Educating Farmers through Workshops

Health of Mother Earth Foundation organises a workshop for farmers and other stakeholders on how to achieve food security and combat nutritional deficiency

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Oct. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

HEALTH of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, has stepped up its campaign to combat nutritional deficiency and guarantee food security in Nigeria. On Tuesday, October 8, this year, it organised a workshop in Abuja, for farmers from various parts of the country alongside representatives of communities, government agencies, international organisations, business, and civil society groups to discuss the problem and proffer solutions at a workshop in Abuja, recently.

The workshop focused on stopping the false nutritional kite and understanding the convention on biological diversity, CBD. Since its inception in August 2013, HOMEF has engaged Nigerians in such educational forums to produce resolutions on political and social responses to environmental justice, climate change and food insecurity.

The workshop also afforded the various participating groups an opportunity to learn about nutrition through natural foods and to examine claims and myths of genetically modified organisms, GMOs, as the panacea for nutritional deficiencies in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

With three keynotes addresses by various speakers who focused on such issues as understanding the convention of biological diversity, nutrition from natural food and crops and unmasking the mythic nutritional kite, participants at the workshop were exposed to new knowledge on how to defend their environment.

Rufus Ebegba

Welcoming participants at the workshop, Nnimmo Bassey, director of HOMEF, praised the farmers for taking time off their farms duties to learn from experts on the policy dimension of food and share their wealth of experience on food production. “We are here because the world is facing a serious issue, not because food isn’t being produced but because the food being produced isn’t reaching people. In fact, one-third of the food being produced is wasted.  Agriculture itself is not just about food, it is our culture and farming itself has implications not just for nutrition but for the environment.”

Bassey, who also emphasised the importance of small-scale farmers in feeding the world, observed that hunger and nutrition are now used as political weapons. “Hunger and nutrition have become items for political manipulation but we won’t surrender our agriculture to forces of manipulation.”

Rufus Ebegba, deputy director at the federal ministry of environment and an expert on bio-safety issues, who was also one of the keynote speakers at the conference carefully explained the essence of the convention on biological diversity, CBD, which is considered a complex issue by many while delivering his a paper titled “Understanding the Convention on Biological Diversity.”

Ebegba emphasised that the earth’s biological resources are vital to humanity’s socio-economic development.  He added that Nigeria is currently in the process of developing a policy to avoid piracy of information on biological interest in the country which is a response to the 4th article of the convention on biological diversity that grants countries sovereignty over the biological diversity within their territories. Ebegba cautioned that biodiversity must, for no reason, be depleted because such losses may become irreversible.

 Shedding lights on the subject of genetically modified organisms, GMOs, and their implications for health of humans and the environment, Ebegba implored Nigerians to support a law which will regulate GMOs. “Without a law, you cannot guarantee not eating GMOs in Nigeria and we don’t want to become blind consumers.”

Ebegba’s presentation was followed by that of Oluwayemisi Olowookere, a dietician and nutritionist at a general hospital in Abuja. Olowookere’s whose presentation focused on how to get nutrition from natural foods and crops, explained the basic differences between natural and processed food. She defined natural foods as those that have not been altered significantly through processing by the use of flavoring, antibiotics, hormones or genetic engineering. She added that over processed foods presented in plastic packages are not helpful to the nutritional needs of the people.

On what should be the ideal nutritional content of food, Olowookere said:  “One great plate of food should be made up of one quarter of whole grains, a quarter of lean proteins and half fruits and vegetables.” She also emphasised the need for moderation in choosing a diet. “Moderation is key as no single food can contain all the nutrients one needs.”

Participants at the workshop also had an opportunity to discuss and proffer solutions to ‘politics of hunger.’ During the group work and discussions, the participants who were shared into groups suggested various ways of dealing with the problem. A participant, AduYarmia Charles, who is also national program coordinator for the association of small scale agro producers in Nigeria, ASSAPIN, asked why stakeholders such as small farmers do not have their voices represented during key conventions where important decisions concerning Nigeria are taken.

Etiosa Uyigue, who represented the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, wondered why there was no punishment for countries who defaulted from the objective of the CBD.

Juliana Odey, a 72-year-old farmer, who is popularly known as ‘mama Cassava,’ bared her mind on GMOs. She said that she did not support their infiltration of the Nigerian market and called for caution. ” I have been frying garri since I was 10. We don’t understand what these policies mean and so we don’t want chemicals or GMOs. I’ve grown my own food since I carried the Union Jack and I know we don’t need GMOs.”

Participants at the workshop were also encouraged to keep in touch with the representatives in government and ensure that their opinions are heard on issues that concern them. At the end of the workshop, the various stakeholders agreed to always be ready to engage in public debates. They also agreed that government policies can be changed where they are not in line with the nation’s quest for food security and the preservation of the country’s biodiversity.

It was also agreed that government and civil society groups should embark on intensive education of grassroots farmers on the provisions of the CBD and related conventions, treaties and policies.

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