Nigeria’s food production system is progressively expanding and analysts predict that widespread biotechnology adoption would hasten the nation’s push toward food security.
Stakeholders emphasise that adopting biotechnology goods is crucial and vital to the food production mechanism to meet the country’s population’s food needs, which are predicted to reach 450 million by 2030.
The National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), along with partners, has championed numerous genetically modified crops throughout the years to address the myriad issues the Nigerian agriculture sector is currently facing.
While two important crops, cowpea and cotton, are now acceptable and profitable for farmers, others are on the way and when they are, the nation’s output will increase.
Nigeria’s economy was based on agricultural production for internal and export markets in the early 1960s and 1970s.
At the time of independence, the nation was self-sufficient in the production of food, but by the late 1960s, the emphasis had changed to the export of non-food crops through big enterprises as well as fossil fuels. In order to meet public demand, food imports increased while food production decreased.
Why Biotech Is Key
While describing the current state of Nigerian agriculture, the director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha noted that the country is experiencing rapid population growth, necessitating a need to double food production by 2050. He also noted that as the world becomes more urbanised, pressure on land and land use is becoming an increasingly difficult problem.
According to Mustapha, Nigeria is getting poorer and the agricultural environment is getting worse. Low-performing, out-of-date, and incompatible with the new climatic conditions, seed varieties. Diseases and insect pest pressure is strong. Low soil fertility and a lack of investment capital are two problems. In order to overcome these obstacles and increase food production for the general public, it is crucial to investigate flexible tactics and cutting-edge technological tools like modern biotechnology.
“Modern biotechnology practices, which use genetic modification tools, will provide safer, cheaper, better quality, less waste, less energy, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable products. Hence, the application of biotechnology to agriculture will ensure the production of significantly more food on less land, with less water in conditions of increasingly unpredictable climate and markets, with less manual labour, as well as reducing the amount of waste and losses and producing more nutritious and safe food,” the DG said.
While addressing stakeholders during the National Farmers Day, the AATF regional representative for West Africa, Dr. Jean Baptiste reflected on the challenges faced by our farmers and the need for biotechnology application.
“The agricultural sector has always been subject to numerous uncertainties and adversities, be it unpredictable weather patterns, pests, diseases, or market fluctuations. However, despite these hurdles, our farmers have consistently risen to the occasion, adapting to changing circumstances and embracing innovative practices to ensure a bountiful harvest.
“I am proud to acknowledge that our nation’s farmers have not only excelled in traditional farming methods but have also embraced modern technology and sustainable practices. By integrating advancements such as biotechnology in agriculture, you are not only increasing productivity but also minimizing environmental impact. Your commitment to sustainable agriculture sets an exemplary standard for the entire world,” he stated.
The director, department of agricultural biotechnology at NABDA, Dr. Rose Gidado said biotechnology has been recognized as one of the most significant frameworks for development in the nation. The application of safe biotechnology, particularly in agriculture, enhances the production of nutritious food crops and increases farmers’ revenue.
She said that due to false information promoted by anti-biotechnology campaigners, biotechnology is dealing with contentious issues on a global scale. However, it is documented that since the technology’s application began more than 20 years ago, neither it nor the environment has been exposed to any risks.
Gidado noted that scientists through biotechnology have succeeded in using living organisms and biological processes to improve life on earth, adding that biotechnology application has become very necessary in almost all sectors of the economy, especially in the health sector where various vaccines are saving lives.
“The application of biotechnology,” she said cuts across various fields ranging from medicine to industry, environment, and agriculture. Among these sectors, agriculture is the most important because agriculture provides food without which humans cannot survive, in addition to serving as the resource factor for other sectors including medicine, industry, and environment,” Gidado said.
What Is Coming Soon
Currently, many biotech crops are in their various stages of development in the country and will add enormous value to the sector.
TELA maize, which was developed for fall armyworm and stem-borer resistance by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, has been environmentally approved by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
Other modern biotechnology crops being developed and commercialised in Nigeria include insect-resistant beans and cotton. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybeans are being developed by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), virus-resistant cassava with elevated iron and zinc is being developed by the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and salt-tolerant (NEWEST) rice is being developed by the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State.
Media’s Crucial Role in Agric Biotech
For the most successful adoption, editors of news organisations have been urged to provide a balanced view, incorporating diverse perspectives on biotechnology-related issues to facilitate public discourse that will help shape policies prioritising safety, equity, and sustainability in agricultural biotechnology.
Speaking on the theme “The Role of Editors in Communicating Agricultural Biotechnology” at the biotechnology & biosafety sensitisation workshop for senior editors held in Abuja recently, Mustapha described the role of the editors as critical to the development of the agricultural sector.
He said editors play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and disseminating information. The power of the media in shaping narratives and public perception cannot be overstated. Hence, your role in communicating agricultural biotechnology to the masses is crucial for fostering understanding, dialogue, and informed decision-making.
Speaking to the editors, he said: “I encourage you to bridge the gap between scientific language and the layperson’s understanding. Agricultural biotechnology can sometimes be laden with technical jargon that may be difficult for the public to grasp. It is your responsibility to translate these scientific concepts into accessible language, enabling everyone to comprehend and appreciate the significance of biotechnological advancements.
“While exploring the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, you should also be mindful of addressing potential risks and ethical considerations. As editors, you have the responsibility to provide a balanced view, incorporating diverse perspectives on biotechnology-related issues. Facilitating public discourse on the ethical implications and societal impact of biotechnology will help shape policies that prioritize safety, equity and sustainability,” he said.
He urges editors to highlight success stories and instances of agricultural biotechnology applications, highlighting real-world examples of how biotechnology has benefited agriculture that can enhance the public and illustrate the palpable advantages of this breakthrough.
“Our farmers are also planting Bt. cotton, another innovative product from modern biotechnology that is changing the game in cotton farming, and the hope of the textile industry revival is on course,” he said.
In the past three years, the success recorded in the PBR cowpea in the hands of farmers has changed the sadness and challenges farmers face in the production of cowpea because of the destruction of the crop by the pod borer insects, which cause up to 80 per cent yield loss despite about 8 to 10 times of spread.
But the Bt. cowpea varieties allow for just two applications of insecticides because they are resistant not only to pod-boring insects but to striga, too.
This has increased the productivity of many cowpea farmers across the production belt of the country.
Another Bt. crop that has recorded huge success is cotton, which has brought many farmers who had abandoned the crop back to production in many places like Adamawa, Katsina, Kano, Plateau and many more are joining the production every year as they see the income of their fellow farmers increase.
With TELA Maize close to the hands of farmers, experts said it would address the perennial shortage of maize in the country as many industries in the downstream suffered short supply.