By Chika Onyesi
Over the years, the traditional practice of agriculture for family sustenance has shifted to agriculture for science and industry.
This is evident in the way many economies are opting for bulk production of genetically modified seeds to meet increasing demands in manufacturing.
Nigeria recently joined the train by approving its first commercial GM crop, BT Cowpea.
The argument to support the move is that GMOs yield more and adopting the technology will provide solution to Nigeria’s food security challenges or become a quick means of growing crops for export.
But environmentalists say the theory that genetically modified organisms yield more than natural crops have not been proven in reality.
Speaking at a Biosafety Conference recently, an environmentalist and the Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey said several comparisons have proven that the yield between GM crops and natural variety is about the same.
‘‘Because it is produced in the laboratory people assume that GM crops yield much higher than natural crops, but this is not true’’ he says.
Nnimmo explains that Nigeria is far more threatened by biodiversity, erosion and the influx of genetically modified organisms than food insecurity.
According to the environmentalist, government must concern itself with ensuring the availability of food crops in the market when it is needed and at affordable prizes and ensure an improved value chain system for agricultural produce.
‘‘In Nigeria we have very poor rural infrastructure, so even if there is high food yield in the farms, it doesn’t get to the market, the farmers don’t get good returns for their produce because there is no marketing board, there is no system by the government to support farmers and ensure they get good returns for their efforts’’.
He pointed out that Nigeria lacks good storage or food processing facilities leading to wastages along the food value chain even before it gets to the market.
The solution to the challenge, if any, according to Nnimmo, is that government must invest more in research institutions to work on indigenous crops, upscale indigenous knowledge and patterns and also ensure that the local variety is safe for the people.
‘‘When government does not invest in research institutions, the biotech agencies and countries who promote GMOs will invest in them and force students to learn the science that will grow their foreign economy, instead of learning about our traditional food systems and the kind of food that is good for our climes or how to promote our local variety’’.
The danger of this situation is that students and scientists learn to depend on ideas that are dangerous to our systems and not beneficial to our health and wellbeing, he says
Meanwhile a Molecular Microbiologist, Dr. Casmir Ifeanyi who also spoke at the conference said there is no systematic evaluation of the adverse health effects or environmental health impact of GMOs.
‘‘No one has spoken in definite terms of the impact of GMOs, most times it is the manufacturers that attest to his own product and on the basis of his evidence, his products are approved, field tried and commercialised’’ Dr Casmir says
According to the American Association of Emergency Medicine, introduction of GM crops for human consumption has been linked to the increase in cases of Asthma, inflammation and most forms of allergy.
The fact that there are conflicting scientific data on the status of genetically modified crops is a negative point for GMOs according to experts, but beside this, the obvious violation of consumer and farmers rights with regards to labelling of products also calls for question.
For the Microbiologist, it is better for people to choose what they consume rather than consume GMOs in ignorance.
‘‘We have sampled super shops and informal market and found that GM foods are already in country and people consume them without discrimination because they are not labelled people’s rights are being trampled upon, you have a right to what you eat’’ Says Dr Casmir.
While studies have shown that Nigerian local crop varieties are often threatened by pests, experts say using dangerous chemicals to fight pest is a false solution.
They allege that the super GM crops are modified to act as pesticides and as such consuming them is similar to eating pesticides.
A major consensus among experts at the conference is that the Nigerian government must mainstream Agro-ecology as a means of solving its agricultural problems instead of flooding the country with GMOs.