As global population increases in the face of depleting resources, scientists and technologists regularly seek new ways to ensure that humanity adapts to the environment where they live. In all of these, biotechnology has become a crucial lifesaving system that Nigeria, like India, must embrace for use by its population, writes Bennett Oghifo
Nigeria needs to take proactive steps to ensure it is able to feed its population that is growing astronomically and for other crops needed for manufacturing like cotton and cassava, among others.
Thus, it is imperative for Nigeria to embrace the application of Biotechnology, which is "the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products, or "any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use", according to UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Art. 2.
Nigeria and other developing countries have problems of food shortage, global warming, erosion, desertification, health and poverty. These problems require immediate solutions that can be provided by Biotechnology.
India, with its huge population, relies on biotechnology for its agricultural needs and, particularly in its cotton industry. Nigeria can use the same technology to revive its cotton plantation that was corrupted by pests.
This technology can be applied to produce highly efficient agricultural, pharmaceutical and forestry crops to counter problems associated with unemployment and population growth. Seeds production is the primary event in the value chain of agrarian production. Quality seeds production has been achieved employing biotechnologies, said Dr. Joseph Olugbenga Tola Odusanya, Chief Executive Officer of Biocrops Biotechnology Company Limited, a leading research and development company in Nigeria, specialising in plant biotechnology, peri-urban agriculture and novel products development through bioreactors.
Odusanya advised the federal government to embrace biotechnology because of its benefits, which, he said, India and developed countries use to ensure sustainable food production, among others.
He explained that "Biotechnology is the use of biological processes, organisms, or systems to manufacture products intended to improve the quality of human life.
"The science of biotechnology can be broken down into subdisciplines called red, white, green, and blue. Red biotechnology involves medical processes such as getting organisms to produce new drugs, or using stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues and perhaps re-grow entire organs. White (also called gray) biotechnology involves industrial processes such as the production of new chemicals or the development of new fuels for vehicles. Green biotechnology applies to agriculture and involves such processes as the development of pest-resistant grains or the accelerated evolution of disease-resistant animals. Blue biotechnology, rarely mentioned, encompasses processes in marine and aquatic environments, such as controlling the proliferation of noxious water-borne organisms."
Regardless, he said Biotechnology, like other advanced technologies, had potential for misuse. "Concern about this has led to efforts by some groups to enact legislation restricting or banning certain processes or programmes, such as human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. There is also concern that if biotechnological processes are used by groups with nefarious intent, the end result could be biological warfare."
According to Odusanya, "With the appropriately trained technical and vocational education training (TVET) specialists manning our most critical sectors of agriculture, Nigeria can use biotechnology to the best advantage, providing the world with better quality food and produce, ramping-up its industrial production of agro-allied products, managing its waste by converting them into useful items and finally becoming a credit worthy nation.
"The low-hanging fruit technologies associated with Biotechnology are sufficient and necessary for the nation to be self-sufficient and finally to generate income from its investments. Biotechnology is one of the tools needed to diversify the Nigerian economy. True Biotechnology is what Biocrops is promoting."
Biotechnology has provided the tools for job creation and at the same time, improve our productivity and income, he said.
"Every university of Agriculture, every department of agriculture, every institution of higher learning, should have a minimum of the facilities that we have at Biocrops for seedlings production as part of its training tools. The students must be prepared for the next vista of agriculture - commercial scale, industry-ready agriculture. This is only applicable by using non-offensive biotechnologies, such as Biocrops have domesticated. The real job numbers come from technical and vocational education training (TVET).
"Up to 70 per cent of the skill needs of agriculture could be met by focusing on producing the right caliber of workers. The cost of providing these skills are much lower than the higher education needs of agriculture. Biocrops continuously opens up its facilities for training and research in Agriculture."
Biocrops Biotechnology Company Limited, he said currently has capacity to produce four million plantlets per annum at its Utako, Abuja facility.
He said, "It is a customer focused company that does not engage in multiplication of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). Biocrops is seriously engaged in training the next generation of modern farmers and agriculturists, assuring that its technologies could make significant impact in employment generation and food productivity within the Nigerian economy."
He advised the President Muhammdu Buhari's administration "to equip our teaming population of youths, giving them the necessary livelihood-giving skills that would link agriculture to industrial production.
"Fruit juice manufacturers would thus be able to use concentrates derived from farm-fresh produce which result from harvest time-enabled farming that biotechnology offers.
"The factories will be fed with produce which are timed for harvest in a manner that would ensure continuous operations in an industrial setting. The sugar industry, for example, which needs to grow at the rate of 25%/annum for the next 20 years to meet our sugar needs, would have seedlings supply capacity domesticated in Nigeria. We would eventually have indigenous sugarcane that is well adapted to our climate."
The technology, he said could attract employment, particularly of youth in the programme, "By investing in Biotechnology, government can generate one million jobs with an investment of no more than $1billion dollars provided that all the money will be invested in this sector. Beneficiary sectors are sugar, cocoa, cotton, rubber, oil palm sectors.
Also discussing the "Challenges and impacts of agricultural biotechnology on developing societies', Nicholas Ozor of the
Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, listed the challenges to include lack of effective
leadership, poor funding of agricultural biotechnology research and development, lack of research focus and infrastructure, and inadequate human resources and expertise.
He said "The potential benefits of the technology are: an increase in the productivity of tropical commodities to meet future food needs, new opportunities for the use of marginal lands, and a reduction in the use of agrochemicals. However,
associated with the technology are diverse questions of safety, ethics, and welfare."
He recommended appropriate use and application of agricultural biotechnology in developing societies through "adequate regulatory measures, public debate, human resource development and training, public-private sector collaboration, intellectual property management, and support from international development organisations."