Are GMOs the solution to Nigeria’s food security issues?

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By Chika Onyesi

For years now, there have been disagreements from various quarters on the use of bio technology, especially Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the advancement of Agriculture in Nigeria.

The disagreement has mostly centred on the possible side effects of GMOs on human health or a possible degradation of the environment.

But as far as these warnings go, there have also been matching arguments to prove that biotechnology is the solution to Nigeria’s age long agricultural challenges.

According to biotechnology experts, Nigeria runs the risk of opening its doors to unregulated GMOs and chemicals if it does not take modern biotechnology or biosafety seriously.

The argument is that the rejection of technological advancement in agriculture, especially in adopting GMOs, will further make farming unattractive for young people.

With nearly 180 million mouths to feed, a high population growth rate of 3.2% and fertility rate of up to 5.5% experts say this is Nigerias cue to adopt food security measure using genetic engineering.

Only recently, the Nigeria government approved the environmental release of the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea, (BRP) having met all regulatory stipulations and scientific procedures, making it the first genetically modified food crop to be accepted in the country.

This of course was after the crop went through years of extensive research.

BPR cowpea was developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research, (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

The team for 10 years researched ways to address the deadly Maruca Vitrata pest which damaged the local beans variety and affected yields.

According to a Professor of Plant Science and Biotechnology, Prof. Celestine Aguoru, the modification and development of the Pod-Borer Resistant Cowpea has brought great benefits to Nigeria.

‘‘Now there will be reduction in the use of toxic chemicals in beans farming and preservation, Nigeria’s will remain the largest beans producers, there will be reduction in Nigeria’s foreign exchange expenditure for the purchase of over 500,000 tons of beans annually from other countries’’ he says

‘‘Farmers can now heave a sigh of relief from chemicals which they have to spray about 10 times for each beans season’’

He is not alone in these projections other scientists have at various forums given reasons why Nigeria should embrace biotechnology.

The Deputy Director of National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, Dr. Rose Gidado had sometime at a media forum explained that farming modified variety of food crops will not only improve the farmers’ health but also increase his productivity and earn him more money.

It will also keep the environment safe as water bodies will no longer be polluted with chemicals used by farmers.

‘‘By adopting these crops, which are products of genetic modifications, they will be contributing immensely in the fight against poverty. These crops will enable biotechnology become an important tool of agriculture’’.

Prof. Celestine Aguoru, in his analysis revealed that Beans from Nigeria is not accepted at the international market due to heavy use of chemical on farms and in storage.

A development that should worry patriotic Nigerians but unfortunately critics see nothing bad in it and want government to ban the GM beans’’

Obviously Nigeria has too many draw back syndrome affecting its development, especially and agriculture and power.

But one may ask; what are the duties of the over 15 agricultural research institutes all over the country, the federal government owned and funded universities of agriculture and faculties of agriculture?

According to Prof. Aguoru, their duties are simply to work on the improvement of our crops, provide scientific solutions to challenges facing farmers and ensure that crops which the country has comparative advantage in producing is enhanced to the extent that we don’t have to lose that advantage, he added.

According to him countries that have attained full development had the contribution of their universities in science and technology put to good use.

He believes it would be a great disservice to Nigeria if the effort of Nigerian universities in pursuing research is not utilised accordingly.

Aside the calls for government to ignore anti GMO activists, Biotechnology experts want an increase in budgetary allocations to universities and research institutes.

Recall that poor finances have always been the major challenge for Nigeria in tackling many of its developmental challenges.

Biotechnology experts say government needs to dedicate quality resources for research and innovation to push scientists and institutions to undertake intensive developmental researches especially in Agriculture.

For many experts, the solution to viable farming activity in Nigeria is the use of bio-technology in crop development, farm operations, preservation and distribution of food crops.

 

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