Burkina Faso is Not the World’s Guinea Pig

Concerned over the development of genetically modified organisms, Burkina Faso’s civil society and the Citizens’ Collective for Agroecology are mobilizing with a major march in Ouagadougou against GMOs.

Burkina Faso has been a laboratory for research and the development of biotechnologies for a decade: From Bt cotton (a variety that produces Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium resistant to certain insects) in the field; to tests aimed at increasing crop productivity and resistance conducted on maize, sorghum and cowpea by the Institut National de l’Environnement et de la Recherche Agricole (INERA); to the genetic transformation of mosquitoes supervised by the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS) to combat malaria. Civil society in Burkina Faso joined the Citizens’ Collective for Agroecology in a battle against GMOs and seed multinationals, in the name of biodiversity and food sovereignty.

From Bt cotton to genetically modified mosquitoes

In the early 2000s, Burkina Faso embarked on a highly secretive cultivation of Bt cotton, violating the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Since this violation of the sovereignty of the Burkinabè people, Monsanto has used Burkina as a kind of Trojan horse to test and spread GMOs (cash crops, food crops) throughout West Africa.

In 2008, Bt cotton was widely distributed in open fields, despite the concerns of independent scientists and Burkinabè civil society. Economically, the results were catastrophic for both producers and cotton companies, with many cases also showing the harmful consequences that the crops had on biodiversity. Faced with this predictable disaster, cotton companies returned to conventional cotton in 2016.

Sadly though, it is not yet time to hail victory. Indeed, experiments are continuing, and GMOs are gaining ground. Today, the threat to mosquitoes is high: as part of the Target Malaria project, genetically modified mosquito eggs have been introduced, with a target of breeding 10,000 sterile male mosquitoes. A first release into the wild is expected in the coming months, with all the risks and uncertainties that this implies for biodiversity.

What about food crops?

Research is underway on maize, cowpea, and a variety of sorghum called “biofort”. Funding for this comes from Monsanto, which supports research in Burkina Faso, without any real disclosure to the local population. This aims to privatize peasant crops and poses a serious threat to Burkina Faso and its food sovereignty. Thus, the erosion of many local varieties is likely to accelerate, despite these varieties being adapted to their regions and resistant to climate change. It is therefore important to raise public awareness of these risks, to promote good agro-ecological practices among family farms able, and to provide healthy and quality local produce and encourage their consumption.

What can be done to fight against GMOs?

Driven by the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the world, several associations charge the major seed companies of “ecocide”, or ecological crime. In April 2017, they symbolically tried and convicted American giant Monsanto in a “citizen court” organized in The Hague. Slow Food took part in the trial and continues to work with communities in Burkina Faso to protect their food sovereignty. The fight against GMOs in Burkina Faso is far from over, there is much work to be done. To add your voice to the chorus, participate in the march against GMOs, on June 2, in Ouagadougou.

From mosquitoes to food crops, we must protect biodiversity!

Find out more about Slow Food’s stance on GMOs here


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