Sir Rufus Ebegba, the director-general and chief executive officer of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA), at a meeting held in Abuja to review two applications submitted for the release of genetically-modified (GM) cotton and maize, said Nigerians should prepare to see more GM products in the market to serve as alternative to consumers’ choice. In this interview with Etta Michael Bisong, the agriculturist and environmental biologist spoke on the benefits of adopting safe biotechnology practice to Nigeria’s national development goal.
What are the two GMOs applications about?
We have two biosafety applications which we are reviewing to ensure that the products are safe for human consumption and to environment. These applications are submitted by Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first one is to register the gene of cotton that has been genetically modified to resist against a pest, while the other is maize that is encoded with two genes for confined field trail – herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant.
So, the essence of this meeting is to inaugurate the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) in addition to the existing National Biosafety Technical Committee (NBTC) to check the hereditary materials that have been put into the maize and cotton to ensure that they do not cause any allergy to man or animal as well as negative environmental impact. The committees are working and expected to conclude soon.
Already, there are publications in three national dailies informing members of the public of these applications in accordance with the Act establishing the agency. We have done these publications and expect comments or responses within 21 working days either by writing or visit to the agency. We have also deposited these applications and necessary documents at two other locations in addition to our office (NABMA). We have one at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria and the other at the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). The essence is for those within the areas of means to be able to access and review these applications.
How is Nigeria expected to benefit from this?
What this means is that now that we have a law and an agency to implement this law, it means Nigerians should be expecting new products in addition to others we already have in the market for consumers’ choice. Nigerians should be expecting biotechnology products that definitely will be certified safe before any release. And the farmers should also be expecting better harvests, healthy seeds, more income for their labour and inputs into agricultural activities. Apart from that the farmers can also produce enough for export and through these processes jobs are created, as well as revenue generated through payment of permit fees to enhance economic growth.
Aside maize and cotton, what other crop is Nigeria expecting to release soon?
There is another crop that may likely come up very soon and that is the Bt cowpea modified to resist a pest known as maruca which has being on experimental field trail since 2009. The institution that was given the permit is doing multi locational trail across various regions of the country to ascertain the performance of the product.
What is your position on media’s role and various campaigns in Europe against GMOs?
The media is the voice of the nation; it is a means to ensure social equity and ensure that our nation is brought to the public so that everyone is aware.
I want the public to know that there are attempts by some individuals to cause unnecessary panic over matters surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are not synthetic or manufactured materials; it’s the swap of gene to achieve particular aim.
Europe should not be used as model for the adoption of biotechnology or GMOs. Europe is a self satisfied continent; we shall adopt technologies that are safe for Africa and our nation. Nigeria as a country has planned its programmes and will not be panicked, dissuaded or misled to abandon a safe technology like modern biotechnology. The establishment of the NABMA is not in error, it’s an attempt for Nigeria to diversify the economy and broaden the scope of our national development under a safe technology practice. The agency has come to give Nigerians hope that the adoption of modern biotechnology will be done in safe manner.
And I want to urge the media that it is not everything that is sensational that should be printed or reported. Journalists should not make themselves available for information that is not good for the nation because if misinformation is not published, it will not circulate. Your conscience is where God lays and you will be an accomplice if you join those that don’t want to make Nigerians prosper. Nigeria will adopt modern biotechnology that is safe for our national development.
I have said it severally that a safe biotechnology practice under a legal framework has ability to generate minimum of 25,000 jobs annually. Nigeria is a country with diverse activities and if oil is failing us we must move to other sectors that can help our nation grow. Posterity will not forgive journalists if they connive with those who carry out misinformation, distortion of facts that are not scientific base and dissuade Nigerians from benefiting maximally from this technology. America, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Burkina Faso are among countries that have prospered from this technology. We will take what is good about the technology and abandon what is not good.
You must take note that GMOs are not meant to be imported into the country alone; Nigeria scientists have the competence and opportunity to develop varieties that are meaningful to our environment. One thing you must know again when we talk about GMOs is that it is not for food alone, it’s also for environmental sustainability and avenue to move the economy round mostly now that the world is on edge. If our conventional methods of doing things are failing us, we must move for advanced methods of doing that.
Europe is not the best model for Nigeria. Nobody should quote Europe in the adoption of genetic engineering. Go to Europe 60 per cent of their products are GMOs and they have the capacity to diversify their economy beyond Nigeria. How many countries in Europe are producing oil? How do they survive? Ask yourself these questions. We will not listen to those countries that have failed to adopt technologies that have moved on and want to continue with obsolete technologies and try to delay others until they meet up.
I want to assure you that the NABMA has what it takes to ensure that any product that is derived from modern biotechnology is safe before any release into the market.
What is your advice to Nigerians regarding the adoption of this technology?
Nigerians should trust the judgement of the NABMA; the Federal Government is doing everything possible to diversify the economy and everybody must support the government to achieve this for better today and future Nigeria.