Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: 'Nation Needs Strong Biosafety Institution'

A group of experts under the auspices of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment at a workshop in Abuja have stressed the need for Nigeria to put in place a strong biosafety institution to guide against the misuse of biotechnology.

The 3-day workshop on Multi-locational Confined Field Trial (CFT) Inspection of genetically engineered crops has the aim of improving the skills and proficiency of Biosafety Regulators on the conduct of CFT inspection for Genetically Modified Organisms, particularly on multi-locational trials.

Speaking at the workshop, Prof. Diran Makinde, Director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise said that there was the need to scale-up biosafety capacity building on the continent.

"Biotechnology is moving forward, demand for regulatory services is outpacing the resources, so there is the need to build and sustain collaborative relationships for exchange of information, knowledge and expertise," he added.

He said biotechnology crops were not a panacea but essential in global efforts to feed the world 9 billion population by 20150. Biotechnology according to him is a strategy that integrates the best of conventional means of production and the new means to enhance productivity.

He said that 19 out of the 29 countries practicing biotechnology are in Africa and that developing countries were responsible for planting 50 per cent of global area with the areas expected to increase by 2012.

He noted that biotechnology reduce the need for external input into the farming process as it saved 443m kg of pesticides between 1996 and 2010, and saves land as it has the potentials of doubling production on the same area.

Ambassador Tunji Olagunji, Special Adviser to the President on NEPAD in a speech at the workshop said that Africa required well trained and focused personnel to handle the unforeseen challenges biotechnology may pose.

"The federal government has identified modern biotechnology as a technological necessity in order to enhance agricultural productivity, food and nutritional security as well as income to meet the needs of our ever growing population," he said.

He stressed the need to systemically determine the biosafety levels or risks of bioproducts with special consideration for shelf-life. "Nigeria like many other African countries have joined the league of nations that signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which seeks to reduce the risk associated with bio-products to human and environment."

Daily Trust recalls that the Nigeria Biosafety bill passed in June 2011 by the National Assembly is before Mr President for his assent to enable the country actively engage in biotechnology activities.

Mr Rufus Ebegba, an official of the Biosafety unit of the Federal Ministry of Environment noted that "Nigeria cannot afford to be on the side but be actively involved in the deployment of biotechnology under a sound biosafety system."

Ebegba said that the ministry and other stakeholders were prepared to effectively monitor and implement the Nigeria Biosafety Act as soon as President Goodluck Jonathan assents to the bill.

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