African countries are being increasingly pressurized to adopt GM crops. In Mali which is the largest producer of cotton in SSA Farmers in the South West region of Mali have voted in a "citizens-Jury" against the introduction of GM crops. The farmers came to the decision after cross-examining 14 international witnesses representing a broad range of views on GM foods.
The jury was hosted by the regional assembly of Sikasso and facilitated by the "International institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and RIBios, the University of Geneva’s Biosafety Interdisciplinary Network."
The jury members were chosen by various local organizations. The farmers were chosen at district level and represent a diverse group including women and small scale producers. The project is a contrast to the traditional methods used by foreign investors in Africa which is to totally ignore the local community and their needs. In this case local farmers have been empowered and the project has helped them to better understand the issues around GMOs, the risks and the advantages.
How different this is from the multinationals operating in for example, Liberia, the forestry and rubber plantation corporations. The Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) and the Japanese owned Bridgestone who own two of the largest rubber plantations both have an abysmal environmental and human rights record in the country. They have behaved in a similar destructive way as the multinational oil companies in Nigeria with complete utter disrespect for local communities. They have been responsible for the displacement of whole communities who have been recruited to work on poverty rations for the two companies.
As recently as early January, the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia has criticised the expansion policy of the LAC which has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people by forcibly evicting them from their ancestral lands. The expansion has also destroyed forests and wildlife, eroded land, pollution of water, and has been accused of the exploitation of children and slavery.
According to them, since 2001 LAC has been carrying out an expansion project which has displaced thousands of indigenous people, destroying their crops land, dwelling places and forced them out of their ancestral lands without their consent and compensation as required under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.
The LAC is also in violation of ILO Convention 169 of the Environmental policy and laws of Liberia which prohibit the degradation of traditional shrines and required mandatory resettlement and compensation to traditional authorities if their institutions get affected as a result of a development activity or project.
As Liberia moves into the post conflict period of rebuilding, more and more multinationals will be competing for the country’s natural resources such as diamonds, forestry and rubber. Mittal Steel which has joined in a collaborative project with Rio Tinto are two giants that have entered into agreements to mine iron ore in the country.
Mittal Steel has been going after the LIMINCO concession without regard to Liberian laws, bringing political and diplomatic pressures to bear…. The political pressure has been to the detriment of the legal technical process, as provided by the New Minerals and Mining Law, Part 1, Title 23 Liberian Code of Laws Revised.
Once you begin to investigate the actions of multinationals operating in Liberia you find a maze of corrupt dealings, arms dealings, exploitation of local people including children, environmental destruction and complete lawlessness. Mrs Sirleaf-Johnson truly has a hard task in front of her to regulate and bring these multinationals to account for the previous and continued abuse of Liberia’s human and natural resources.
The Niger Delta is another region which has experienced massive destruction by multinationals. Instead of taking hostages and causing havoc in the Niger Delta, militants should be organising themselves and local communities to ensure their interests are taken into account by the new Chinese investors. A citizens jury would be an ideal forum in which to hold discussions with any new investors. The people have had 40 years experience of Shell and Chevron so are well placed to demand from the outset, an ecological approach to new projects in the region.