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Monday, March 27, 2023

Role of biotechnology in Nigeria’s economic diversification

“Agriculture must cease from being treated as development programme; agriculture must be treated as business. Our goal will be to pursue government supported private sector agriculture value chain to make agriculture more productive, efficient and competitive.” – President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo credit: informationng.com
President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo credit: informationng.com

Since his assumption of office in May last year, Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria, has repeated at many fora that the nation’s economy must be diversified in order to meet up the job quests, wealth creation and other developmental needs.

The drastic fall of oil prices in the international market has directed the thinking of the Buhari administration to diversify the economy to other sources of revenue generation, specifically agriculture. Oil is Nigeria’s major source of revenue.

Most recently, speaking at a meeting of members of the Council of Saudi Arabian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, ‎the president: “With the down turn in the global prices of oil, we now have to prospect our solid minerals. We have to return to agriculture.”

The important aspect of these repeated pronouncements ‎is Mr President’s seeming seriousness about it. He wants to create wealth for the citizenry; employment opportunities for the youth; economic boost for the nation and opportunities for foreign investment.

“We have to return to agriculture,” Buhari has repeatedly said. But what form of agriculture could effectively replace oil in revenue generation? What form of agriculture could provide food security for the over-growing population? What form of agriculture could provide job opportunities for the youth and create wealth for the people?

The following questions must be taken into consideration if agriculture is truly sort out as the alternative driver of the nation’s economy: Should the country continue to rely on traditional methods of farming? Are traditional methods still reliable means for mass food production? Should budgetary allocation ‎to Agriculture continue to fall short of the 10 percent of national annual countries as recommended by the Maputo Declaration to which Nigeria is signatory?

Among many other things that would propel Nigeria’s agricultural potential to adequately take place of oil, are modern farming methods (biotechnology) and an upped budgetary allocation.

Biosciences could boost food security in Nigeria. ‎As such, Nigeria’s diversified growth requires increased investments that would harness biosciences as a tool for sustainable development in agriculture.

Not only should the provision of soft loans and fertilisers to farmers be the focus of government, there must be an assurance for innovative research and capacity building in agriculture in order for farmers and other stakeholders to respond to food security challenges.

And, to act in the way that portrays the administration’s understanding of the potentials of agriculture as a diversifying option that is capable of transforming Nigeria’s economy, the budgetary allocation of N76,753,672,273 to agriculture in the 2016 Appropriation Bill, must be revisited. That is less than the 10 percent, which Nigeria agreed to implement along with other African countries in Maputo.

It is however commendable that the country has taken certain steps towards joining other nations in the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture. ‎To start with, the Biotechnology Policy was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2001. That led to the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

Because of some health concerns expressed in certain quarters if the technology is introduced, NABDA, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment and other stakeholders, facilitated the passage of the National Biosafety bill into law. The law established the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), a full-fledged agency that provides regulatory frameworks for sustainability.

In the same vein, ‎towards addressing the concerns and misconceptions on the benefit of agricultural biotechnology and its potentials to drive development, NABDA, NBMA, the Programme for Biosafety System (PBS), Washington DC and the Nigerian chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa‎, are collaborating to organise a workshop to hold in March in Abuja.

With a theme: “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in the Achievement of Food Security and Economic Diversification in Nigeria,”‎ the Assistant Director with NABDA and Country Coordinator of OFAB‎, Dr. Rose Gidado, said: “The workshop aims to ‎build confidence in the Nigerian public, biotechnology practitioners, crop developers and the industry, paving the way for the use of science and technology in agriculture, which in turn will hasten the speed of the ‘wind if change’ of the Buhari Administration.”

Stating the objectives of the workshop, Director General of NBMA, Chief Rufus Ebegba,‎ said: “It is aimed at bringing biotechnology to the front burner in the diversification of Nigeria’s economy under a sound biosafety regulatory framework.

“It is also to accurately educate participants on issues of biotechnology and biosafety so that decisions by policy makers are effectively understood and communicated to the general public and also to sensitize the general public on genetic modification, biosafety and best practices in GM research and development.”

Contributing, Dr. Gidado added that the workshop would “encourage the research communities and developers of products of agricultural biotechnology to intensify their activities in line with the ‘change agenda’ of the federal government as it relates to Agriculture.”

The workshop is in two opening and technical sessions. The opening session would be attended by ‎ministers of line ministries directly involved in biotechnology/biosafety issues – ministries of Trade and Investment, Environment, Agric and Rural Development and Science and Technology.

At the opening, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, Director General of NABDA, will deliver a paper titled: “Introduction to Biotechnology and Its Place in Agricultural Development” while the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, will deliver a keynote address titled: “The Role of Science and Technology in Economic Diversification.”

The technical sessions for days one and two are deliberately made to be rich with various presentations from notable agric scientists.

By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

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