When the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) was introduced into Nigeria, it faced stiff opposition because it was not part of the nation’s farming culture. But Nigeria embraces the adoption of bio-technology as conventional agriculture to boost food security, productivity. CALEB ONWE writes
The tortuous journey to creating food security through bio-technology has been undulating, but it is a sacrifice worth making by stakeholders who have been involved in the processes. Over the years, farmers’ productivity and profitability have continued to decline in Nigeria and other developing countries, due to several factors, ranging from frequent and deadly pest attacks on conventional crops, droughts, and climate change.
So, no news can be more cheering to them than the emergence of Bio-technology (Bt) or Genetically Modified crops with the capabilities to mitigate the adverse effects the attacks.
Genetic Modification of crops, though, a new technology, is said to have provided the most advanced way for selecting desirable traits in crops, and proven surest assurance to quick solutions to the problems of low productivity which farmers are faced with globally.
Scientists have a convergence of opinion that Biotech crops have enhanced genes that could withstand the onslaught of pesticides, drought and even the adverse effects of climate change that is swiftly changing narratives of agriculture in Nigeria and that of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Apart from Biotech cotton, maize and cowpea in focus, because they are at the fringe of commercialisation in Nigeria, scientists argue that there are empirical evidence-based results that biotechnology has also been found so helpful in the development of wheat, as well as other staple crops and even in cassava that is bio-fortified with additional nutrients.
Bt as farmers’ antidote
More cheering to smallholder farmers in the Northern region of Nigeria is the fact that biotechnology has come to the rescue. With use of water, efficient crops that can with stand the perennial challenge of drought.
The same goes to the farmers who are faced with the excruciating pains arising from expenditure in using herbicides for the control of weeds in farms. The herbicides-resistant by crops have also come to the rescue.
Currently, farmers in Nigeria are awaiting the commercialization of these all-important Bt crops that have been on confined field trials, due to the restrictions imposed on their development by the regulatory agencies, though, in line with global health, environmental and safety standard.
The regulations were said to be for the purpose of ascertaining the suitability or otherwise of these staple crops for both human and animal consumption. Scientists have also provided scientific evidence that the crops are not only safe but have nutritional values that will help solve the problem of hunger and starvation in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
Values of Bt crops
The values that scientists have proven to be found in Biotech cotton was recently acknowledged by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, when he enthused that the only hope of resuscitating the comatose textile industry in Nigeria lies in the potential of Bt cotton.
The minister expressed his conviction that the biotech cotton will not only create jobs when the textile industry is back on its feet, but will also increase the income of farmers.
Scientists described the biotechnology solution to cotton production in Nigeria, as the only miracle needed to change the ugly narratives of a sector that once thrived, but neglected to suffer a woeful downward plummet up to abysmal five per cent in production output in recent years.
Reports revealed that cots production in Nigeria used to be above 70,000 metric tonnes per annum, but now, it has declined due to lack of quality seeds and the dreaded cotton bollworm.Findings also showed that low cotton production in the country affected adversely the textile industry with an existing asset base of N57 billion left to rot away. More worrisome is even the report that Nigeria is losing up to $6.5 billion export opportunities in cotton annually.
Biotech cotton with insect resistant gene is believed to have the potential of curing all the malaise plaguing the cotton sub-sector of agriculture when it is fully commercialised in the country. Cowpea and maize production are put at 47 million metric tonnes and eight million metric tonnes respectively annually in Nigeria.
The potential of these two important staple foods were also said to be on the path of progressive productivity when the biotechnologically improved varieties are commercialised. While the Bt Cowpea is said to be Maruca-Resistant and also fortified with some ingredients that enhances its nutritional values, the Bt Maize is coming under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project.
The Bt maize varieties with stack tolerance and insect resistance, have also been proved by scientists to more yielding potential than the conventional varieties.
Researchers’ endorsement of Bt crops
After the canonisation of biosafety law in Nigeria in April 2015, which crowned the efforts of bio-technology promoters, who with gifts of foresight started the regulatory process of biotechnology in early 1990s, there seems to be a brighter future for farmers, as genetically modified crops have the potential of great impact on Nigerian farmers and generally the society.
Even indigenous scientists in Nigeria who have contributed immensely to the development of biotechnology have continued to insist that this agricultural innovation remains the companion that Nigeria farmers need in the journey to creating a food sufficient- society.
One of such scientists that have given incontrovertible proofs about the impact GM crops will make on the ever growing population in Nigeria and Africa, is Professor Umar Ibrahim Abubakar, the Executive Director, Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
He stated that with the diminishing yields of conventional crops coupled with subsistence farming system that is still prevalent in Nigeria and many other African countries, food shortage and its attendant malnutrition was inevitable. He specifically explained that GM crops will not only improve productivity of agricultural products, but will efficiently create food and nutritional security.
He said: “Obviously, one of the most important impacts of GM crops is food and nutrition security. You know globally one of the problems facing the world today is food insecurity. Many children in several families go hungry and so on. So, with the release of the GM crops varieties, food production will be increased and inevitably they’ll be cheaper, affordable, and create more access to food. “With GM crops, farmers spray less.
That means you have less cost of production and your profitability will increase and definitely that will increase the income of the farmers and that would create employment to the farmers and inevitably improve the economy of the country”, he noted. Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, a plant breeder and Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea Project Principal Investigator at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has also made a case for the full commercialisation of these Biotech crops, stating that Nigerian farmers cannot continue to apply old method in solving new problems. According to him, the new problems facing average farmers in Nigeria is how to overcome insects, drought and climate change as well as achieve increased crop yields.
The solution to these problems he said, lies in biotechnology. “Over the years, we have witnessed a situation where farmers tried so hard to increase their harvest but the more they tried, the less result they get.
But science has availed us the opportunity to change the situation. We have succeeded in last few years in introducing a gene into the cowpea to make it resistant to the insect that have devastated it”, he noted.
However, as the world switch over from analogue to digital system by celebrating the advent of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), it is imperative to say that Nigerian agriculture needs to move urgently and embrace science and technology in solving the numerous challenges that are depleting farmers’ output and threatening food security.
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