Genetic engineering: Polluter-pays principle at risk

Farming in Tanzania is coming under increasing pressure. The agricultural industry is making every effort to attempt to prevent the polluter-pays principle from applying to genetically engineered seeds. SWISSAID partner organisations are battling against this.

"Monocultures – cultural, intellectual and agricultural – make us ill, take away our independence and contribute towards malnutrition." This conclusion wasn’t just reached by anyone, it is the view of Vandana Shiva, Alternative Nobel Prize laureate and member of the Club of Rome. Last year, she visited Dar es Salaam at the invitation of Tabio (Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity) because Tabio, in association with other local organisations, had organised a series of events dealing with the issue of genetic engineering in agriculture. The purpose of the events was to inform agronomists, researchers, decisionmakers and media representatives about the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and to encourage them to support a lasting ban on GMO. This is because GM seeds lead to monocultures, create dependence and reduce variety on people’s plates and in the field.

Ignorance at every turn

Tabio was founded by SWISSAID and other organisations in 2011 to rein in the increasingly aggressive agricultural lobby. That lobby’s aim is to eliminate the polluter-pays and liability principle which is enshrined in law, in the case of genetically modified organisms. Seeking to reinforce the polluter-pays principle, Tabio carries out information and lobbying work, chiefly among politicians and women farmers, but also with the wider public.
A recent survey conducted by Tabio revealed that only 3 out of 86 farmers and 40 out of 150 supermarket customers had even heard of GMOs. Thirty of the supermarket customers said that while they would not eat GM products, they did not know that those sorts of products are already on the shelves, such as cornflakes and tomato soup imported from South Africa. Tabio filed a complaint with the Tanzanian Food Inspectorate, as a result of which the breakfast cereal was taken off the shelves.

Teach them young . . .

However, Tabio doesn’t just name and shame, it also takes practical initiatives to preserve the diversity of seeds. On the one hand, both in the unequal battle against the restrictive seeds policy maintained by the agricultural lobby and by the government. On the other hand, the organisation and by explaining the risks of GM seeds to farmers, giving them training on improving traditional seeds and promoting the building of seed stores in villages. The farming groups supported in the south of the country have already compiled an inventory of local varieties for their region, for example. The partner organisation is now also turning to youth groups: Under the supervision of experts from Tabio, children are introduced to the secrets and beauty of biological diversity in 24 Diversity Clubs, which are school gardens.

  • Code of project: TA 2/14/14
  • Duration: 1 année
  • Number of beneficiaries: 6602 peasants
  • Project costs: 70'263 Swiss Francs