By Dwellethh Morountodun
The Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, has said that with the decline in Nigeria’s food production over the years which triggered increased imports coupled with the rapidly expanding population, Nigeria has no choice than to turn to biotechnology to increase its agriculture output.
According to him, the stark reality of rapid population growth has necessitated that its food production must double by 2050.
Speaking over the weekend in Abuja, at a sensitization workshop for members of the Nigeria medical Association (NMA) and other stakeholders in the health, the NABDA boss acknowledged that the adoption of Genetic Modification Organisms (GMOs) has become imperative even as he admitted that there are setbacks like pressure on land-use which is a growing challenge, adding that as the world becomes more urbanized, Nigeria is growing poorer with a deteriorating agriculture environment.
On the essence of the training, he told the medical practitioners: “You are at the forefront of patient care, and it is essential that you are equipped with the latest knowledge and information on GMOs and their products.”
This workshop, the NABDA boss, said is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of the science behind genetic modification and its role in modern medicine, its potential benefits in agricultural productivity and food nutrition as well as the regulatory procedures being followed to ensure the safety of the emerging products.
He said: “Nigerian economy was centered on agricultural production for domestic consumption as well as for export in the early 60’s-70’s and was self-sufficient in food production at independence but by late 1960s, emphasis shifted to non-food crops export through large-scale enterprises as well as fossil fuels.
“Seed varieties perform low and at times are obsolete and do not correspond to the new climatic factors. There is high pressure of insect pests and diseases. Soil fertility is low and there is lack of capital funding for investments.
“Therefore, adaptation to changing climatic conditions makes it imperative to explore adaptable strategies and emerging technology tools like modern biotechnology aimed at tackling these challenges to produce more food for the masses and teeming population.”
According to Mustapha, modern biotechnology practice, which uses genetic modification tools, will provide safer, cheaper, better quality, less waste, less energy, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable products.
Hence, he added that the application of biotechnology to agriculture will ensure the production of significantly more food on less land, with less water in conditions of increasingly unpredictable climate and markets, with less manual labour as well as reduce the amount of waste and losses and produce more nutritious and safe food.
According to him, biotechnology is the use of living systems and scientific tools to improve living organisms, plants, animals, or micro-organisms to generate useful products, adding that the technology allows for the exchange of genes in the DNA.
“Genes are the encoded road map for an organism’s development. Thus, by exchange of genes, Breeders are able to engineer desired traits into the plants they desire either for nutrition, resistance to diseases, insect pests, herbicide tolerance, drought/flood tolerance, salt tolerance in case of rice, value addition, nutra-ceutics, biopharming, hormones, vitamins, et cetera.
“Some of the modern biotechnology crops being developed and commercialized in Nigeria include insect resistant beans and cotton; TELA maize has been environmentally approved by the National Biosafety Management Agency, NBMA, which is developed for Fall army Worm and Stem Borer resistance by Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria.
“Those under development are Herbicide Tolerant (HT) Soybeans by National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA); Virus resistant Cassava with elevated levels of iron and zinc called VIRCA Plus Project by the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI); Nitrogen use efficiency, Water use efficiency and Salt tolerant (NEWEST) Rice by the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State.
“Our expert speakers will share the science, insights, and experiences of developing and using genetically designed organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. They will also delve into the ethical, legal, and social implications of GMOs and their products to enable you to make informed decisions and recommendations for your patients.” He said.
The DG reiterated that NABDA’s doors are wide open for collaboration with members of NMA and other stakeholders that are determined to find a solution to the hunger and malnutrition confronting the country.
In his opening remark, the representative of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Ikpe Ifiok, who spoke on behalf of Dr. Micheal Olarewaju, acknowledged that Biotechnology as a science is the way out to solving the world’s hunger and malnutrition.
He added that the technologies have striking balance in varieties of applications ranging from agriculture, medicine and environment.
He said: “As stakeholders in Nigeria’s health sector, NMA will partner NABDA to demystify and also educate the populace on myths because so many people out there have misconceptions about GMOs and we are here to partner with the agency to make sure all these things are laid to rest and the way out to ensuring security as regards food and solving the problem of hunger and malnutrition.
“On behalf of NMA national and FCT this workshop is an opener to doctors and nurses. We believe that at the end we will partner and make sure that Nigeria is the best place when it comes to food security.”
In his contribution, the former Director General, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Prof. Nasidi Abdulsalami, commended NABDA for organizing the training for medical practitioners and doctors.
The former NCDC boss said: “This is very important to stakeholders and medical practitioners because they use medical products and services to know that there are technologies that are coming up like the Genetic Engineering that is coming.
According to him, these new technologies will help perfect and improve the quality of the medical service that they are rendering thereby making it cheaper, affordable and accessible.
Abdulsalami, added that it is also important for medical practitioners to have trust in GMOs that the traditional methods that we are using to produce drugs and biological vaccines can no longer hold, explaining that if the population of the world is increasing, we therefore new techniques to produce more products and food to feed the growing population.
The CEO and Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, in a remark, while allaying the fear of GMOs products assured that the agency had done all that is necessary to ensure that the products are safe for consumption.
Ebegba, said: “On this note I want to assure that GMO is safe in Nigeria. I want to say that the agency has accredited the agency to make sure that they have the facilities to ensure safety standards in their operations and that the consumption of GMOs is safe in Nigeria.”