The Chairman, Senate Committee on Capital Market, Senator Ayoade Ademola Adeseun, has said that biotechnology presents Nigeria the opportunity of attaining food security for the nation.
Adeseun said this at the June 2012 South West Zonal Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Ibadan.
He lamented the dearth of young and virile farmers who will employ biotechnology to boost agricultural produce, even as he observed that the current productivity of Nigerian farmers was low.
He said: “Nigeria has about 160 million people to feed; our farmers are ageing. The same farmers who used the land for decades have grown old now: their productivity level is very low; if we depend on them we will end up starving.
“It is only wise for us to take advantage of the new development in science and technology that will make it possible for a man to produce more food. Nigeria can feed the rest of African countries with biotechnology, if we pool our resources together; if we accept this new technology, one farmer can feed 40 people instead of one farmer feeding his family alone. And in the next five years, Nigeria can be feeding the rest of the world, not only Africa.”
He further lamented that Nigeria imports one billion bags of rice every day: “a country that is so endowed with land, water and people, but yet we don’t produce our own food.” He concluded that the only way to open that door for our people is through biotechnology.
On her part, the guest speaker of the forum, the Acting Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Dr. (Mrs) Feyi Okelana, described the newly released high yielding cocoa variety, which has micro propagation and breeding for high yielding variety, as a landmark achievement.
“What cocoa farmers were getting from their farm was just 250 kilogrammes per hectare, but this new release will yield 2.3 tonness per hectare, which is much higher by multiples,” she added.
According to her: “We have the big challenge of producing 10,000 fruit concept templates this year as evidence that we have mastered this technology, and that is what is going on in Cocoa Value Chain Transformation Agenda this year in the country. We intend to produce 20 million fruit concept templates of very high yielding varieties.”
She lamented that CRIN did not have the infrastructure to do the research alone, but had to go into collaboration with IITA, NACCRAB and other international organisations.
“Biotechnology is an area that is capital intensive. We need a lot of facilities to be in place. We need a standard biotechnology laboratory with relevant equipment and 24-hour electricity,” she stated.
In his remarks, the Director General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Professor Bamidele Solomon, stressed the need for a biosafety law to boost the sector.
According to him, “We need a biosafety law in place, because when we have a law, we will be able to deploy this new technology to our farmers; but at the stage which we are now, we can only do Confined Field Trial (CFT). We cannot do even multi-locational trial, not to talk of commercialization.
“We have some crops that are undergoing Confined Field Trial like Bt-Cowpea; also biofortified sorghum, biocassava and others that, in view, are Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) that allow maize to grow under draught conditions, with less rainfall; Nitrogen Efficient Rice (NUE); Bt-Cotton; HerbicideTolerant Soybean (HT), all these are available, but we cannot bring them into the country because of lack of biosafety law. This is the sad aspect for those of us charged with the responsibility to deploy biotechnology to the country.”
A statement by the OFAB Coordinator, Nigeria Chapter, Mrs. Rose Gidado, noted that the perceived risk of biotechnology, when properly managed, can be avoided and that was why NABDA was pushing for a regulatory mechanism, the Biosafety law.
“The Biosafety Law covers all modern biotechnology activities - Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and products thereof, including all germplasm. It defines modus of practice of modern biotechnology, the handling, transfer and use of GMOs and products thereof, to ensure safety to the environment and to human health.
“It is also intended to guide different segments of society in contributing to the safe application of modern biotechnology,” it said.