Lebanon harbors over 2600 plant species of which 119 are counted to be endemic. The unique climatic and landscape diversity in Lebanon has shaped 22 bio-climatic zones which fosters one of the most precious ecological services: genetic diversity. Unfortunately, the conservation of biodiversity in Lebanon is increasingly at risk due the largely uncontrolled and unidentified introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the domestic market and the absence of national policies that specifically outline biosafety legislation.
Lebanon has only recently ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (October 2008) a convention that provides guidance for the rational management of the risks associated with the use of biotechnologies. Nevertheless, there is no official policy for the detection and identification of produce that contains GMO. The lack of legislations that monitor biotechnologies are likely to have unidentified effects on the future of domestic biodiversity.
Biotechnologies interfere with central aspects of life. By altering and contaminating the genetic information of crop species, GMOs risk eroding the indigenous knowledge of the native varieties of seeds and species which architect local biodiversity.
The resulting rapid and widespread extinction of crop varieties through GMO monocultures, leave farmers with fewer options to address problems caused by unpredictable climate change.
One solution to preserving biodiversity is through seed banks. Naydaya founded by Vandana Shiva is a program that has established 65 Community Seed Banks across India. The idea is that seeds contain historic memory. Seeds are the first stage in the food chain and the ultimate symbol of food security. Therefore seeds are central for farmers and society since the free and uncontaminated exchange of seeds ensures biodiversity is maintained and farmers have “tools” at their disposal to remain resilient towards climate change.
Naydaya’s conservation initiative “represents the accumulation over centuries of people’s knowledge and, by being a reflection of the options available to them, it [seeds] represents their choice.”
In other words, seeds are inextricably linked to the fundamental human right of food security which is increasingly being undermined through “Patents on Life” and GMO companies like Monsanto. This has already had controversial impacts in India, and I encourage readers to watch the documentary “Life Running Out of Control” for more information on the impacts of GMO’s. But what does the future of “seeds” in Lebanon look like?
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank’s global partnership is a network of 120 partners in 54 countries aims to secure the safe storage of 25% of the world’s plants by 2020, targeting species and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities.
In Lebanon, 33 percent of its flora has been collected by Kew and more than 1,200 seed samples of cereal, legume, and their wild relatives, have been previously collected by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.
This seems like a positive step, but is banking on seeds enough? Will this solution insure against biodiversity loss brought about by the introduction of GMOs? In other words, in the face of GMO contaminated land, will the reintroduction of native seeds successfully restore the indigenous habitat?
The problem is that seed banks may not be necessarily giving local farmers the “power” to determine their future income and productivity because the introduction of GMOs risk altering entire ecosystems and the reintroduction of indigenous seeds may prove to be futile in restoring biodiversity and resolving issues related to crop resilience against climate change.
The truth is that there is really only one sure solution, GMOs should simply be banned. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the Middle East to have banned GMOs and other countries in the region including Lebanon, should follow suit.
Image via tgerus