Food Security: Agricultural Biotechnology, Panacea For Nigeria’s Growing Population – Stakeholders

OFAB Capacity Workshop
The country coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Africa, Nigeria chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado (third from left), Country coordinator, Program for Biosafety Systems, Dr. Matthew Dore, Director-general, National Biotechnology Development Agency, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director-general, National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, Director-general, Sheda Science and Technology Complex, Prof. Paul Onyenekwe flanked by other stakeholders during the workshop in Abuja.

As Nigeria’s population continues to grow astronomically, stakeholders in the biotechnology sector have posited that modern agricultural biotechnology provides a veritable tool for meeting Nigeria’s growing food requirements.

This was the unanimous opinion expressed by stakeholders during a one-day north-central farmers and agric extension agents sensitisation workshop themed “Extension agents and farmers capacity-building on PBR Cowpea and Bt Cotton Cultivation” organised by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Africa, Nigeria chapter.

The sensitisation workshop organised by OFAB an initiative of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) under the auspices of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) was in collaboration with the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) and other stakeholders yesterday (September 8, 2022) in Abuja.

In his keynote address on the role of biotechnology in improving agricultural productivity, the NABDA director-general, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, posited that the world population is projected to rise to 9.5 billion by 2050 and a quarter of the population will be in Africa.

He pointed out that the population growth has placed greater demand on land, water, forests, minerals and energy resources as food production does not match the population growth rate.

Mustapha explained that modern agricultural biotechnology provides a new approach focusing on science, technology and innovations to increase productivity for food security and generate surplus for trade and export without harming the environment.

He highlighted that the capacity building workshop was to build the capacity of farmers and agric extension workers, who are the direct beneficiaries of the technology, to boost their confidence so they can get the best out of the new technology.

“As a new technology, you need to give an insight of exactly what the technology is all about and that is the basis of my lecture. When you show people exactly what you are deploying to them, it gives them confidence and insight into the science you are providing.

“To enlighten them is very necessary and important. When you enlighten the end user of the crop, it means they can pass the knowledge on to others and explain to them what the crop is all about.

“If anyone comes to them with distorted information about the crop, they can easily dismiss it. That is the reason why we came here to enlighten the farmers, the extension workers and the stakeholders in the agriculture sector,”he added.

In his goodwill message, the director-general, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba said the issue of food security is very key and it is important that farmers are properly educated to use the right seeds to prevent excess chemical usage on the farm, which could lead to green house gas emission.

Ebegba urged Nigerians to trust the agency to execute its mandate to ensure that all genetically modified crops released in the country are safe. He assured that the agency will not let anything that is harmful and unsafe into the country.

Presenting the workshop objectives, the country coordinator, OFAB Nigeria chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado emphasised that the need for safe biotechnology application, especially in agriculture, is integral in the roadmap towards achieving the set objectives of improving productivity, quality of food crops and income of farmers. “It is, therefore, important to sensitise the North-central on the benefits of modern biotechnology practices to counter most health- related claims made by the antis,” she said.

According to her, awareness through specialised workshops as this would help popularise the technology concept and secure sufficient buy-in from individuals.

Listing the workshop objectives, she said it aimed to implement a proactive communications strategy and policy, to implement outreach and awareness framework, based on evidence, to promote 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, as well as explore policy issues related to improving biotechnology innovation in the country.

“Investment in awareness creation on agric biotechnology issues will deliver multiple positive responses. There is the need to unbundle the application of this technology for national growth to secure popular support from the masses,” she added.

Earlier in his welcome address, the president, National Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (NBBC), Prof. Celestine Aguoru said the meeting was part of the consortiums and other partner organisations efforts to build capacity through information sharing and getting stakeholders to keep abreast with developments in the efforts modern biotechnology is making to resolve otherwise intractable pest problems and ensuring food security in Nigeria.

“NBBC welcomes every farmer and extension agents who are the focus of this interaction today. We at NBBC admit all of you as members of the consortium.

“Certainly, NBBC is here to ensure a unified voice and strategy for experts from universities, research institutes, and government agencies to lend their voice to the technology while making sure that protocols signed by Nigeria are respected. The consortium shall continue to ensure we keep abreast with critical issues and have opportunity of contributing to strategy development for Nigeria to benefit from this very important science,” he added.

Similarly, the director-general, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Prof. Paul Onyenekwe said the impact of climatic variability in agriculture has resulted to issues around food security and threatens livelihood activities of many nations, including Nigeria. He added that meeting the food requirement of the nation’s burgeoning human population is fast becoming a great challenge and traditional crop breeding is unable to provide solutions.

“Agricultural biotechnology is a fast-expanding industry in many countries of the world and will continue to offer remarkable economic, environmental and social opportunities in the years ahead. Since its introduction about 15 years ago, plant biotechnology has achieved very important milestones in increasing global crop productivity to improve food, feed and fiber security, and in reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture.

“Notwithstanding, knowledge about agricultural biotechnology (especially GM crops) is very important for acceptance or rejection of the technology. SHESTCO is particularly happy that today’s programme will be providing the much-needed knowledge for important stakeholders on the subject matter. It is our hope that, by the end of the programme, farmers level of awareness and extent of utilisation of existing biotechnologies would have increased,” he added.

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