By Our Reporter
KAMPALA, Uganda [SHIFTMEDIA] “He who owns the seed owns the food.”’ This is the slogan that has kept hopes for East African farmers live for decades,
But this hope begun to fade the moment Kenyan new president Dr William Samuel Ruto lifted the 10 year ban on Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) in a surprise announcement that he made soon after assuming office last year.
Not taking any chances for granted, the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) along with other food activists, SLOW FOOD Uganda filled a petition in the East African Court of Justice calling for restoration of the ban.
Seed is East Africa’s gold mine which deserves utmost legal protection. Seed is the only source of livelihood to the majority of smallholder farmers especially in rural communities. However, the paradigm shift of handing over the seed system to a few corporate companies will immediately erode away the glory of not only the smallholder farmers but also the African rich diversity.
CEFROHT Executive director David Kabanda who led the team of high profile lawyers that filed the case at the Supreme Court in Kampala on Friday noted that the East African region is under attack by GMOs after Kenya’s cabinet allowed open cultivation and importation of GMOs on 3rd October 2022.
“GMOs create an open monopoly resulting in the economic exploitation of smallholder farmers amidst the already crippling economic environment. The African Charter on Human and people’s rights restricts States parties from embracing all forms of foreign economic exploitation particularly those practiced by international monopolies so as to enable their people to fully benefit from the advantages derived from their national resources.” said Kabanda
Amidst the discussions on GMOs in Kenya, the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community creates clear legal obligations which bar GMOs. “Among the fundamental principles laid down by the Treaty is peaceful coexistence and good neighborliness. It also creates legal obligations to partner states to promote the development of good nutritional standards and the popularization of indigenous foods. Under the Treaty, East African Community has taken all the necessary steps to improve coexistence by encouraging free movement of goods including seed among the member states.” explained Kabanda. In regards to enforcement, the Treaty established the East African Court of justice
The President Slow Food International Eddie Mukiibi said: “This decision is not only ruthless but unreasonable and illegal”. Mukiibi said that all East African countries had taken bold steps towards eliminating open cultivation and importation of GMOs Kenya inclusive whose ban was announced on 8th November 2012. However, this is no longer the case in Kenya.
Despite the Kenyan Government’s reasons for allowing unrestricted cultivation and importation of GMOs, there are many unanswered questions of toxicity, allergic reactions and suppression of the immune system to the human being. GMOs further threaten the realization of the right to adequate food, because food must be free from adverse substances and fit for human consumption. GMOs undermine food and seed sovereignty, and the cultural diversity of communities to the food system.
The Global Perspective
Globally, only 4 companies control 60% of the proprietary GMO seed sales and this unprecedented level of control raises significant concerns over the erosion of agri-biodiversity, farmers’ rights to seed and livelihoods and, food security.
However, all hope is not lost in achieving the right to adequate food in the East African region since about 80% percent of the population lives in rural areas and engage in agriculture. This serves as an opportunity to promote agro ecology, food security, food and seed sovereignty using a human rights-based approach through observing the rule of law. In light to the security of tenure, smallholder farmers’ rights to land should be of paramount consideration to avoid land evictions.
It is therefore critically important that action is urgently instituted in the East African Court of Justice, as a legal strategy to promote and protect the right to adequate food, livelihoods, health and environmental rights for the present and future generations.