From Kenya’s Daily Nation comes the headline:
Farmers planting maize that poses threat to humans

Farmers in one of Kenya’s largest grain-producing areas have been cultivating genetically modified maize that is potentially harmful to human health without knowing it.

The Sunday Nation can exclusively report that the relevant seeds are sourced from a South African company that is a subsidiary of Dupont, a leading US-based biotechnology firm.

This was revealed to the Sunday Nation by officials of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), a body that brings together 45 farmer groups, NGOs and civil society bodies.
. . .
After tests, it was conclusively established that the sample was contaminated with traces of MON810, a genetically modified maize variety owned and marketed by Monsanto, an American biotechnology company.
. . .

Long-running suspicions

The revelation confirms long-running suspicions among many Kenyan farmers that they could have been cultivating genetically modified varieties of maize without being aware of it.

“Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately,” said Isabel Wandati, a farmer and official of a women’s group in Butere.

She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize and blames the Kenya Bureau of Standards for not properly inspecting the relevant maize variety.

She adds that instead of arming farmers in Butere with the relevant information on the variety, the local agricultural extension officials have been championing its cultivation.

There is now a danger that the country’s entire maize crop could be contaminated with traces of MON810. This is because maize is a cross-pollinated crop and pollen that bears traces of MON810 might be transported by wind from contaminated farms into uncontaminated ones.

The variety is patented by Monsanto and is banned in several European countries because of its negative impact on the environment and its harmful consequences on such useful insects, such as butterflies and bees.

Research conducted in some European countries had shown that feeding mice on the variety damaged their kidneys and livers.

However, its effects on humans is yet to be fully studied since maize is generally not used as human food in Europe and America. It is instead fed to horses and other domestic animals.

Once the country’s maize crop is contaminated with genetically modified varieties, Kenya risks losing traditional hybrid varieties that were painstakingly developed by KARI at the taxpayer’s expense.

Genetically modified grains are injected with bacteria that produce poison to kill nuisance pests and resist adverse weather conditions.

However, these poisonous bacteria have the downside of potentially destroying the soil by killing helpful bacteria and insects. Also, they compromise food safety and might prove to be harmful to humans over time once the grains are consumed.

From come these findings:

Since approving the MON810 in 1998 there have been a host of studies that have shown alarming results

for example:

  • A study by Swiss researchers found fewer flying insects in Bt maize fields. Flying insects are important food sources for insect-eating birds and bats.2
  • A study published in 2003 found that earthworms feeding on Bt maize litter showed a weight loss compared to a weight gain in earthworms feeding on nonGM maize. Earthworms are extremely important for nutrient cycling in soils.3
  • A study in Switzerland found that the Bt toxin could still be detected in soil the following year after the Bt maize was harvested.4

In fairness to Monsanto, I don’t think it is only African agriculture they wish to colonize and control. I think it is the whole world. But the complicity of governments promoting the use of these seeds needs to be checked. Kenya’s entire maize crop is at risk, and may already be contaminated. The farmer’s words are most worrisome Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately” and that: She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize. This sounds like they may be using terminator seeds. The plants are genetically engineered so that the seeds are sterile, forcing the farmers to buy new seed each year, rather than save and plant seeds from the previous crop. Populations are exposed to famine just because they may not have money to buy new seeds. Lives are dependent on the seed vendor. The vendor, or government sponsor, can trap the farmers in a cycle of debt, pricing seeds so that the farmers are forced to borrow each year in order to plant, and never escape debt.

GM, genetically modified, seeds can cross pollinate and contaminate non GM crops. Supposedly to prevent this, Monsanto has developed seeds that are sterile. Unfortunately they can still cross pollinate. The resulting seeds can’t grow, which is an additional contamination. The seeds that have been genetically modified not to grow are called terminator seeds.

In the past I have been skeptical of the people crying about GM foods. I have wondered if some of the fear was more superstition than science. The more I read, the more I realize there are serious reasons to be wary and skeptical of GM food. Even contained experiments have cross polinated outside of their contained zones. The west needs to do its research and experimentation at home. And it needs to provide some conclusive evidence of safety IF the seeds are safe.

One friend says that “I’m sorry” is the white man’s national anthem. He cuts off your brother’s head and then says “Oh, I’m sorry”, and you are supposed to take it.

It looks like the US is trying to colonize Africa militarily with AFRICOM, and colonize it agriculturally as well, with GM seeds and biofuel plantations. While this is not necessarily about race, there is a racial component. “I’m sorry” later on will not compensate for the suffering and destruction caused by these hugely mistaken approaches to the continent.

As another friend of mine used to say: Don’t be sorry, be careful.


It turns out the food or fuel competition over corn may be a much more serious and immediate problem than anyone realized. Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes:

World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History

Investment in fuel ethanol distilleries has soared since the late-2005 oil price hikes, but data collection in this fast-changing sector has fallen behind. Because of inadequate data collection on the number of new plants under construction, the quantity of grain that will be needed for fuel ethanol distilleries has been vastly understated. Farmers, feeders, food processors, ethanol investors, and grain-importing countries are basing decisions on incomplete data.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that distilleries will require only 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest. But here at the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), we estimate that distilleries will need 139 million tons . . . half the 2008 harvest projected by USDA.
. . .
This unprecedented diversion of the world’s leading grain crop to the production of fuel will affect food prices everywhere. As the world corn price rises, so too do those of wheat and rice, both because of consumer substitution among grains and because the crops compete for land. Both corn and wheat futures were already trading at 10-year highs in late 2006.

The U.S. corn crop, accounting for 40 percent of the global harvest and supplying 70 percent of the world’s corn exports, looms large in the world food economy. Annual U.S. corn exports of some 55 million tons account for nearly one fourth of world grain exports. The corn harvest of Iowa alone, which edges out Illinois as the leading producer, exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada. Substantially reducing this export flow would send shock waves throughout the world economy.
. . .
And this soaring demand for corn comes when world grain production has fallen below consumption in six of the last seven years, dropping grain stocks to their lowest level in 34 years.
. . .
The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year. (emphasis mine)
. . .
Soaring food prices could lead to urban food riots in scores of lower-income countries that rely on grain imports, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Mexico.

Already, the price of Mexico’s staple food, corn tortillas, has increased 400%.

Magdalena Antonio explains the process of making a tortilla – from corn to masa to tortilla.

After yesterdays post on the Jatropha curcas plant, I found an article in The Register today that shows the problem of food versus bio-fuel in starker form.

Demand for eco-friendly bio-fuels in the US is being blamed for a massive rise in the price of corn in Mexico. The recent 400 per cent increase in the price of a tortilla has driven thousands of Mexico’s poorest people onto the streets in protest.

Tortilla is a staple food in Mexico. To have the price go up 400% means a lot of people will be going hungry. Mexico grows corn, but has a large population, and in order to feed people, it imports corn from the United States.

The country has been entitled to cheap corn imports from the US for some time, under the terms of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. However, as demand for corn in the US has increased, driven by the manufacture of bio-fuels, the amount of corn available to Mexico has reduced considerably.
. . .
Corn is the staple grain in Mexico, and makes up the main part of the diet for many people. Since the surge in the cost of tortillas, many are spending up to a third of their income on the flat breads.

In Mexican farming, it is worth noting, they grow a:

combination of corn, beans and squash. It is a magnificent combination because the corn takes nitrogen from the soil, and beans fix that nitrogen in the soil. The leaves of the squash cover the land, the soil, and then keep the humidity in the soil for the growth of corn. The combination is very creative.

Producing bio-fuel can have a number of unintended side effects. Any land use planning in Ghana needs to put feeding people as the top priority. This example of the use and demand for corn in the United States and Mexico, should serve as a cautionary tale for Ghana.

I keep reading about various initiatives to grow Jatropha curcas in Ghana to use as bio fuel. I thought I’d find out a bit more. Here is a little bit of what I’ve been finding.

Bio fuel might be a very good idea as a short term or transitional power as we move away from fossil fuels. It has downsides as well as advantages. One of the major downsides it that land that is producing crops for bio fuels is not engaged in food production. If land is taken out of food production it means the price of food goes up, and food resources become more scarce. This is currently an issue in the United States with corn grown for bio fuel.

Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation’s bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars?
. . .
In 1998, about 5 percent of the corn harvest (526 million bushels) went into ethanol production, according to the National Corn Growers Association. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects ethanol producers to use upward of 2 billion bushels, or nearly 20 percent of the crop.
. . .
Considering that corn suffuses the U.S. food system — it’s the main feed for beef, poultry, egg, dairy, and hog production, and provides sweetness for candy, cereal, soft drinks, and other supermarket staples — its price can’t suddenly jump without causing repercussions.
. . .
Tyson CEO Richard L. Bond recently told investors. “Quite frankly, the American consumer is making a choice here … either corn for feed or corn for fuel.”
The Wall Street Journal recently explained succinctly why poultry prices will soon reflect corn’s new popularity as a fuel source. Because of higher corn prices, “It costs nearly a nickel more to produce a pound of chicken today than at the end of 2005, yet the 20-year average industry profit margin per pound of chicken is two cents. . . And adding a nickel a pound for whole chickens at the farm level will ripple up the food system.

The issue in Ghana is going to develop differently than in the United States, but it would be helpful to keep our eyes open and try to avoid the mistakes of others.

Jatropha curcas is a tough plant that is very drought tolerant, and will grow in marginal land. So it might be a useful plant to grow in some areas. But to put large tracts of land that have been, or could be, used for food production into Jatropha curcas or other bio fuel production, could hurt individuals and the economy, creating more hunger and malnutrition.