Director General/CEO, National Biotechnology Development Agency, Professor Lucy Ogbadu, insists that Biotechnology has been used for more than two decades without a single, documented safety concern, and that Nigeria cannot afford to be left out in the global agricultural biotechnology revolution
Nigerian scientists in the field of Biosciences at this particular time in our history are delighted that their nation is among the comity of nations on course in appreciation and application of Biotechnology research with all its potentials to improve the quality of life and create job opportunities for her people.
Immense benefits derivable from this technology are globally acknowledged and they are as varied as the vast scope of the technology itself dating back to the first, second and third generation versions. Global interest by the ordinary, of the impact of Biotechnology centre mainly on Food security, Health benefits as well as Environmental preservation among others. Consequently, Nigeria as a developing nation confronted with challenges of food insecurity, poverty and inadequate health care was quick to embrace Biotechnology by producing a well-developed, robust and all-inclusive Biotechnology Policy. The institutional framework – the National Biotechnology Development Agency – prescribed by the policy to oversee its implementation, in living up to expectation is instrumental in playing the pivotal role of coordinating activities under national and international programmes. Though the birth and nurture of this policy is credited to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, the operationalisation is all-inclusive and open to a wider participation of relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) namely Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Environment and Federal Ministry of Education lending itself to an emerging vibrant synergy that is already yielding dividends and promises greater benefits for the nation.
Nigeria’s Biosafety law is a monumental delight to all her scientists drawn from these MDAs as well as the tertiary institutions who jointly participated in systematically making and presenting a convincing case for the enactment of the law. Successful operation of a Biosafety law in the country ensures that Nigeria’s well over 70 million farmers will begin to reap the significant benefits of modern Agricultural Biotechnology similar to economic transformations currently experienced in Brazil, India, Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa that have all adopted this modern approach to boost their food and cash crop production activities. By having a Biosafety law in place, Nigeria has commenced a silent revolution towards attaining the following goals:
- Transforming agriculture from subsistence to commercial/business level. Farmers all over the world are witnessing improved yield, and therefore improved access to food not only for their families but as well as producing excess for export. It should be noted that the adoption of higher yielding biotech crops by farmers across the world, continue to deliver substantial agronomic, environmental, economic, health and social benefits to farmers and society at large. In some cases, farmers have seen a reduction in the use of pesticides by 75 percent thus reducing their exposure to chemicals.
- Addressing food security challenges of a growing population by not only making food available in sufficient quantity but in quality to meet dietary needs for an active and healthy life. The bulk of our staple foods and invariably our diets are mainly carbohydrate thus predisposing the populace to diseases associated with imbalanced diets. Biofortification of such staples offers a lasting solution to the health challenge confronting a large proportion of the populace whose income level restricts their access to other foods containing good amounts of protein and micronutrients.
- Empowering our agricultural research institutes to continue with their work on biotech crops and ultimately commercialize the positive outcome of their research findings for the benefits of farmers. Our scientists are working assiduously to release certain crops of interest currently in research pipeline. These are crops like cowpea, cassava and sorghum that have defied all conventional efforts at tackling problems of pest infestation, poor nutrient content. In no distant time, Bt cowpea resistant to maruca pest, Africa Biofortified Sorghum laden with vitamin A, Iron and Zinc as well as Cassava plus fortified with vitamin A which are currently undergoing multilocational/adaptation trials, will be available to meet dietary needs of our people.
- Consolidating the diversification of economy from oil revenue to a more sustainable revenue generation from massive food/cash crops activities supported by modern agricultural biotechnology. The importance of this to a country like Nigeria known as a net importer of major food items, moving from that to becoming an exporter nation of agricultural produce cannot be overemphasised.
International organisations have through empirically tested methods attested to the safety of GM foods and products. The following international bodies have made unequivocally positive statements:
- The European Food Safety Agency,
- International Service for the Application of Agricultural Biotechnology and Acquisition (ISAAA).
- African Union (AU) and NEPAD Africa Biosafety Network of Expertise,
- The World Health Organisation (WHO),
- Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO),
- US Department of Agriculture,
- Australian Food Safety Standards Organisation
Biotechnology has been used for more than two decades without a single, documented safety concern. Nigeria cannot afford to be left out in the global agricultural biotechnology revolution.
Global Realities and biotechnology intervention
- Global human population is projected to rise up to 9.6 billion by 2050 while climate change raises additional problems for agriculture in terms of water and temperature stress, increased disasters and extreme weather conditions. What these portend are unique food security challenges.
- Though some progress has been made in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on extreme poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and food security, much work remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all countries enjoy the full opportunity of healthy and sustainable access to food.
- Biotechnology and genetic engineering, while not being the only solution to these challenges, offers great potential in addressing many specific concerns in food production, including micro-nutrient deficiencies, productivity and yield gaps, pest and disease problems.
- There exists an international scientific consensus that the “genetic modification” process itself does not raise any risks over conventional breeding approaches but rather offers a quicker and more precise approach.
- The debate around genetically modified products continues and is often characterised by emotive and misleading information about purported dangers that are not supported by any scientific evidence. Nigerian biotechnologists are well trained and strategically positioned for practice and regulatory function.
We hereby declare our commitment and determination
- To work collectively to improve the communications environment, including the use of the latest as well as traditional communication strategies to ensure effectiveness.
- To work inclusively, with all stakeholders, even those opposed to this technology, in an effort to build consensus and common understanding.
- To promote choice, so that farmers, consumers, and other end-users can make informed decisions that reflect their best interests.
- To address the concerns of people at all levels, to ensure the widest participation possible.
- To demonstrate how agricultural production challenges can be tackled using biotechnology, and how it can directly contribute to food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, job creation and sustainable economic development.
- To support credible scientists who are most trusted by the public and governments, to be effective communicators and to have a closer relationship with media and policymakers to ensure that scientifically informed messages reach target audiences.