Big Biotech Looks to Make Third World Into West’s Genetically Modified Bread Basket

nigeria-800x520By Chris “Kikila” Perrin

GMOs (or Genetically Modified Organisms) — perhaps one of the sacred cow topics of anti-neoliberal, anti-globalization activist discourse, they are as confusingly scientific as vaccines and carry with them just as fervent criticism and defense.

For the most part, some of the suggested benefits of GMOs have fallen flat: Corporate claims that genetically modified crops provide an easy solution to the problem of world hunger have proven to be unsubstantiated, and the only positive results that GM crops tend to produce directly are those related to the wealth/poverty gap. Problematically, the biotech corporations that have created GM crops find refuge in the Global South — or so-called Third World — where corrupt governments appear happy to receive international money in exchange for turning their fields and populations into laboratories.

Since the beginning of the summer, the government of Nigeria has been quickly increasing the reach of companies like Monsanto, issuing permits that allow the establishment of GM crops in the country. Grassroots resistance has been immediate, and Nigerians are openly expressing their discontent at this decision that has the ability to directly impact local and national food security and sovereignty. It’s no wonder that the world, particularly among food security and anti-neoliberal activists, is watching Nigeria.

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GMO crops are a wonder. Developed in labs by scientists who nominally have good intentions, they are then copyrighted and patented, allowing the companies that employ these scientists to sue individual farmers for reusing seed, even when accidental.

If this were not startling enough, GM crops are often tied to development and sold to the Third World as a clear path to food sovereignty.

India, sadly, serves as the best/worst example of the social and cultural impacts of government-driven GM crops on a people. Devastatingly, India also serves as a perfect example of how closely humans are tied to the food system, and how top-down modification of this system can have destructive and costly effects.

More troubling, perhaps, is how corporate-owned GMOs are now tied to the very concept of development. In the Ukraine, GM crops and the private licenses and government-issued permits were linked to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank loans, ostensibly geared towards providing the Ukraine and Ukrainians much-needed capital to continue their Western development.

Rather than “development,” the Ukrainian and Indian examples, among others, have proven to be more than simply test cases for GM crops: They have become tragic contemporary examples of what David Harvey has called “capital accumulation through dispossession.”

Activists in Nigeria are ready. Provided they can learn from the examples in the Ukraine, India, and Mexico, there is hope that a solution can be found for the government placing corporate interests above those of the population. Yet the stakes are not so obvious, and anti-GMO activism in North America needs to learn quickly to stay ahead of GM legislation and corporate greed, particularly if the Third World is ever going to stand a chance. Even though the GM issue is often focused on legal ownership of modified seeds and the inability for local farmers to keep seeds to be planted in subsequent planting seasons, the depth of the problem stems from our incessant need for cheap, subsidized foodstuffs at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

GMOs provide the distraction, the battle to look at while the war is waging in the background. Even before the advent of GM crops, the West has been turning the Third World into its bread basket, forcing local farmers (who are often small-scale and subsistence-based) to turn their diverse fields into endless monocrops, none of which benefit their community.

If Nigeria is to re-attain food security and sovereignty, then it must be positioned within the global context of neoliberalism, with GMOs being the most obvious aspect of a larger picture that places North American and European food security over the wellbeing of food producers.

This article (Big Biotech Looks to Make Third World Into West’s Genetically Modified Bread Basket) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris “Kikila” Perrin and If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to [email protected]. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Mike Blyth.

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