Observing the precautionary principle, Benin’s Government successively took two moratoria on GMO during the last decade. The last one ended in March 2013. Once this came to an end the question of the legal status of production, trade and research on GMO in Benin arose and who would take the first initiative to revive the GMO debate in the country. The level of interest in this debate is high amongst both development the community and the general public.
On the 22nd of May 2013, the Ministry of Environment organized a seminar on the topic “The launch of the 2012 report on the trade of GMO products in the world”. What surprised many stakeholders was that the Ministry was not the author of this report. The report was prepared by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Presentations during this seminar, highly covered by the national media, showed high increase in the production and trade of GMO products. Some of presenters concluded that Benin cannot stand back from such technology for a long time.
The reaction of civil society organizations was automatic. They expressed their frustration at the fact that they were invited very late to attend the seminar. During the opening ceremony in the presence of the media, as a form of protest, they left the seminar room. A few days after the seminar, during a press conference, the civil society organizations expressed their concern over the role played by the Ministry of Environment, using the pretext of diffusion of the world report on production and trade of GMO products. Through the voice of Léopold Lokossou, the leader of FUPRO, one of the biggest farmers’ organization of Benin the protectionists aim to raise public awareness about many environmental, health, social and economic consequences of GMO crops. They gave the example of Burkina Faso as a country where Bt cotton was introduced in 2004 and farmers are still experiencing the same problems as before. Finally, they advised the Government to take the third moratorium or to forbid any GMO production and transaction in Benin.
Since the last cotton campaign NGO’s and farmers associations involved in organic and fair trade cotton production in Benin have happily acknowledged the decision of the Government to buy and sell organic and fair trade cotton by guaranteeing the farmers organic premium. During the 2012-2013 season, the Government of Benin bought about from farmers 521.66 metric tons of organic seed cotton that has been sold in the world market. A target of 1000 metric tons of organic seed cotton has been set up for the coming season. But actually, many stakeholders from the civil society has got doubts about how serious the Government’s intention to promote organic and fair trade cotton are.
The GMO debate comes back in Benin from a long lethargy and the field is prepared for heavy opposition between the groups that are in favour of the introduction of GMO in agriculture and the ones that are against this.
Image: Courtesy of LA Nation, the official daily newspaper of Benin ("The renewal of the moratorium on import, marketing and any use of GMO products is increasingly desired").
Reported by Silvere Tovignan
Regional Director Africa
The creation of a platform between producers of fair and organic cotton in Benin
The agricultural season 2012/2013 has been tumultuous and full of suspense for organic and fair cotton producers. The Beninese government played a large part in boosting the conventional cotton sector. After a decade of liberalization in the sector, the partnership between public and private sector has been suspended between AIC (the Interprofessional Cotton Association) and the State of Benin.
Detached structures of the Ministry of Agriculture as the CeRPRA (Regional Centre for Agricultural Promotion), the CeCPA (Municipal Centre for Agricultural Promotion) have been involved more than in the past in inputs supply (seeds, pesticides and fertilizers) and training activities, as well as the SONAPRA (National Society for Agricultural Promotion) in the national supply of agricultural inputs, cotton commercialization and exportation.
As a result, they have adopted a new role in the cotton sector by becoming key actors at short to long-term scale. Moreover several measures in favor of conventional cotton producers have been created without including organic cotton. Therefore the small organic producers have been concerned about the impact this would have on their activities. The less patient amongst them converted their plots from organic to conventional cotton by implementing inorganic fertilizer and pesticides. As a consequence of this, the program for organic cotton and crops supported by UCoop Bio (Cooperative Union of the Producers cultivating Organic Crops) lost important hectares of organic cotton. However others waited for the primary commercialization phase to sell the production on the conventional market. The town of Banikoara, for example, has recorded around 1,700 kg of organic cotton sold in the conventional market.
After several meetings and scarce talks between organic cotton stakeholders and the government, their demands have been taken in account to such an extent that it has been discussed during the council of ministers. As a result the government fixed the producer price per kg of organic cotton at 20% higher than the conventional cotton, 312 Fcfa/kg. For 2013/2014 season, the State aims to produce at least 1,000 tons of organic seed cotton and to extend the production areas. The government interest has caught the attention of all the actors in the organic sector (producers, NGO as well as technical and financial partners). In Benin, up to now organic cotton is present in 10 towns spread in two areas: in the North in the departments of Atocara and Alibori, with the union of 2 producer cooperatives producing organic crop (UCoop Bio) technically and financially supported by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation through four local NGO (AFVA, U-AVIGREF, CERD and POTAL MEN) and in the South in the department of Zou and for a part in the Alibori (Kandi) and the Borgou ( Sinende) with the small producer organizations supported by OBEPAB (Beninese Organization for Organic Farming Promotion). These big producer groups distinguished themselves with organic production system (OSP), quality assurance approach and production commercialization/exportation. Besides governmental technical services do not possess yet experience in production monitoring, certification and exportation of organic and fair product. For this purpose, an open collaboration for the coming seasons is needed between the State and organic cotton actors.
Well-aware of the saying “together we are stronger”, organic and fair cotton producers in Benin took the lead to organize themselves in order to have a unique representative who will defend their position when this is needed. To that end, they met together the 15 April 2013 in the conference room of CADER (Agricultural Center for Rural Development, ex CeRPA) Borgou-Alibori in the town of Parakou. Representatives of local NGO were present to lay the foundation of a platform for partnership works. The official constitutive workshop was held on the 30 April 2014 in Dassa Zoumé. It was hosted by 9 members among whom 6 producers and 3 representatives of NGO’s from the two large groups UCooP Bio and OBEPAB, The challenge to take up, includes: harmonization of the technical monitoring and of the quality assurance approach, production area extension, institutional conflict management, research of organic markets the SONAPRA, price negotiation of organic and fair seed cotton with the government, seasonal loans and inputs management, primary commercialization and ginning management.
Regional technical advisor in organic and fair trade agriculture (certification systems)
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation-Benin
Like in several other countries, women in India have a very low ownership or access to land. According to a study by E.Krishna Rao 2009, 70% of India’s population is rural; of those households, 60% engage in agriculture as their main source of income. Women represent a relatively high percentage in terms of agricultural labour. Nearly 63 percent of all economically active men are engaged in agriculture as compared to 78 per cent of women. Almost 50 percent of rural female workers are classified as agricultural labourers and 37% as cultivators. About 70 percent of farm work was performed by women. (Rao 2009, Role of Women in Agriculture, a Micro level study)
At a major international Conference in New Delhi on “Women in Agriculture” in March 2011, several delegates discussed vital issues, from the definition of a woman farmer to policy changes required to make agriculture more mainstream for women. What was unanimously agreed upon was that the role of women was critical from several perspectives, such as development, increase in agricultural production, food security, improved consciousness about environmental issues and the fight against extreme poverty.
Agriculture in India reinforces the stereotyping of women, and emphasises gender inequality as the low ownership implies economic dependence. Studies make the links between low ownership of land to high psychological abuse, especially in the developing countries, thus establishing the link between land ownership and higher status, confidence and a sense of control over one’s life.
In India which is a highly patriarchal society, ownership of land is predominantly by men. Women were given “Stridhan” or a dowry, a gift of money and gold at their weddings, and inheritance was from father to son. While recent legislations have made women also eligible for inheriting property from their parental homes, it will be centuries before the imbalance is redressed.
Though started in the early nineties, the last decade has seen the Self Help Movement in India play a huge role in empowering women in India, especially in rural areas, and is seen as a major tool for eradication of poverty. The SHG’s or self-help groups comprise of a group of 10 to 15 women from similar economic backgrounds. The SHG members meet and save small amounts of money and create a fund. They thus form a financial intermediary and get attached to banks for SHG – Bank Linkage programs, which provide credit and keep the group savings. The value system in villages has ensured that women repay the loans much better than men, and also ensure the proper use of credit. The banks make provision for the extra funds needed by the micro entrepreneurs which are beyond their savings.
The SHG Bank linkages are now an integral part of India’s rural banking system. They have also ensured that more women are given land or leased land by the male members to avail of the benefits of SHG. This has hugely empowered rural women and one can see the gender equality narrowing. Some SHGs in the Chetna group in India are engaging in the non GMO seed bank project, and are valuable examples of how women can take charge of their lives and that of society through organic cotton farming, while addressing critical issues such as family nutrition, poverty and gender concomitantly.
Regional Director India
I have lived the everyday life of an intern in the Farm Engagement Team for more than 16 weeks now. Time is running fast. From Lima, I dived into understanding the organic cotton value chain while helping Liesl and Hanna to write the Farm & Fiber Report. I got closer to the producer groups with the World Environment Day and have been amazed to see how genius the children can be at talking about heavy issues such as food safety in such an uplifting way. But the highlight of my intern adventure so far has been my week in Piura. For the first time in my life I met cotton producers, visited cotton fields and assisted in the transformation of the cotton fiber into yarn. After spending one day in the factory, I explored the farms for two and a half days. The Bajo Pura and its colourful, beautiful and fascinating landscape marked my mind forever. In the paths, we crossed mototaxis and carts pulled by donkeys or horses. In all the hamlets, there were bright posters promoting the village celebration as well as football pitches.
To meet farmers taught me a tremendous amount about Peruvian culture. In Piura, environmental practices are slowly entering the farmers’ habits but are not yet of the same importance as social progress. I realized that in such an environment, sustainability and organic agriculture are not seen as priorities for social progress. Making the farmers aware that sustainable practice goes far beyond a simple European whim but is of great importance for the long term future, appeared to be a very tough task. I now understand more than ever that in business it is of first importance to understand cultural context and that a vision is not always directly transposable and a perfect fit with the people.
Besides my enriching time at work I found some free times for tourism. I travelled to the South to Arequipa and the Titicaca Lake, I headed to the mountain to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and to the Machu Picchu and experienced the tropical forest in the center of the country visiting a coffee farm with Alfonso and his students.
As the days go on I realize more how rich Peru is in its diversity of nature and its people. I still have five more weeks here but my not-so-distant departure from this precious country will be heart breaking…
Alice Dos Santos
Student - Van Hall Larenstein, The Netherlands
Intern at Textile Exchange (based in Lima)