NABDA Boss Insists Nigeria’s Food Security Lies in Biotechnology Adoption
By Dwelleth Morountodun
The Director General (DG) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha on Thursday said the future of Nigeria’s food security lies in its ability to adopt necessary technologies (Biotechnology) that will make farming a profitable business and employer of labour.
While underscoring the overarching role of modern technologies in food security and nutritional value chain, he added that it is the deployment of such tools and invention through research that will attract the younger generation into farming to ensure abundance of quality food and at the same time an engine of economic growth.
Addressing a cross section of stakeholders at the unveiling of the highly improved PBR Cowpea/Bean variety at the: Eat is Believing-Biotech Beans Advocacy Programme at the NABDA Headquarters in Abuja, which which include delegates from Ghana led by the Chairman Parliamentary Select Committee on Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Dr. Emmanuel Marfor and the Ranking Member, Parliamentary Select Committee on Prof. Ebenezer Okletey Terlarbi, Policy Makers, Farmers, Regulators on PBR Cowpea/Bean with a view to further enhancing scientific bilateral collaboration across Africa for food sustainability.
Biotechnology, according to the NABDA boss is a cutting-edge technology of the 21st century that has proven world -wide to enhance productivity, reduce drudgery, and increase yields, explaining that it has brought about enhancement of food security in agriculture and economic growth.
It is this underlying imperative, according to him that compelled the Federal Government to established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in 2001 to promote, coordinate and set research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.
Prof. Mustapha, said: “NABDA, based on her mandate, is therefore at the forefront of Biotechnology deployment and domestication in Nigeria in the four sectors of the economy-Agriculture, Health Environment and Industry in order to respond positively to national aspirations on food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery, industrialization and sustainable environment.
Biotechnology has proven its potentials to help us overcome agricultural productivity challenges leading to more yield, for example (2.9 tons /hectare of Bt Cowpea/Bean from 350kg of non-Bt Cowpea), adding that the technology has capacity to address the various breeding limitations that conventional breeding method cannot address.
He was excited that the PBR Cowpea/Bean is a classic example of how the technology can provide solutions to one of the major challenges confronting cowpea farming.
“Needless, I bother you with the long history of several attempts by cowpea breeders who tried to find solutions to ravaging attacks of Maruca.
“For many years without success in the past, this technology has taken care of that and its potentials to improve other crops have started emerging. Farmers in Nigeria are excited with the performance of this new variety and giving testimonies. There are videos of this.
“Going down the history lane of Bt. Cowpea/Bean project in Nigeria, NABDA in carrying out her mandate of biotechnology facilitation, and as a requisite for compliance to biosafety regulation, in 2010/2011, in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Kenya, designed, constructed a level -2 containment facility, which was used for Biosafety containment studies at International Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, where this project was developed.” He said.
While reiterating the support of the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation (FMSTI) to the agency, he added that they also facilitated, funded and spearheaded heavily the Biosafety Bill passage process which took nearly 6 years at the National Assembly before its passage and subsequent assent by the President which led to the creation of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
Furthermore, he stressed that this came with pockets of technical support from development partners like the AATF, USAID, USDA, PBS, AU-NEPAD/ABNE, Africa Harvest, Biotechnology International (AHBFI), Nairobi, Bayer International and Crop Life International, USA.
According to Prof. Mustapha, this action provided an enabling and friendly regulatory environment as required by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which Nigeria signed and ratified in 2001/2002. Without this, Nigeria couldn’t have commercialized any Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crop, he explained.
He said: “The National Biotechnology Development Agency under Fed Min of Science, Technology and Innovation (FMTI) and through the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), her specialized Centre, being the main Secretariat of the National Varietal Release Committee (NVRC), has released hundreds of improved varieties of crops including Bt Cowpea/Bean and Bt Cotton, livestock and fisheries.
“And in years’ time, we are expecting the release of the 3rd GM crop, Tela Maize, developed for drought tolerance and insect resistance (Stem borer and Fall army worm).
“Farmers in African countries cannot attain the yield potentials of our popular legumes when compared to other parts of the world. While farmers in the Americas, West and Asia are getting over 10 tons per hectare for maize, our farmers are still struggling to attain 4 tons per hectare.”
The DG, said the feat attained with the development and commercialization of the PBR Cowpea has again proven that if determined, Africa has what it takes to solve its challenges.
“Remember that it is about food and nutritional security, wellbeing of our farmers, improved income, less use of chemical sprays for environmental sustainability.
“Biotechnology adoption and acceptance globally are on the rise, even countries such as Great Britain which the anti-technology crusaders have continued to cite as against the technology has fully come on board with new law on gene edited crops.”
The world, according to him is moving and will not wait for Africa. We must make conscious efforts to meet up. Today we are still debating on the efficacy, safety, and benefits of genetic modification, a 25-year-old technology that the inventors have moved on, he added
Considering our huge challenge and the desire to feed our people to ensure food and nutritional security, we must make technology the engine room for our agricultural development that way we can ensure that no African goes to bed hungry. He stressed.
He said: “Let me conclude by saying that the future of our food security lies in our ability to adopt necessary technologies that will make farming a profitable business, an employer of labour, attract the younger generation into farming and ensure abundance of quality food and at the same time an engine of economic growth.”