Modification (next generation GMOs) under the umbrella term of Synthetic Biology, are being rapidly developed and commercialised. Significant economic disruption is expected especially on the economies, livelihoods and biodiversity of countries in the Global South[i]

Synthetic Biology is currently globally unregulated and categorically undermines the Precautionary Principle and Human Rights for free, prior and informed consent. Proponents of Synthetic Biology –  big agro-food and pharmaceutical corporations, together with philanthropic capital – are pushing for African countries to accept this new technology. The premature push absolutely disregards the unknown risks and long term effects on whole ecosystems and human populations.

Today, ZAAB has released an open letter to the delegates who will represent the people of Zambia at the upcoming global meetings (The Convention on Biological Diversity COP 14 and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP 9). The open letter calls for the Zambian representatives to uphold the best interests of the people of Zambia, who have continually stated their outright objection to the use of genetic engineering.

“We raise our concern regarding the considerable unknown risks associated with new SynBio technologies; the inability to contain organisms following both field trial and commercial releases, the inability to regulate trans-boundary movement of Gene Drive Organisms (GDOs); the issues surrounding monitoring, assessment and liability; and the need for free, prior and informed consent.

We therefore call on you to uphold the best interests of Zambia, her citizens and her environment and future generations. Africa has been the site of foreign and corporate exploitation for many years, and synthetic biology poses an extreme new era of manipulation and control”[ii].

Further information:

What is Synthetic Biology?

The umbrella term, Synthetic Biology, (i.e. artificial / unnatural) describes next generation genetic engineering tools that facilitate and accelerate the “design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems” (CBD operational definition)[iii].

Techniques incorporate DNA/RNA synthesis (building DNA/RNA from scratch in the lab), sequencing, Genome Editing and Gene Drives. The results enable designing and making biological components or ‘parts’, altering organisms’ genetic sequences and modifying living organisms with new synthetic traits for agricultural or ecosystem changes.

What are Gene Drives?

Gene Drives are artificial genetic traits inserted into the DNA of a sexually reproducing organism. This creates a new Gene Drive Organism (GDOs). GDOs are designed to pass on a specific engineered trait to all their offspring. By releasing a few organisms, an artificial trait can be deliberately spread throughout an entire population, either to alter the population or cause it to crash (die out).

The logic behind new technologies? 

The logic of synthetic biology, gene drive or genetically modified organisms, in agriculture relies on the continued deception that exceedingly complex problems in the food system can be resolved simply by new high-tech innovations.

Industry claim is that new technologies could make some agricultural or human pests go extinct, reduce pesticide use, and speed up plant breeding and synthetic production of food. The risks associated with this new and rapidly developing technology have not been measured nor the public consulted.

The potential for the creation of invasive GDOs capable of spreading engineered genes in the wild takes one of the worst scenarios envisaged for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and turns it into a deliberate industrial strategy. While first generation GMOs mostly spread engineered genes by accident, GDOs will be designed to do their own engineering among wild populations out in the real world. Their spread to those populations would be deliberate. Scientists behind gene drives have only just begun to ask what would happen if the genes aren’t quite as well behaved as their Mendelian models intended. What if genes for female sterility, for instance, which have been shown to eliminate mosquito populations in the lab, transferred to species that pollinate our crops or are a food source for birds, reptiles, even humans? What if genes that were beneficial became disabled, or if genetic disruption increased the prevalence or altered patterns of diseases? (ETC Group, Forcing the Farm, 2018).

 The ongoing undermining of Zambia’s ‘no-GMO’ position

Citizens of Zambia have always been strongly opposed to the use of modern biotechnology to produce GMOs. Government leaders have supported this position. In 2017 however, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) called an initial review meeting of the National Biosafety Policy, that is in-fact recognised as a model policy by countries around the world. The initial proposed amendments were specifically in interest of weakening the Precautionary Principle and removing clauses related to liability and redress (i.e. owner pays for problems incurred). The original, alarmingly small and exclusive meeting held by the NBA in September 2017, Livingstone, was dominated by NEPAD/ AU and COMESA representatives.

The AU has recently released a very premature endorsement of Gene Drive technology and the imminent release of GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. The first Live Modified Organisms (LMOs) to be realised on the Africa continent, despite the significant public outcry.

The ZAAB is highly alarmed by the close relationship between the Zambian NBA, the AU and other regional trade groups, who seem to be driving our Zambian agenda. The AU / NEPAD and COMESA have a clear bias towards the promotion of genetic engineering and facilitating increased corporate concentration in African food systems, that disregard public demands, local livelihoods and the long term economic interest of African states.

Citizens around the world have fought for decades against powerful corporations that dominate public discussion and sway regulations to favour profit over people’s best interest.

Up until this last year, Zambia has remained strong in upholding its citizens’ position that Zambia is a No-GMO country. The ongoing review process by the National Biosafety Policy is extremely concerning, especially given the very biased pro-GMO agenda that has been the undercurrent of discussions thus far and seemingly aimed at completely altering the national position.

The public still awaits further communication from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, that is overseeing the National Policy review process.

We, the members to the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity, and citizens of Zambia, call on our National representatives to uphold the best interests of the people and not be swayed by the powers of multinational corporations and their foreign policy allies.

[i] www.synbiogovernance.org (ACB, TWN and ETC Group)

[ii] ZAAB, Open Letter to the Zambian Delegation to The Convention on Biological Diversity COP 14 and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP 9, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 17 – 29 November 2018)

[iii] www.synbiogovernance.org (ACB, TWN and ETC Group)

ATT: Representatives of the people of Zambia to the Convention of Biological Diversity-14/11/2018

 

Dear representatives of the people of Zambia to the Convention of Biological Diversity,

We wish you well in your travels to Egypt and the critical negotiations you will undertake on behalf of the citizens of Zambia.

We understand the nature of the discussions at this year’s CBD COP will be highly controversial and critical in determining the future course of humanity’s use and manipulation of genetic resources – and in turn –  the impact of nature on humanity.

Of particular concern to us, are the discussions related to synthetic biology and gene drive technologies, digital sequencing, and their overarching biosafety standards.

The current proponents of synthetic biology are proceeding under the false assertions of experiments in the interest of public health. However, the developers of new SynBio technology themselves state that the real use and profits from the technologies are to found in the food and agriculture system. The strong push for the unregulated expansion in the use of these new technologies is driven by foreign corporations and philanthropic capital that facilitate the further control of global pharmaceutical and agro-food chains.

The establishment of the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol, were in recognition of need to take a precautionary stance when dealing to new unknown technologies and regulate the capital exploitation of genetic resources and living organisms; to protect biodiversity – and thus humanity – from harm.

In the past decade, the topic of new genetic engineering techniques (‘synthetic biology’) has risen up the agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). New technological approaches such as genome editing and rapid DNA synthesis are being commercially applied with significant economic disruption expected, especially on the economies, livelihoods and biodiversity of countries in the Global South.

Zambia citizens repeatedly state their absolute objection to Genetic Modification, and now its extreme versions found in Synthetic Biology. Africa has been the site of foreign and corporate exploitation for many years, and synthetic biology poses an extreme new era of manipulation and control.

We reiterate our public position that Zambia remains a No-GMO country. We raise our serious concern regarding

the considerable unknown risks associated with new SynBio technologies and their disruptive effect on local livelihoods and ecosystems;

the inability to contain gene drive organisms following both field trial and commercial releases,

the inability to regulate trans-boundary movement of GDOs;

the issues surrounding monitoring, assessment and liability;

and the need for free, prior and informed consent, particularly with regards to lands and territories of indigenous and local communities as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 The advances in synthetic biology present clear risks to the environment, health and biodiversity of the African region, and threaten livelihoods. The current regulatory environment needs to be updated and reviewed to stay abreast of these advances, with particular attention to the environmental release of synthetic biology organisms. Of especial concern is the potential deployment of gene drive systems, where even regulations pertaining to contained use should be reviewed with extreme precaution. Benefits sharing, with regards to digital sequences, should also be reviewed, since open access to digital sequences is likely to facilitate further biopiracy and profit extraction of African plant resources.

We support the global civil society call for a moratorium on gene drive releases, including applied research such as open field trial releases, until there is further understanding of the potential risks and technical issues.

Together with our international civil society partners, we ask you to put precautionary governance ahead of this fast-moving and disruptive field and ensure Parties:

  • urgently agree to not release gene drive organisms;
  • implement stringent contained-use standards to prevent accidental releases;
  • put in place the means to detect, identify, monitor, track and test for the presence of synthetic biology components, organisms and products; and,
  • establish the means for rapid horizon scanning of new developments
  • Synthetic Biology could also be formally identified as “a new and emerging issue,” reflecting its substantive and recurrent presence in the CBD’s programme of work.

We therefore call on you, our national representatives to the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 14 and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP 9 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to uphold the wishes and best interests of Zambia, her citizens and her environment and future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zambia’s Position on GMOs and the Revised Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003 March 2018-7/03/2018

Zambia must continue to uphold the highest biosafety standards

Zambia’s approach to biosafety since the development of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003 has been cautious and aimed at ensuring high standards of human, environmental and socio-economic well-being. We are alarmed that the biotech industry is eroding this approach in favour of promoting and protecting the interests of that industry. We reject this shift.

Key concerns in the revised policy include:

  • Abandoning the precautionary principle in favour of creating incentives for innovation for industry. This shift means moving from the aim of protecting against harm to promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by reducing safety procedures;
  • Shifting focus from “GMOs” to “biotechnology” thereby wrongly implying that GMOs are as safe as other forms of biotechnology such as conventional breeding or tissue culture;
  • Removing provisions on liability and redress. These made producers of GMOs responsible for paying for and cleaning up damages arising from GMOs;
  • Increasing the focus on intellectual property rights that are skewed in favour of corporations and away from communities;
  • Broadly promoting the benefits of GMOs as described by the producers of GMOs, without interrogating the many problems associated with the technology, such as increased indebtedness of farmers, quality issues in Bt cotton, development of insect and weed resistance, loss of markets due to consumer rejection and many more;
  • Falsely asserting that GMOs will benefit smallholders; and
  • Dismantling current institutional arrangements with no clear replacement structure that clearly outlines new responsibilities, hierarchies and procedural pathways.

Potential risks of GMOs must be recognised:

Governments around the world retain a precautionary stance to GMOs. There is an extensive body of literature that highlights many risks associated with GMOs, these include that:

  • GMOs and related pesticides and herbicides pose health risks
  • GMOs pose environmental risks
  • GMOs are not appropriate for smallholders
  • GMOs contribute to corporate control of the food system
  • GMOs restrict access to markets thereby threatening livelihoods

Real solutions to hunger, poverty and degraded environment must be sought

The fact remains that Zambia is facing a series of crisis level challenges currently – socially, economically and ecologically. Poverty and inequality has risen exponentially. We are now ranked as one of the most malnourished countries in Africa. Women are affected the worst across the board.  These are long term developmental crises.

The majority of the our population rely on agriculture and local food system related livelihood activities – from production through to formal and informal retailing in both urban and rural areas. Very well-known problems farmers face in Zambia are lack of market, late delivery of and cost of inputs, lack of accessible land, soil infertility, erratic rainfall and lack of irrigation, lack of infrastructure, lack of extension services, lack of social and infrastructural support to retailers and traders (exemplified by the recent chlorella and trader dislocations). None of these problems that keep our population poor – and our youth malnourished and restless – are going to be solved by GMO proposed solutions.

Therefore we state:

If we are to face climate change and deal effectively with environmental degradation, poverty, hunger and the extensive malnutrition due to lack of diverse diets in Zambia, it is vital to invest in farming systems that are designed to create resilience and social equity.

We fully agree with the findings of the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that GMOs have primarily benefited transnational corporations and the wealthy, rather than the poor and hungry of the world. The IAASTD found little solid evidence to support claims that GMOs have contributed to equitable or sustainable development or will do so in the future, but instead raised substantial questions about their social, health and environmental impacts. This is same stand that Late President Mwanawansa stood for years before, and the same principled stand that all subsequent Presidents have remained steadfast in upholding.

We have been assured by the New Minister of Agriculture that Government position on GMOs has not changed. Zambia as a nation remains opposed to GMOs – and citizens have a right to say no to GMOs if they so wish. Therefore – as people of Faith, in agriculture training institutions, civil society, farmers and consumers alike, we raise our voice of concern and distress about the attempts to amend the exemplary National Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy. We support our leaders in their efforts to prioritise the rights of small holder farmers in Zambia, over and above foreign neo-colonial agriculture systems that extract wealth from the poor and from the country, and undermine the health of our families, our farming systems and our environment.

We ask Zambia’s leaders to remain strong; to resist and reject the unjust and unethical efforts of foreign pressure to weaken national laws for the benefit of corporate profits.

Signed: Emmanuel Mutamba, ZAAB Chairperson,

7 March 2018

Download PDF  ZAAB postiion statement 7 March 2018 2

Position on GMOs and the Revised Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003 March 2018

Position on GMOs and the Revised Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003
March 2018

Zambia must continue to uphold the highest biosafety standards

Zambia’s approach to biosafety since the development of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003 has been cautious and aimed at ensuring high standards of human, environmental and socio-economic well-being. We are alarmed that the biotech industry is eroding this approach in favour of promoting and protecting the interests of that industry. We reject this shift.

Key concerns in the revised policy include:

• Abandoning the precautionary principle in favour of creating incentives for innovation for industry. This shift means moving from the aim of protecting against harm to promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by reducing safety procedures;
• Shifting focus from “GMOs” to “biotechnology” thereby wrongly implying that GMOs are as safe as other forms of biotechnology such as conventional breeding or tissue culture;
• Removing provisions on liability and redress. These made producers of GMOs responsible for paying for and cleaning up damages arising from GMOs;
• Increasing the focus on intellectual property rights that are skewed in favour of corporations and away from communities;
• Broadly promoting the benefits of GMOs as described by the producers of GMOs, without interrogating the many problems associated with the technology, such as increased indebtedness of farmers, quality issues in Bt cotton, development of insect and weed resistance, loss of markets due to consumer rejection and many more;
• Falsely asserting that GMOs will benefit smallholders; and
• Dismantling current institutional arrangements with no clear replacement structure that clearly outlines new responsibilities, hierarchies and procedural pathways.

Potential risks of GMOs must be recognised:

Governments around the world retain a precautionary stance to GMOs. There is an extensive body of literature that highlights many risks associated with GMOs, these include that:
• GMOs and related pesticides and herbicides pose health risks
• GMOs pose environmental risks
• GMOs are not appropriate for smallholders
• GMOs contribute to corporate control of the food system
• GMOs restrict access to markets thereby threatening livelihoods

Real solutions to hunger, poverty and degraded environment must be sought

The fact remains that Zambia is facing a series of crisis level challenges currently – socially, economically and ecologically. Poverty and inequality has risen exponentially. We are now ranked as one of the most malnourished countries in Africa. Women are affected the worst across the board. These are long term developmental crises.

The majority of the our population rely on agriculture and local food system related livelihood activities – from production through to formal and informal retailing in both urban and rural areas. Very well-known problems farmers face in Zambia are lack of market, late delivery of and cost of inputs, lack of accessible land, soil infertility, erratic rainfall and lack of irrigation, lack of infrastructure, lack of extension services, lack of social and infrastructural support to retailers and traders (exemplified by the recent chlorella and trader dislocations). None of these problems that keep our population poor - and our youth malnourished and restless - are going to be solved by GMO proposed solutions.

Therefore we state:

If we are to face climate change and deal effectively with environmental degradation, poverty, hunger and the extensive malnutrition due to lack of diverse diets in Zambia, it is vital to invest in farming systems that are designed to create resilience and social equity.

We fully agree with the findings of the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that GMOs have primarily benefited transnational corporations and the wealthy, rather than the poor and hungry of the world. The IAASTD found little solid evidence to support claims that GMOs have contributed to equitable or sustainable development or will do so in the future, but instead raised substantial questions about their social, health and environmental impacts. This is same stand that Late President Mwanawansa stood for years before, and the same principled stand that all subsequent Presidents have remained steadfast in upholding.

We have been assured by the New Minister of Agriculture that Government position on GMOs has not changed. Zambia as a nation remains opposed to GMOs – and citizens have a right to say no to GMOs if they so wish. Therefore - as people of Faith, in agriculture training institutions, civil society, farmers and consumers alike, we raise our voice of concern and distress about the attempts to amend the exemplary National Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy. We support our leaders in their efforts to prioritise the rights of small holder farmers in Zambia, over and above foreign neo-colonial agriculture systems that extract wealth from the poor and from the country, and undermine the health of our families, our farming systems and our environment.
We ask Zambia’s leaders to remain strong; to resist and reject the unjust and unethical efforts of foreign pressure to weaken national laws for the benefit of corporate profits.

Signed: Emmanuel Mutamba, ZAAB Chairperson,
7 March 2018

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