Governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, has said Nigeria could unearth the enormous potentials tied to agriculture with the adoption and right application of agricultural Biotechnology.
The governor stated this while declaring open the media, farmers, and extension agents retreat on modern biotechnology for the northeast region held in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
Gov. Fintiri, who was represented by his Deputy, Mr. Crowther Seth, said that Nigeria is a country known worldwide for her agricultural exploits but today the contributions of the agriculture to the nation’s GDP has greatly reduced in recent years due to productivity challenges.
“The coming of agricultural biotechnology, therefore, offers us an opportunity to improve our crops and scale-up productivity which is currently at its lowest ebb. Nigerian farmers are harvesting one of the least average per hectare in the world. Our farmers cannot continue to labour in vain when there exist technologies that can help transform.”
He called for the strengthening of the agricultural extension system in Nigeria, saying it is one of the most reliable platforms that can transform and translate research findings into concrete products that can enhance productivity and ensure farmers harvest more from their little portion of land.
“For us in the Northeast, agriculture must return to its pride of place, creating jobs and making nutritious food available for the people. But this will remain a dream until the growing agricultural research and development sector in the country is backed by a strong extension service,” the governor said.
Continuing, he said, “While research and development create new knowledge and produce new varieties with high potentials for us, it is the duty of extension services to bring that knowledge to the farmers who must embrace and cultivate the varieties.
“I, therefore, call for the strengthening of the research-extension-farmers-input-linkages-system because it is central to productivity enhancement and general improvement of rural livelihood.”
In a welcome address, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), said that agricultural biotechnology has become an acceptable option for Nigeria to improve its agricultural practice and productivity.
Prof. Mustapha said that the training of farmers, extension agents, and media practitioners from the north is important because northern Nigeria is one of the leading producers of agricultural products in the country such as cowpea, maize, and groundnut.
Dr. Rufus Ebegba, Director General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), in his presentation hinted that the government of Nigeria is tightening all ends to guard against the malicious use of biotechnology in the country.
He said that, as the agency bestowed the responsibility of regulating all biotechnology activities and the products in Nigeria, the NBMA is developing a comprehensive guideline that would make the labeling of all genetically modified products mandatory among other requirements that, if flouted, could earn the violator a five-year jail term.
“As a regulatory agency, we ensure that the genetically modified version of any crop is safe to the consumer and the environment and must be similar in terms of taste, look, growth pattern, and other attributes as the conventional variety,” Ebegba said.
“The NBMA Act 2015 mandates us to take regulation of GMOs a step further. In that guise, anyone who releases a genetically modified product in Nigeria without approval from the NBMA risks five years imprisonment,” Dr Ebegba said.
He said Nigeria has also commenced the process of developing a Biosecurity Policy aimed at nipping untoward use of biotechnology or similar technology to wreak havoc in the country.
Nigeria currently chairs the African and West African forum of Biosafety Regulators.
Dr. Rose Gidado, Open Forum of Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Nigeria Country Coordinator, while outlining the objectives of the retreat, said it is to provide accurate and up to date information about advances in biotechnology since its adoption in Nigeria to ensure that journalists are fully acquainted with facts and effectively disseminate same to the public.
“Biotechnology applications would contribute to national growth and development. Therefore, sustained awareness through specialised workshops as this would help popularise the technology concept and secure sufficient buy-in from the media managers and by implication the public,” Dr Gidado stated.