The director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, has given the recipe Nigeria can adopt to avert an imminent food crisis.
He made this assertion during a biosafety and biotechnology sensitization workshop for the southeast zone in Enugu, themed “The role of biosafety regulation and modern biotechnology towards realising economic diversification in Nigeria” organised by the agency in partnership with the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Programme for Biosafety (PBS), USA.
Mustapha harped on the need for Nigeria to rely on tools made available by biotechnology to improve its agricultural produce to avert the impending food security.
“Nigeria is currently at a crossroads as regards the looming food crisis. This requires all hands to be on deck to fashion out strategies on how to improve and boost agricultural productivity to guarantee food and nutritional security.
“In the last 30 years, we were comfortable with agricultural productivity because then we had a lesser population to feed and the soil was very productive. So, even with an ageing farming population, we did not envisage a food crisis. Today, we cannot afford such [a] luxury, as most of our population goes to bed hungry daily.
“The farming population has also not improved; rather, the youths have completely taken their hands off farming, leaving it in the hands of those who are in their late 50s and 60s,” he said.
The NABDA boss posited that, among other things, the workshop opened the eyes of stakeholders to the fact that Nigeria cannot continue to rely on her aged population to feed a nation of over 200 million people or the productivity of her land which was better 20 years ago. He said the time has come for Nigeria to fully embrace technologies that will change her farming experiences.
“It is based on this reality that we are all gathered here today. In the last decade, scientists across the country have been working, seeking for solutions to the challenges confronting our farmers especially as it relates to yield potentials of our legumes,” he stated.
Mustapha underscored the greatest setback for the agricultural productivity in Nigeria to include the absence of a coherent information system that keeps farmers abreast with the latest development in the field of agriculture, noting that most farmers cannot differentiate between grains and seeds.
He further identified the absence of good agronomic practices as another issue affecting agricultural productivity in the country, adding that farmers are not only saving seeds from the previous harvest but do not know that the seeds need to be treated to become better, to enhance yield.
“A quality seed is one healthy and proficient enough to resist drought, herbicides, diseases, and can produce a healthy plant with more nutritious grains. This is far from what farmers experience with their saved seeds. Farming is about having strong harvestable yield that will get you economically empowered,” he added.
The NABDA helmsman also pointed out that the agency is living up to the mandate it was given by the Federal Government, reiterating that it is committed to making biotechnology an engine of growth for the socio-economic development of Nigeria by promoting, coordinating and deploying cutting-edge biotechnology research and development, processes and products for the socio-economic well-being of the nation.
In his presentation, “Nigeria’s Biosafety Regulatory System for Food Crops, Feed and Process – The Case of PBR Cowpea”, the director-general, NBMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, described biosafety as the application of laws, policies, regulations, guidelines, knowledge, techniques, measures, equipment and procedures for minimising potential risks that modern and emerging biotechnologies might pose on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health and the environment.
He added that the agency was established by the Federal Government to regulate products that are genetically modified to ensure they do not negatively affect humans, animals and the environment.
The NBMA boss maintained that though the agency has issued permits for the importation of many genetically modified crops, as well as the commercial release of the PBR cowpea and cotton, it will undertake any measure necessary to avert risk or danger to human health and the environment including the revocation of the permit if the product/crop poses any risk.
He assured Nigerians of the agency’s commitment to ensure the safe application of modern biotechnology, stressing the crops currently approved pose no risk to humans, animals or the environment.
Giving the global biosafety update, the country coordinator, PBS, Nigeria, Dr. Matthew Dore, said Nigeria signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity on May 24, 2000, and ratified on July 15, 2003, to ensure safe application of modern biotechnology which NBMA is the official regulatory body.
He explained the protocol is an international agreement that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on January 29, 2000 and entered into force on September 11, 2003, adding there are currently 173 countries that are parties to the protocol.
Earlier in his welcome address, the vice chancellor, Godfrey Okoye University, Rev. Fr. Prof. Christian Anieke revealed that the varsity is involved in the sciences as well as other fields of knowledge that enhances human life including GMO research and development, adding that it runs a GMO centre and laboratory that serves as a hub for other universities to tap, and over 200 secondary school students have been trained at the centre on genetics.
Represented by the institution’s deputy vice chancellor, Rev. Sr. Prof. Sylvia Nwachukwu, he urged Nigerians to explore the potentials available in modern biotechnology to boost food production and sufficiency.
Highlighting the workshop objectives, the country coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria, Dr. Rose Gidado, said they include the implementation of a proactive communications strategy and policy, implementation of outreach and awareness framework based on evidence; promotion of modern biotechnology and biosafety to engender public trust in regulatory decision-making and to discuss the existing modern biotechnology research capacity, opportunities and limitations in Nigeria and explore policy issues related to improving biotechnology innovation in the country.