As the world continues to witness massive population growth, the need to do away with primitive ways of farming in order to adequately feed the growing population often comes to the fore. Scientists and experts in the agricultural sector have the firm belief that innovative tools made available in science and technology have the ability to provide growing world population’s food needs and also feed the nation.

Speaking at the second edition of the media award ceremony of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Abuja, the Minister of Science and Technology (S&T), Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, said science and technology holds the key of overcoming various challenges of primitive agricultural practices being faced globally.

Highlighting government’s role in S&T development in the country, Onu said government had demonstrated in time past its determination to make science and technology the hub on which the wheel of development revolves.

He said: “The establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) over two decades ago to prepare the ground for the deployment of modern biotechnology in all sectors of the economy, health, environment, industry and agriculture is a testimony of government’s deliberate efforts to use science and technology to boost food production, affordable healthcare delivery system, industrial raw material and sustainable food production.”

“As a country, we must encourage our scientists to continue to work for the good of the country with the mandate to improve various crops. These institutes must be encouraged to carry out their mandates in order to ensure that the country attains self-sufficiency in quality food production.”

Onu, represented by the ministry’s permanent secretary, Mr Bitrus Bako Nabasu, urged agricultural experts to work together with scientists to ensure that government’s emphasis on the need to use science and technology as the bedrock of national development pays off.

In his remarks, the acting director-general of NABDA, Prof. Alex Akpa said Nigeria’s quest for food security would remain a mirage unless the country embraces modern agricultural technology.

Akpa tasked media practitioners to work assiduously in creating awareness and sensitisation to the public to ensure that the technology was successfully deployed in all spheres of agricultural practices.

He lamented that some people had been parading themselves as scientists and engaged in criticising every move designed by the government to enhance the agricultural sector and bring about self-sufficiency in food production.

He said, “Other countries of the world have moved on to more advanced forms of modern technology, including gene editing, but here in Nigeria, we are still debating genetic modification, a technology that is over 25 years old.

“We cannot re-invent the wheel, we have to move with times, the era of hoe and cutlass farming is over, and that is the reality the media need to educate Nigerians on.

“My message for the media tonight is: Go tell Nigerians, we cannot achieve food security and sufficiency without modern technology.”

He, however, expressed joy that the first home-grown genetically modified crop, Bt cotton was released recently in the country, after the meeting of the Varietal Release Committee in Ibadan, Oyo State.

In her address, the country coordinator, OFAB Nigeria, Dr Rose Gidado, said biotechnology has become the cornerstone responsible for bumper harvests and self-sufficiency in quality food production, adding Nigeria must not be left behind. Farming, according to her, can only become attractive and meaningful if science and technology are deployed in agriculture.

She said: “In the last decade, we have travelled to the nooks and crannies of the country spreading the message of hope, demystifying fear and encouraging our people, especially farmers and policy makers on the power as well as the efficacy of modern biotechnology to change the income of farmers to the better.

“In today’s world, farming can only become attractive and meaningful if science and technology is injected into it. But efforts to ensure this happens in Nigeria is constantly attacked and criticized by those who are not competent or knowledgeable enough on the issue.”

According to her, Nigeria has continued to thrive and register her name amongst the comity of nations by registering and releasing two GM cotton varieties recently which goes to show the determination of our scientists in the face of criticisms from those who know nothing about the technology.

In his remarks, the president of Nigerian Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (NBBC), Prof. Celestine Aguoru, said the low level of awareness on biotechnology was why the anti-GMO groups have turned a scientific and technical issue into a moral, cultural and ideological debate.

“Systemically, they manipulate the science to ‘create alternative facts’ and distort scientific information to create fear and despondency. In this case, the media has a major role to play. I hereby reiterate that NBBC is available to provide scientific basis on which this technology is premised. The media has a duty to expose the hypocrisy of the anti-GM group who have no knowledge of modern biotechnology but speak for their pecuniary interest.

“These groups of people who have no knowledge of biotechnology insult Nigerians saying we have no expertise. It is really very unfortunate that Nigerians should sabotage their country to this extent,” he stated.

He said the NBBC’s mission was to ensure a unified voice and strategy for experts from universities, research institutes and government agencies to lend their voice to the technology while ensuring that all international protocols signed by Nigeria were fully respected.