By Shinne Divine Ogbodo
The Deputy Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), who doubles as the Coordinator, Open Forum for Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), in Nigeria, Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, the President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim and the Director General of the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Dr. Phillip Ojo, have said scientific evidence through biotechnology applications and its acknowledged safety remain the guarantee to Nigeria’s food security.
Speaking in an all-embracing sensitization workshop in Abuja for the 6 Local Government Chairmen, Emirs/Chiefs, Religious leaders and other stakeholders, Gidado, said the aim of the workshop is to keep every stakeholder abreast of the unfolding developments in the country’s biotechnology ecosystem.
According to her, adopting safe biotechnology applications will improve the lives of Nigerians, earn more foreign exchange with assured increase in the general well-being of their communities
Recall that the signing into law the biotechnology Act in April this year by President Muhammadu Buhari was greeted by excitement across the country.
This development, food security experts say will no doubt trigger the biotechnology ecosystem to more research even as the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) has released two crops (PBR Cowpea and BT Cotton) through biotechnology application often referred to as Genetically Modified Crops (GMOs) and products.
According to Gidado, the sensitize is also expected to further inform, convince farmers to adopt and support agricultural biotech concept to enable rural communities, benefit from agricultural biotechnology adoption.
On justification, she added: “The need for safe biotechnology application, especially in agriculture is integral in the roadmap towards achieving the set objectives of improving productivity, quality of food crops and income of farmers.
“It is important to sensitize the Local Communities around FCT on the benefits of modern biotechnology practice to counter most health-related claims made by the anti-biotechnology adoption.”
She reiterated that sufficient understanding of the science of biotechnology, biosafety regulation and practice by the local government authorities, religious leaders, farmers and extension workers in FCT to counter some of the health-related claims made by the anti-biotechnology adoption.
She urged the farmers to uphold their positive opinions formed on GM crops and product and other potentials that biotechnology has to offer.
Arc. Ibrahim, admitted that Nigerian farmers have come to terms with the full embrace of biotechnology as a game-changer expected take them out of poverty threshold, make them prosperous as well as attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) into the country.
He expressed conviction that the PBR Cowpea formally commercialized recently has the potential of helping Nigeria to close the deficit of nearly 500,000 metric tones now being experienced and also enable it to be a net exporter of the commodity across the continent through Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the rest of the world through sustainable agribusiness practices.
By embracing biotechnology applications, he said farmers will spend less on insecticides and labour thereby mitigating losses due to insect infestation especially the dreaded pod borer which is known wipe out about 75% of cowpea plantation.
Arc. Ibrahim, said: “I can testify to the efficacy of the PBR cowpea because I have planted it and sprayed insecticide only twice instead of 8-10 times. The yield is also quite remarkable. The BT cotton is also resistant to insects and drought with an enhanced yield.
“The fear of GM as expressed by the Anti-GMO activists is not supported by good science as I have personally attended international meetings and held several discussions all over the world to come to the conclusion that GM crops do not cause any disease especially as they are certified by the biosafety agency of Nigeria before being released.
“They undergo many tests and regulations by the biosafety agency before being certified safe for planting even before consumption. I implore our farmers, monarchs, Islamic Clerics and extension workers to champion the advocacy to embrace biotechnology which ennobles the commercialization of GM crops as this will be the game-changer in our quest for the attainment of food sufficiency in the country.
With this development, he expressed optimism that farmers will exit subsistence farming through planting PBR Cowpea and BT cotton and several other crops that will be released shortly.
According to him, the platform of AfCFTA which makes Africa a common market will give Nigeria the opportunity to be the true giant of Africa by producing optimally through the use of GM crops which are adjudged safe by good science and not fairy tale.
He acknowledged that his background in pure Science and Architecture imbues in him the ability to decipher the efficacy and potential of any scientific innovation empirically and I am convinced, he added.
Speaking at the margin of the meeting, the Director General, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) Dr. Philip Ojo, who was represented by Mr. Zidafamor Ebiarede Jimmy, recalled that the newly promulgated Biotechnology Act, now gives NABDA the power to operate under the law legally even without hinderance.
On the sensitization workshop and collaborative framework between and OFAB, for food security, Ojo, said: “Well, we have been collaborating a lot right from the onset because what is produced from the use of modern biotechnology particularly in agricultural sector, it is the seed industry that benefits even first.
“For instance, the two varieties that have been produced, that of Cotton and that of Cowpea, it is seed and so we in the seed industry are the ones that benefit first from the products that come from modern biotechnology and so we collaborate to ensure that what is coming out will be of benefit in the seed industry and that has really help even in the Cotton industry and also the food crop of Cowpea that this technology has brought about, that is the Sampi 20t.”
Ojo, also expressed optimism that the Act will help the Nigerian farmers, stressing that NABDA is the agency that that promotes technology that has to do with the use of modern biotechnology.
He said: “Already, we have seen how they have been able to follow up and pursue the use of biotechnology in developing crop varieties.
“We have heard the release of two modern biotechnology driven Cotton varieties and today we are talking about Cowpea as well that has been released through the efforts that was made by the agency and with the signing of the Act into law they will hit the ground running to ensure that they double their efforts that they have been making to promote the use of modern biotechnology to really promote and develop more products that will be beneficial to the farmers in Nigeria.”