Accra: Marching against Monsanto, a group aims to build momentum for a lasting movement

in Photoscapes/Urbanism from Ghana by

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Saturday morning commerce at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a group of activists assemble. They start out at the city’s largest roundabout – Kwame Nkrumah Circle — where passerbys, vendors and traffic come together. This group of activists, brandishing their placards, have come together to protest against the multinational company Monsanto. To make their point, today they are marching in the direction of Agbogbloshie Market, looking to connect with the market women there in a symbolic action of solidarity. Some 30 individuals are gathered, proceeded by a truck, its speakers blasting Bob Marley’s reggae; at the head, a young man, megaphone in hand, addresses the masses.

“We say no to Monsanto! We say no to Syngenta! We say no to GMOs [genetically modified organisms]!” announces Duke Tagoe, Food Sovereignty Ghana spokesperson, in a strong, clear voice. Passerbys, pedestrians and bicyclists who file past stop and look, reading the messages on the placards. Others ask about the cause of the commotion, and still others stop only briefly before continuing toward their tasks ahead.

Ras Aswad of the Freedom Center Accra poses with vendors at Agbogbloshie Market.
Raswad Nkrabea of the Freedom Center Accra poses with vendors at Agbogbloshie Market.

Tagoe and the other marchers protest for two reasons. The first is against Monsanto, the biotechnology and agrochemical firm that produces genetically modified seeds. The second is against the Ghanaian government itself, for supporting Monsanto and other such companies.

Here in Accra, it’s 30 activists participating in this march – and this is one march of more than 550 protests organized under the hashtag #MarchAgainstMonsanto. The coalition estimates that 12 million people around the world participated in these protests, in six continents. They provide evidence of protests organized around the world, 16 in Africa alone: In Accra, Alexandria (Egypt), Nairobi, Windhoek (Namibia), Abeokuta (Nigeria), Dakar (Senegal), and nine cities in South Africa.

 

A global and local movement

“Different studies have shown that genetically modified foods by Monsanto can lead to health problems like cancerous tumors, sterility and abnormal developments in newborns,” describes the coalition in their press release on the October 12th marches.

But the government of Ghana does not see eye to eye with the movement. In fact, in 2011, the Ghanaian Parliament voted in favor of the Biosafety Act (Act 831). The act permits the production, import et export of genetically modified seeds. In 2013, the Biosafety Committee (created by the act in 2011) approved the start of a series of tests to farm genetically modified rice and cotton. The tests are planned for Ashanti and Northern regions in Ghana.

Protestors marched from Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Agbogbloshie Market.
Protestors marched from Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Agbogbloshie Market.

Food Sovereignty Ghana and its partner the Freedom Center of Accra have demanded a moratorium for an unspecified period until the government can demonstrate the safety of such foods for the public. The organizations underline the lack of sufficient evidence to demonstrate the safety of GMOs for the public. “So far there have been no studies of the effects of GMOs in the human diet,” Food Sovereignty Ghana writes in a press release. “We are all the subjects of a giant experiment whose purpose is to make giant corporations richer, not to make human beings better fed or healthier.”

 

First steps

After having marches nearly four hours Saturday morning, the group arrives at its destination – Agbogbloshie Market, une of the largest markets in the city of Accra. Here the vendors (the majority of whome are women) sell their vegetables, fruits, etc.

“These traders are very important to the movement,” explains Food Sovereignty Ghana and Freedom Center Accra. “These women are the intermediaries in agricultural production (they purchase the foods from the rural-based farmers and in turn, they sell these foodstuffs to the general public. In addition, these traders are organized in associations at the market here in Accra, very close to the seat of governance. So the protesters have organized to arrive here to inform and sensitize these individuals that they see as so integral to effectively fighting the GMO movement. The vendors themselves are very interests, demanding more information on these organizations and meetings with their trading association leaders in order to get more information.

Elvis Agyei-Manu with Food Sovereignty Ghana shares the anti-GMO message with local media.
Elvis Agyei-Manu with Food Sovereignty Ghana shares the anti-GMO message with local media.

Farmers (those who would be most affected by these politics) are more isolated in their rural locales, very far from Accra.

The fight continues. Food Sovereignty Ghana and Freedom Center Accra intend to continue their educational activities, with weekly meetings and other initiatives to inform local actors.

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This article was originally posted in French at AFRO URBANISME.