By Mohammed Mohammed
Fully aware that 8.7 million people in the North-east Geo-political zone of Nigeria are food insecure and that 320,000 children are acutely malnourished, as shown by recent statistics from the World Food Programme, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) , Nigeria Chapter under the auspices of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) has taken bold steps to stem the tide through provision of adequate information on new modern biotechnology practice and other emerging technologies which have potentials to address food insecurity.
Towards the actualization of this imperative, OFAB Nigeria Chapter held a two-day capacity building programme for journalists, farmers and extension workers across the 7 North-eastern States.
The training was aimed at creating public awareness about the opportunities and challenges presented by biotechnology development and promote dialogue amongst scientists, the biotechnology industry, policy makers and the public. This is because the application of modern biotechnology can be an effective tool for increasing agricultural productivity, and facilitate economic growth in Nigeria, Africa and across the world.
The Director General/CEO of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, while speaking on the first day of the training, reiterated on the capability of modern biotechnology to revolutionize agricultural practice while protecting the environment.
According to him, Biotechnology, is offering the North-east a second chance to revive its agriculture potentials. Through the training, the media and extension workers were prepared to be part of this journey as they assist the farmers in working towards having a food secure Nigeria. He told the participants that Nigeria has advanced in the technology adoption being the first country in the world to release Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea, and the second in Africa to release TELA maize that is drought tolerant and insect resistant. The DG hinted that modern biotechnology has profited farmers in developed countries and attracted younger generations to farming.
While the Country Coordinator, OFAB Nigeria Chapter, Dr Rose Maxwell Gidado, stressed that the capacity building programme brought together journalists, farmers and extension agents from the North East to Yola, in Adamawa to interface on the urgent need to find solution to the challenges facing Nigeria’s agricultural productivity, even as she added the intent that the participants would be to transform them as GM Ambassadors.
No doubt, she averred that this synergy would bring economic benefits to the North-east particularly and the entire country. Benefits of modern biotechnology according to her, include increased crop productivity and farm income gains; conserving biodiversity by saving up to 183 million hectares of land, reducing carbon dioxide equivalent to removing 1.67 million cars off the road for 1 year. Other benefits of the technology are poverty alleviation through the upliftment of farmers. The technology provides a solution to most agricultural, medical and industrial challenges facing the world today.
In his remark, the Director General/CEO of National Biosafety Management Agency, (NBMA) Dr Rufus Ebegba, called the participants to discountenance all misconceptions being touted against modern biotechnology as it is safe and capable of addressing food insecurity challenges.
While the Regional Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr. Issoufou Kollo, described the activities of detractors who are against biotechnology adoption as those pulling Nigeria to the stone age and do not want to see Nigeria and Africa attain food security.
The host State Adamawa, demonstrated the high premium it placed on modern biotechnology concept by not only hosting the event in the State’s Government house but having the number one citizen in the state attend the opening ceremony.
The Executive Governor of Adamawa State, Mr. Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, reiterated that biotechnology is giving the North-east Zone a second chance to revive the agricultural sector of the region and the country at large.
He described the state as agrarian and known for cotton, soybeans, yams, sorghum, sugar cane, groundnut, rice, cowpea and maize cultivation. Absence of adequate technologies, insecurity among others have eroded their zeal and impeded farming activities in the north east, hence, the dire need for urgent intervention with emerging technology like biotechnology. He was represented by the Deputy Governor of the State, Chief Crowther Seth.
Speaking from the perspective of the Nigeria Media Landscape: Why the Media Must Focus on Development Oriented Issues, Mr. Godwin Atser of the International Institute of Technology in Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, said biotechnology is a tool that can improve the prosperity of the continent and tasked journalists on professional reportage of the sector.
On his part, the Commissioner of Land and Housing, Jigawa State and former Director of Information Resource Centre, US Embassy Abuja, Mr. Sagir Musa Ahmed, who presented slides on: ‘Advanced Internet Search for Global Perspectives, News Reports Writing’ noted that biotechnology is the key technology of the 21st century, therefore, journalists are to report accurately while making use of the internet in sourcing for information.
The Communications Officer, AATF, Mr. Alex Abutu, also made presentation on: “Communicating About Biotechnology: From Lab to Market”, he maintained that the media is in the best position to disseminate the right information to the public in such a way that it would be understood without creating any panic or fear. Biotechnology he said, has solved many problems cutting across health, food and water. Journalists, he admonished should then check facts before reporting to avoid any controversy that may emerged.
Mr. Onche Odeh, a Science Journalist spoke on: ‘Why Report on Biotechnology?’ He urged journalists to take advantage of the leadership role Nigeria is playing as regards biotechnology and put Nigeria on the map in a positive light. Biotechnology, he said is relatively new, as such it is the responsibility of the media to balance the narrative.
In a related development, the Head of Public Relations Unit, LRCN, Mrs. Ngozi Oboh made a presentation on: ‘Tips for Writing Impactful Science Based Stories.’ She called on the journalists to always remember the rule of the thumb of media practice which is to inform, educate and entertain using various platforms which could be traditional or social media. Mrs. Oboh told the participants to look out for credible sources when reporting science in order to access authoritative information.
Other political office holders and technocrats in Adamawa State that participated in the programme were: Malam Bashir Ahmed, the Secretary to the State Government; Prof Maxwell M. Gidado SAN, the Chief of Staff to the Governor; Dr. Edgar Sunday Amos, the Head of Service to Adamawa State Government; Alhaji Umar Daware, the Commissioner for Agriculture; Barrister A.K. Jingi, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; and other 7 Commissioners.
Roll call of Resource Persons at the training include: Engr. Frank Satumari, Director, Federal Department of Extension Services, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Abuja; the Country Coordinator, Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), Dr Mathew Dore; Mr. Yerima Ubah, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development; Mr. Abdul Hassan, National Agric Seed Council (NASC); Dr Nasiru Ibrahim, Director, Agric Biotech Department.