Daily Trust (Abuja)

23 January 2013

Nigeria: Adopt Scientific Agriculture to Boost Food Sufficiency - Experts

Ibadan — If African nations do not intensively apply science in their farming methodologies there is likely going to be inadequate supply of food for their ever increasing populations.

This position was advanced during an agricultural workshop for journalists and food scientists at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, which aim, according to Bernie Jones, the training manager and facilitator, was to create better awareness of and skills in journalists to equally appreciate the scientific approach to agricultural farming in order to increase new ways for food sufficiency in Africa.

The duo of Wayne Powell and Jim Dunwell, agricultural scientists from University of Aberystwyth and University of Reading all in the United Kingdom and resource persons at the workshop, stressed that time has come for African farmers and governments to invest their energy, time and resources in agriculture by employing scientific methods in the growing of staple food crops.

They said these scientific agricultural methods are now widely used in many countries with proven results where food sufficiency is assured. They contended that it is an innovation that can bring out many millions of people from poverty and simultaneously put food on many tables thereby reducing hunger that plagues much of Africa.

Dunwell, an expert in genetic modification, said, "Scientific processes of improving plants yields have now become the fastest method of growing crops in many countries around the world today, so that there is now increasing availability of food thereby reducing hunger and poverty."

He disclosed that agricultural scientists first discovered and introduced genetically modified (GM) process for greater crop yields in the United States of America over 30 years ago and that it is now the major food booster.

He said, it is as a result of scientific agricultural innovations in the United Kingdom, for instance, that food sufficiency is guaranteed such that it is hardly heard that the country imports food to feed its people as in Africa.

He said through the application of GM which essentially is the scientific process where genes from either the male plants are transferred into the female by agric experts to boost and multiply the breeding of many food crops in the UK and many other countries, so that at harvests, they confound expectations.

Powell who dwelt on planting, breeding and agriculture said, "GM is now the most preferred scientific agricultural system which is guaranteeing food production and food sufficiency in much of the Western and some Asian countries and which we want to strongly encourage farmers in Africa to equally avail themselves of. Luckily, there are now some agricultural institutes and increasing number of experts in Africa that are devoting time to the study and propagate this method, so that food sufficiency and security may also be in place here".

On the fear expressed by people that GM crops have capacity to harm animals and humans, both scientists strongly disagreed that GM crops as well as the hybridization process of crossing different types of crops for improved agricultural yields do have harmful effects on or possibly kill when consumed.

"GM crops are now widely available in much of the world, there have been no substantiated proofs or arguments that these crops have harmed or killed anyone or animals", said Dunwell.

Rather, he said that the scientific approach has helped to deter the ravages caused by rodents and pests on crops which contributed to the low agricultural yields in Africa thereby making her to rank low in the world.

Against religious beliefs that the introduction of GM and hybridization contradict the intention of God who created and perfected crops and leaves and ordered man to eat and depend on them that they are good, the scientists also argued that these scientific innovations have rather unlocked the secrets of creation and bolstered different kinds of crops which have now been modified for greater benefit of mankind.

"Scientific boosting of crop production is definitely not anti-religion. There are scientists that have deep religious beliefs. There should be absolutely no emotion about this thing which is essentially to develop simple scientific method to increase agricultural production to guarantee availability of food", he said.

Other experts from Nigeria that addressed the workshop included Muhammed Lawan Umar of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and Emmanuel Okogbenin of National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike

He said that some seven types of crops have so far been genetically modified, including soya beans, maize, cotton, cassava, cow pea, sweet potatoes and certain vegetables, and that the success rates have been tremendous.

"If African farmers and their governments must control pests and rodents attack on their crops and secure food for their upcoming generations, the time is now for them to take deeper interest in GM and hybridization", Powell stressed.

A Nigerian resource fellow and researcher at the Institute for Agricultural Research of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Dr Inuwa S. Usman also at the workshop announced a major breakthrough in four new crops varieties upon applying the modern methods.

He stressed that the new crops were species improved upon through research from their old species and that the new crop varieties were long handed over to the Registration and Release Committee of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture according to laid down regulations and that they have since been formally approved and released, adding that five of these crops were maize, three of sorghum, three of cowpeas, and one of groundnut.

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