Saturday, September 25, 2021

NBMA: Committed To Safe, Sustainable Use Of Modern Biotechnology In Nigeria

Gloria Ogbaki

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was established by the NBMA Act 2015 to create and implement a regulatory framework for the safe practice of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. Since coming into existence, the NBMA has put regulations, guidelines and policies in place to ensure that the products of modern biotechnology can be deployed safely in Nigeria.

Chief among the achievements of the agency is the successful accreditation of some of Nigeria’s research institutes. These include the National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi and National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike. Through its accreditation procedures, the NBMA certifies that institutes operate in accordance with global best practices. As a consequence, Nigeria has become a regional leader in locally-driven research trials of GM crops. Confined Field Trials of GM Rice, Cassava, Soybeans, Maize and Cotton are at various stages of progress around the country. These crops promise lower production costs and significantly enhanced agricultural yield which will undoubtedly play a role in boosting large-scale commercial agriculture in Nigeria with safe products.

The NBMA has also established Nigeria’s first GM Detection and Analysis Laboratory and this has been going through constant upgrade to ensure proper tracking and analysis of GMOs. Prior to this, GM foods and grains flooded the country’s markets unregulated and untested. With a well-equipped GM laboratory, the NBMA is able to test GM grains and foods to ensure they pose no risk to human health or the environment before they are allowed into the country.

Another notable achievement of the NBMA is the progress it has made in educating and enlightening the public about its role as a regulator and how the risks of modern biotechnology can be managed based on scientific evidence. Misinformation and misguided activism against certain technologies pose a risk to their adoption and ultimately, the economic progress of the nation. The NBMA prioritizes public awareness at all levels, and has successfully engaged policy makers, academia, farmers, the general public and the youth with a view to encouraging informed dialogues about modern biotechnology and biosafety.

Leveraging the administration’s commitment to youth employment and empowerment, the agency successfully recruited a cadre of young, vibrant staff who are passionate about science, agriculture and national development. The agency has also taken them through various capacity building programmes to equip them with the skills they need to regulate, enforce and oversee the practice of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. With the continued support of the Federal Government, the agency is set to make greater strides and cement its reputation as one of the leading biosafety regulators in Africa.

To further empower the agency to regulate new and emerging modern technologies as well as biosecurity, the NBMA Act was amended in 2019 to include the regulation of emerging technologies such as gene drive, gene editing, synthetic biology and to ensure biosecurity. Due to this very important role added to the mandate of the agency, a new department, biosecurity,  was created and NBMA swung into action by developing guidelines, regulations and the National Biosecurity Policy to ensure the safety of human health and the environment.

So far, the agency has developed guidelines on gene editing which is very key to regulating gene edited products that come into the country. It has a total of 11 guidelines that have been developed with the staff working hard at ensuring the safety of Nigerians from unapproved GMOs and harmful technologies. The agency also successfully developed a biosafety regulation and an approved National Biosecurity Policy.

This feat has earned the agency very high regards in Africa and the international community. Many countries have come to use documents developed by the agency as models in the development of their own documents. Currently Nigeria chairs the African Union Biosafety Regulators Forum which is a feat that came about as a result of the dogged efforts of NBMA’s DG/CEO, Dr. Rufus Ebegba who constantly strives for the best for the country and the citizenry.

As part of efforts to expand its monitoring and surveillance, the NBMA has signed various memoranda of understanding (MoU) with some sister agencies such as Standards Organization of Nigeria, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, National Seed Council and Nigerian Customs Service so as to block any unapproved GM import. It also has understanding with the Varietal Release Committee and the Department of Veterinary and Pest Control Services under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Most recently, the agency signed an MoU with the Federal Competition and Consumer Control Commission to ensure the safety of consumers from unapproved GMOs.

Despite opposition from some segments of the society against the technology, NBMA has remained committed to its responsibility of ensuring the safety of Nigerians as well as the environment with the gradual deployment of GMOs in country. The government has put in place mechanism for the safety of the people and with capable and dedicated staff, NBMA has vowed to leave no stone unturned in realising the objectives of establishing the agency.

Gloria Ogbaki is the head of media and communications at the National Biosafety Management Agency. She can be reached on ogbakigloria@gmail.com.

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