Despite criticism trailing Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops, the Federal Government has concluded plans to commercialise them in Nigeria. Caleb Onwe reports
Nigeria, said to have about 91 million hectares of land mass, out of which 82 million hectares are arable, with about 70 per cent of the population agriculture dependent, ordinarily, should have no business worrying about how to feed her population.
The source of worry for Nigeria is the recent report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, that by the year 2050, Nigeria would have hit a rocket height in population index, as the 3rd most populous nation in the world.
According to the report, Nigeria’s population may exceed 300 million, overtaking the United States in population size.
As postulated above, Nigeria is an agrarian society with so much natural resources that could be translated into economic advantage, but, unarguably, Nigeria is still stuck with the phobia of moving with the trend in science and technology to achieve a determined end.
The determined end in this context is agricultural prosperity, with the evidence of food security for all citizenry.
For a decade now, some Genetically Modified Organic (GMO) crops, like the pod-borer resistant cowpea, developed by the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Zaria, and the BT cotton have been confined to field trials at different locations in Nigeria.
This approach to the emerging technology was not far-fetched given that the technology was new and not in tandem with what the farmers were used to.
Experts said that the field trial was to ensure that all safety standards and environmental issues were adequately resolved, according to global best practices.
As Nigerian farmers await the expected release of some GMO crops into the market in 2018, local seed companies have endorsed the commercialisation of the crops, but asked government institutions to domesticate all processes of biotechnology to suit local needs, and enhance national development.
The endorsement came during a sensitisation workshop for Nigeria seed industry on GM seeds, held in Abuja, and organised by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in collaboration with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC).
Speaking at the event, the National President of SEEDAN, Richard Olafare, said the seed producers’ beliefs that all the agencies involved in the GM crops was putting the country in the right perspective as far as global trend is concerned.
SEEDAN strongly believes that the Federal Government was sufficiently informed before establishing both National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Biosafety Management Agency (NABDA).
He said: “Going through the profile and impact assessment of each of the two, one believes that they are poised to put Nigeria in the right perspective in the global trending-so that dangerous lacuna is not created.”
In the same vein, the Country Coordinator of OFAB, Dr. Rose Gidado, said that seed companies were being carried along to ensure that every fear regarding the technology was allayed.
She also noted that the seed companies, as major players in the seed sector, needed enhanced capacity towards the commercialisation of the seeds in 2018.
Hybrids seeds debut
Apart from the two GM crops due for release into the market in 2018, efforts have also been intensified to address the challenge of food shortages through development of biotechnology crops, with high yielding and insect-resistant values.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), one of the organisations that are in the forefront of revolutionising agricultural sector, has disclosed that one of the successful attempts to addressing the challenge of food shortage, arising from low yielding crops, is the introduction of genetically engineered crops, a process that is premised on the platform of science and technology.
The spokesperson for AATF in Nigeria, Mr. Umaru Abu, said that Nigerian farmers would soon begin to enjoy the benefit of the new technology, as some African scientists were already working on a number of projects aimed at ensuring food security.
According to him, water efficient maize, bacterial wilt resistant banana and water-use efficient and salt tolerant rice, are already been developed. He said the projects are a private partnership that is developing drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected hybrids crops.
The need to adopt science and technology in improving seed quality, which stakeholders agree is key to the desired agricultural revolution, is predicated upon the success already achieved by countries, believed to be less blessed than Nigeria, in terms of natural endowment.
The United States, India, China and even some African countries have become net exporters of agricultural products, which resulted from their careful adoption of science and technology.
Some stakeholders in Nigerian agricultural sector have revealed that with the help of science and technology, some drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected crops have been developed for the desired increased harvest yield.
Safety to human health and environmental impact of this new technology, are the major issues that some individuals and organisations opposed to GM crops have anchored their campaign.
They argue that Nigerian farmers are not educated enough to be exposed to such sophisticated way of doing agriculture, and therefore could be vulnerable to the antics of those who are introducing the technology.
Some have also alleged that the GM crops are not safe for human consumption. This fears and misconception have, however, been dismissed by some Nigerian scientists, who see the argument as a product ignorance.
Prof. Mohammad Ishiyaku, a lead scientist and chief plant breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said that the fears about GM was unfounded as IAR has been doing plant breeding before the National Biosafety Laws came into being.
He added that GM crops were safe for both human and animal consumption.
He also assured that all the concerns raised by those opposed to the technology have been adequately addressed by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NABDA).
Nigerian farmers appear to have remained ignorant of the alternatives available to them in phasing out peasant farming and embracing modern technology to guarantee food security and increased income propensity.
However, some organisations are already in the vanguard of sensitising the farmers and guiding them to making an informed choice.
One of such organisations, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), said that Nigerian farmers had alternatives to peasant farming, which they have been engaging in with little to show for it.
OFAB Country Coordinator in Nigeria, Dr. Rose Gidado, said that farmers have the choice of either embracing modern technology in enhancing their farming activities or remaining in the antiquity farming method that is incapable of taking them out of poverty.
According to Gidado, science and technology is the surest way to food security and self-sufficiency in food production, considering the fact that the threat of climate change in the country was becoming more pronounced with devastating effects on the environment.
Though, science and technology may not have had root in Nigeria at inception, so this has further put a doubt over the GMO crops experimentation in the country.
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