Experts in the biotechnology sector have outlined gains Nigeria stands to attract with the adoption of biotechnology in developing the nation’s agricultural sector, stressing that food security tops the list of benefits to the country.
Speaking at the Science Hangout organised by the Alliance for Science Nigeria in partnership with the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) under the auspices of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Calabar, Cross River State, the executive director, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Samaru, Zaria, Prof. Mohammad Ishiyaku said modern biotechnology has enabled scientists to develop highly productive seed varieties which improve output for farmers.
The plant breeder, who presented a paper “Food Security, Socio-Economic Development, and GM Crops in Nigeria”, pointed out that scientists in Nigeria have deployed modern agricultural biotechnology techniques to develop seeds which tackle production constraints such as insect infestation, drought, nutrition and prolongs shelf life.
He further said that Nigeria is already enjoying the benefits of biotechnology with the development of Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea which is resistant to the pod-sucking insect, Maruca Vitrata. He added that through the technology Nigeria is also developing the TELA Maize resistant to the stemborer, fall armyworm and drought, nitrogen-efficient, water-efficient, salt-tolerant (NEWEST) rice; sorghum and other crops in various stages of trials and would be accessible to farmers once approved by the government.
According to him, apart from enhancing food security, seeds developed through biotechnology also have enormous economic benefits, both to farmers and the nation. He stressed that money which would have been spent on pesticides will be conserved as farmers have to spray less because the seed is resistant to insects.
He added that farmers are already testifying to the benefits of the technology which makes seed cheaper and increase their income.
In her remarks, the country coordinator, OFAB, Nigeria chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado, posited that the adoption of biotechnology has become very necessary.
According to her, the triple tragedy of climate change, crop insect pest infestation and COVID-19 pandemic are posing serious threats to the possibility of achieving the United Nations SDG goal of zero hunger by 2030 in Nigeria, Africa and the world.
“From the shortage of labour to increased crop food wastage, the novel coronavirus outbreak, lingering Ukraine and Russia war, climate change and others have put an enormous strain on the world agri-food sector and, especially, on small-scale producers in Nigeria.
“The deployment of biotechnology tools can enable plant breeders engineer plants, especially staple crops such as rice, corn, cassava and others to express vital micronutrients that are necessary to fight hidden hunger.
“The application of agricultural biotechnology to create more fertile and resistant plant resources has been used to achieve food security in some advanced countries.
“In the future, biotechnology may revolutionise the way we think. Technological advances have dramatically triggered the rates at which plant transformation can be achieved to meet our specific needs at every phase of life,” she added.
In his opening remarks, the event convener, Opuah Abeikwen, a fellow of the Alliance for Science, said agricultural biotechnology has provided answers to some of the challenges affecting agriculture.
He asserted that with a simple technique, crops are developed to resist pests, withstand drought and increase productivity.
Abeikwen, however, lamented that despite the various breakthroughs that biotechnology has shown, there is still a public misunderstanding of its benefits.
He pointed out that the concept of biotechnology is unknown to many, therefore, public enlightenment on its use, benefits, and contributions are crucial to enhancing food security and socio-economic activities in the country.
“The Alliance for Science Nigeria (ASN) is a body of stakeholders that seeks to promote access to scientific innovation to enhance food security, improve environmental sustainability, and raise the quality of living standards.
“We hope that at the end of this programme, stakeholders understand the concept of biotechnology and its significance in tackling the numerous challenges facing the agriculture sector in Nigeria,” he added.
He further urged the media to help in the dissemination of proper information using their various platforms to build trust and increase public confidence around this technology to serve as a solution to the food crisis affecting everyone in the nation.