Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria Can't Afford to Neglect Biotechnology in Agric - Experts

With a growing population that is expected to hit 400million people by 2050, the question agitating the minds of people is how are we going to feed ourselves?

Some are of the opinion that except we use modern tools of science and technology to increase yield, increase resistance of crops to draught and to diseases and pests that we can not achieve food sufficiency.

But others are arguing that the traditional method of farming has not failed us but that the system has failed to make it workable by refusing to fund it and that technology will pollute the environment.

Despite the arguments for and against the introduction of biotechnology in Nigeria, the proponents for the adoption of technology are not relenting as they feel that it holds the ace to the country's food problem.

One of the proponents said that genetically modified (GM) foods would boost agricultural productivity by assisting in the development of new crops and in combating insects that destroy plants and animals.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are produced, using the technology of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs are organisms whose genetic material (gene) has been altered, using genetic engineering techniques.

Dr. Abba Y. Abdullah, an Agricultural and Natural Resources Consultant once stated that, "Technology-based agriculture is the future of agriculture in West Africa. We need to improve our productivity to ensure food security because food insecurity and concerns over livelihood and resources are behind many of the conflicts we are having in West Africa. Without technological inputs and biotechnology, there is no way we can achieve food security in West Africa."

Diran Makinde, Director of NEPAD agency of Africa Bio Safety Network of Expertise in an interview with this reporter in Arusha last year said the percentage of small scale farmers are actually very large as they range between 70 and 80 %.

"We know that these are the groups of farmers that are not exposed to any form of technology, they have been using the same form of practice for many years. And it is high time we developed the attitude of actually adopting technology to improve the quality of life of our farmers.

"So this is one of the reasons we need to drive it home to our government especially and other stakeholders that we need to harness science and technology in Africa development."

Prof. Diran Makende added that Africa and Nigeria in particular, needs the new technology as it ensures food and environmental security.

"When you look at the population of Nigeria, if we can embrace the innovation, we can be assured of food security.

"We need this tool to actually make our food secure," he said.

Prof. Eucharia Kenya, an expert in biotechnology and Science Communication, in an interview said "Biotechnology guarantees food security and allows us to develop new crops, new types of animals as well as prevent infectious insects in our environment.

"Most of our crops cannot survive due to some insects which are depending on these crops as their own food; with the application of this technology, crops and other organisms will survive.

"Due to the African environment, insects have overpowered crops and animals, but with the new technology, our environment, crops and other organisms are saved."

Biotechnological intervention can help revamp and boost Nigeria's cotton production, according to Prof. Chris Echekwu, a plant scientist from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU).

He said this in a paper presented on the prospects of enhanced cotton production with the use of biotechnology during the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Katsina state last year.

But for Nigeria to adopt the use of modern biotechnology tools in agriculture there must be a biosafety law.

President Goodluck Jonathan assenting the bill on biosafety as passed by the National Assembly will launch the country into the production and commercialization of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) with the capacity to increase crop production, ensure food security, and improve rural livelihoods.

The House of Representative passed the bill in 2010 and the Senate did same in 2011, but the President has not assented to it since then said a source

"The passage of the bill will be great," said Dr Oyekanmi Nash, Program Director, and West African Biotechnology Workshop Series. "Biotechnology holds the key to some of our problems in agriculture and health, and the earlier we tap into it, the better," he added.

Prof. Bamidele Solomon, the Director-General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), believes that the adoption of GMOs in Nigeria would increase the farmers' yield and income as well as help in checking youth unemployment.

If the biosafety bill is assented to, Nigeria will join other African nations, such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa in cultivating GMO crops.

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