Agriculture

GMOs: I’m Fantastically Healthy Eating Biotechnology Produced Beans’- Dr. Rose Gidado

…Says GMO food is mankind’s most regulated products in history

By Dele Ogbodo

Dr. (Mrs.) Rose Maxwell Gidado, needs no further introduction. More often than not, she stands tall and out from the crowd from wherever she is. Why? She has a quick-notice frame occasioned by an elegant posture.

It is an understatement to say that she is endowed with beauty and a naturally gifted chocolate colour.

Gidado is the Director Agriculture Biotechnology Department of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

Before her present status, she was Nigeria’s Chapter (Country) Director, Open Forum for Biotechnology Foundation (OFAB) Africa. Because of Nigeria’s grim food security challenge, she has become a fierce advocate of biotechnology deployment to overcome Nigeria’s hunger and malnutrition.

Her deep knowledge and uncommon understanding of the complexities of science communications won her the recent Institute of Strategic and Development Communications (ISDEVCOM) award in Keffi Nasarawa State.

Recall that 2 GM crops Bt. cotton and Bt. cowpea popularly known as beans were in 2018 and 2019 were approved by the Federal Government for commercial planting across the country through the National Varietal Release Commercials (NVRC) after several trials are on the Nigerian markets today.

If others Nigerians join the NABDA Director in consuming the crop, they will be saving Nigeria over N10 billion annually spent in importing over 250, 000 tons of beans into the country.

Even though Nigeria is the largest consumer of the crop of over 2.7 million tons, it can only produce about 2.1 million tons on 7 million hectares with an average yield of 350kg/ha.

It is perhaps appropriate and apt to borrow former UK PM’s cliché, that the NABDA Director can be said to be ‘fantastically’ healthy and very proud to be associated and be regarded as the poster ‘gal’ for GMOs diffusion in the country, even as she happily informed that she has been eating the crop for the past years.

Besides her cheerfulness and propensity to grant interviews to journalists GMOs especially on safety concerns, Gidado, is reflective of a healthy-looking persona.

While fielding questions recently at the sideline of the workshop organized by NABDA for members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and stakeholders in the health sector in Abuja, on the safety of Genetically engineered food, she admitted: “I have been eating the PBR cowpea (beans) for the past 3 years, it has no negative effect or any constituted any danger on me.

She chuckled, while adding: “I’m looking fine and good so there is really nothing to worry about consumption of GMO crops that are being developed by Nigerian Scientists address the country’s grim food insecurity.”

On need for medical practitioners to validate GMO crops? The award-winning Science Communicator, retorted: “We really need them because they are friends and partners and this is not the first time NABDA has been dealing with them.”

According to her, medical practitioners are well known in the field because of the trust their patients have in them.

On their own side patients and other Nigerians people have already established trust in them and so if we don’t go close to them, we will not be doing ourselves favour and so we feel that they should know what we have being doing, how the GM Crops have been developed, how the foods have been developed and the concern of safety as that is an issue of concerns to them.

On regulations, she averred that there are regulations and guidelines, adding: That is why we are here to share those experiences that we have been have been having the guidelines for regulations and those safety procedures and evaluations.

She said: “Let them see that the way drugs are being administered to us are developed and that is how the GM foods and crops are being developed and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its agencies are actually behind this because they have been developing those standards progressively and there is striking balance between medicine and biotechnology.

“The medical doctors need to know this and some of them I’m sure might know and some might not.

“So, it is our responsibility to update and bring them up to speed in this because in science everybody is busy in his own field as you hardly have to go to other professional’s field and this is why we are deliberately doing this just to educate them and give them that information that factual scientific information that they need to be on the same page with us.

“So, that we can now agree because in drugs they will tell you that you are taking this drug but that you should know that at the back of your mind this drug that you are taking has side effects and this what the side effects can cause they will always give you that information ahead and so it is left for you to decide to take or not.

“If you are sick and it is serious and you are being taking you into a theatre because you are sick and something needs to be removed from your body you have to sign death warrant and here you are either coming out alive or not and so people signed.”

Gidado, asked, what is the fuse about the GMO crops or foods, they are highly regulated as they are the most regulated food crops in the history of mankind. Safety is never compromised because it is food, nobody jokes with food.

There is no way I can give my own country poisoned food. You can even use the technology to remove natural poison in food like cyanide in cassava. If there are aflatoxins in groundnut and maize you can actually use those technologies to remove these toxins, she added.

“So, it is just for us to enlighten people more so that we can be on the same page and not just the doctors because every other member of the society needs this sensitization because they are ultimate consumers. We the scientists that are behind it are also consumers.

“I have been eating the PBR cowpea beans for the past 3 years it has no effect or any danger and I’m looking fine and so there is really nothing to worry.

“It is just to tell people and give them that confidence as they need that confidence and that is what we are trying to do to allays the fears and all that

“On side effects from the drugs once you stop taking the drugs the side effects will stop but you stop because if you are really sick and you need to take the drugs those side effects are just temporary.

“By the time you get relief and stop taking the drugs everything reverses but then another thing that can be done about it is the developers of those drugs with time they will work on the side effect either reducing the side effect or take them away.

As you know science evolve with time and you improve all the time and that is why there is research and development is something that we cannot do without you don’t have 100% complacency.

While corroborating and adding his voice on Nigeria’s breakthrough on PBR cowpea, Mr. Opuah Abeikwen, of the Alliance for Science, a Science Communicator in an endorsement via his write-up, said: “Cowpea is an important legume predominantly grown in the dry savannas along the fringes of the Sahara Desert where the annual rainfall is around 300 mm.

“An estimated 200 million people in Africa consume the crop either as a grain or vegetable — the leaves and fresh pods daily.

“The crop is also regarded as a cheaper source of protein for the poor, making it a crop contributing to the elimination of malnutrition.

“The protein content in cowpea varieties ranges from 17 to 32 percent of dry weight and about 64 percent of it consists of carbohydrates, vitamins, and fiber.

Apart from their nutritional component, cowpea has multiple advantages to farmers, including their ability to grow and produce high yields on poor, sandy soils, high rates of symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and lower fertilizer requirements.

According to Opuah, Nigeria in 2019, became the first country in the world to commercialize Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea.

This breakthrough, he said gave Nigeria’s farmers the right to grow the crop, adding, those who planted the genetically modified cowpea continue to express joy over their yields, saying the crop was the long-awaited solution to the problematic Maruca pest.

The farmers according to him, testified that they recorded profits because of higher yields and also spent less on pesticides, which they applied only twice during the planting season as opposed to eight times for the conventional cowpea.

Recounting her personal experience with the improved variety, Mrs. Patience Koku, the chief executive of Replenish Farms, said that one cowpea plant produced over 45 pods, with visible signs of new flowers springing up. That, according to her, signified more yields and subsequently additional income, Opuah, said.

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