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SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY

Why Nigeria Should Embrace Gene Revolution

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The world has witnessed three revolutions. In the First Industrial Revolution, we shifted from reliance on animals, human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power that this enabled. In the Second Industrial Revolution, we had major breakthroughs in the form of electricity distribution, both wireless and wired communication, and new forms of power generation. The Third Industrial Revolution began with the development of digital and communication systems, bringing about advances in computing power which have enhanced new ways of generating, processing and sharing information.

It is on record that Nigeria and some other African countries missed most aspects of the first, second and third industrial revolutions due to reluctance in exploring their options and effectively participating during the periods.

There is now the gene revolution and again Nigeria appears to be foot dragging or undecided as to whether or not it should embrace the innovation. But experts say the country will be the worse for it in the event that it fails to identify with and embrace the new era.

Speaking during a joint courtesy/advocacy visit on the management of Leadership Group Limited at its headquarters in Abuja by a team of experts from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) and Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), the director of partnership and linkages at the ARCN, Mr Yarama Ndirpaya, said Africa, especially Nigeria could not afford to be left behind in the current revolution if it must feed its rapidly growing population.

He pointed out that countries with large populations like America, China, India and Brazil were already deploying technologies that assist in the development of their agriculture to feed their populace.

“If we have issues of feeding ourselves today then tomorrow must be very important to us. And so we need to think. So, our efforts is to see what technologies are available around the whole globe that can help us improve and make sure that this productivity increase is sustained not by increasing the number of hectares because land is also running out but by increasing the number of productivity per unit area which is actually what we need. So, in our search for technologies which could be conventional or otherwise, we found biotechnology to be one of the very important and critical technologies for a teeming population like ours.

“The populations of America, China, Indian, Brazil are very enormous, but you’ll find out that most of these countries have imbibed biotechnology to assist in the development of their agriculture. Unfortunately for us, we’ve always joined the train late, when the green revolution came, we were left out, today the gene revolution is here and we’re dragging feet and before we realise it, the train of the gene revolution may also leave us. So, we feel strongly that Nigeria shouldn’t be left out of the gene revolution. We must imbibe any technology that we’re sure is safe and credible and can improve our productivity,” he added.

Earlier, the leader of the delegation, the AATF West Africa regional representative, Dr Issoufou Kollo who said the foundation is currently working on improving cowpea productivity in Nigeria by introducing the Bacillus thuringiences (Bt) gene to build resistance against the pod-borer; Maruca vitrata pest  amongst its projects on other staple crops in the country, pointed out that history had shown that Africans are always skeptic of new innovation in the country, adding the foundation believes Africa should be allowed to benefit from technologies already benefitting the rest of the world.

“We have realized that anytime a new technology to improve agricultural production is coming out there are some very intelligent people who’ll say no, this is not for Africa or they find excuses to deny Africans of it. This is how the agricultural revolution bypassed Africa many years ago. Asia which was in the same situation was able to use the same technology to feed its population whereas Africa’s production per capital was going down.

“So, at AATF we believe that there is no technology good for the rest of the world that is not good for Africa. They’re human beings like the rest of the world. So, any technology good for USA, South Africa, USSR, China, India can also be good for Africa. Technology is technology, science is science. It is universal. If a car is good to run in the US it is also good to run in Nigeria. People are buying expensive cars and bringing them into the country, why don’t the same people say it is too sophisticated for Africa.

“When science is good, it is good, it has no colour or tribal origin. This is our philosophy. But we find in our midst some people who claim to be scientists who have never studied biology, medicine, agriculture who think they know agriculture more than the professors of agriculture in this country and who are scaring people with the claim that GMs are bad, saying it causes cancer and any kind of fabricated arguments on TV and the news.

“We believe in showing the people what is the fact from credible scientists who have been working in the area for more than 40 years because the consequences and outcome of accepting science and technology to develop our agriculture, the consequences may be dramatic for our societies,” he added.

The country coordinator of OFAB, Nigeria chapter, Dr Rose Gidado, who spoke on the safety of the technology, maintained it had been proven safe from over 40 years of practice by countries who use the technology, saying there are national and international protocols to ensure safety of the technology.

According to her, “The technology is very safe in terms of safety. We have a National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in Nigeria under the Federal Ministry of Environment that is charged with the responsibility of ensuring this technology is safely practiced by scientists in Nigeria and products of the technology are safe for human consumption, animal feed and environment.

“So, there are a lot of safety protocols that have to be followed internationally and nationally to ensure that whatever goes out there to either the farmers or consumers are actually very safe. The product has history of safe use all over the world. There’s not been any deleterious effect arising from its application anywhere in the world.

“Foreign exchange would be conserved, the GDP would grow, agriculture would be taken to the next level to achieve food security so Nigeria would be able to feed the teeming population we’ve having. We need this technology because it is an appropriate technology that can contribute, we’re not saying it’s a panacea but at least it can help solve some of these problems we’re having together with mechanization and others.”

Gidado stated that the courtesy visit was to seek the partnership of the company in providing Nigerians the actual facts against the myths and to enlighten them so the poor who actually need the technology more than anybody else would not miss out of the gene revolution.

Earlier, the chief operating officer, LEADERSHIP Newspaper, Mr Dele Fanimo, who promised to partner the team in disseminating factual news through its platform, decried the deliberate distortions of scientific facts tilted negatively towards the continent, even as he urged the team to take the sensitization to the grassroots for maximum results.

“You need to take the initiative, take your battle to the grassroots because the majority of those who’ll benefit from the technology are the rural people and there are vehicles to take this message to the grassroots. We have community radio stations all over the country to disseminate the news. We also have LEADERSHIP A Yau (an Hausa version of the newspaper) which runs every day of the week, Monday through Sunday because not many people at the grassroots can read English but they can read their local languages.

“They should be sensitized on the benefits of GM technology. You also need to engage community-based organisations, traditional institutions and other stakeholders in this advocacy for you to achieve maximum results,” Fanimo pointed out.

 

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