Parliamentarians take on climate change

Some of the 50 parliamentarians from across West Africa attending a conference on climate change, and food and water security held in Dakar on 25 and 26 March, looked uncomfortable when presented with a picture of a banana with a watermelon-coloured peel and an elephant with a cabbage head. “This is what you think genetically modified organisms (GMO) look like, right?” asked the plant breeding expert, Marcel Galiba. “I want you to reconsider,” he challenged the lawmakers.

As part of a two-day meeting funded by the governments of Norway and Sweden that opened on 25 March, the international non-profit, European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA), is conducting the last of six regional meetings across Africa to increase lawmakers’ awareness about tackling climate change and food security issues in their parliaments.

“We want them to take this information back to their parliaments and lobby for urgently needed action,” AWEPA’s Secretary General, Pär Granstedt, told IRIN. “They are agents of change who are not talking to one another in their own parliaments, neighbouring ones, or with us from Europe.” He added the regional meetings are also to help African lawmakers create a negotiating strategy for the climate change conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

Rusted plows

Plant expert Galiba, Mali’s director for the Japanese NGO, Sasakawa Global 2000 - who said his provocative slides on GMO are intended to spark debate - told IRIN governments generally are loathe to adopt new technology.

“It is understandable because there are rusted plows lying by relics of failed agricultural revolutions still fresh in their memories,” said the plant scientist. “The technology exists for farmers to work year-round rather than three months [during rainy season], but governments are afraid to adopt it.”

The lawmakers- mostly from Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, and a small number from Europe – listened to presentations from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Senegal’s Ministry of Agriculture on its recent reforms, and non-profits Global Water Partnership and Wateraid West Africa.

Senegalese legislator Seydou Diouf told IRIN the challenge is to take technical knowledge back to his government and translate it into legislation on climate change. “This is where the work begins. This meeting is needed, though. We are not in the business, nor have the time to become experts.”

AWEPA’s Granstedt told the lawmakers that sub-Saharan Africa faces the harshest consequences of climate change though rich countries are largely responsible. “Yes, we created the problem. And we need to work with one another to get out of this mess.”