The heads of state and governments of Africa undertook concrete steps to eliminate hunger on the African continent by 2025 during the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The Malabo Declaration states that by 2025, no African should go to bed hungry, therefore one of the major strategies to meet the goal is for every country in Africa to commit 10 per cent of its national budget to agriculture.
Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration but as at date, a significant percentage of the nation’s population is still unable to meet their daily calorific needs due to non-affordability, inadequate mass food production, lack of storage and poor food distribution. Countries including Nigeria which are under pressure to produce more food for their growing populations have adopted the use of biotechnology in agriculture in order to increase productivity.
Generally, African leaders have shown interest in adopting modern agricultural biotechnology because of its potentials to address hunger, unemployment and wealth creation.
The Federal Government, for instance, has put in place structures and regulations to enhance the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture. Such efforts have led to the commercial release of Bt. Cotton in 2018 and most recently, the Bt Cowpea which has been approved for environmental release by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) despite opposition to this technology.
Despite these laudable landmarks of the government, however, continued agitations by some groups and individuals against biotechnology application/genetic modification seem to polarize the public on this innovative technology.
In his remarks at a training programme for journalists organised by the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Abuja, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Mr Bitrus Bako said government was convinced about the potentials of modern biotech to revolutionise the industrial and agricultural sectors.
“Cotton is a major cash crop with a large and diverse agricultural value chain that creates many jobs and financial opportunities, particularly in the textile industry. The decline in cotton production in the country impacted negatively on the textile industries leading to the comatose state of our cotton mills and other supporting businesses but with the Bt cotton released, the story would change positively.
“Also, with the Pod-Bearer Resistant Beans (Cowpea) released for environmental safety in the country, there are better days ahead for farmers and consumers as well. Prior to the release, cowpea production has been achieved only through extensive applications of pesticides aimed, in part, at battling the devastating bean pod borer. Farmers were forced to spend money on eight or more pesticide applications at each planting cycle. Yet, they still lose 80 per cent of their yields to the voracious insects,” he said.
He averred that despite being the number one producer of beans in the world, Nigeria spends N16bn annually to import the produce from neighbouring countries, pointing out that the recent certification of environmental safety of genetically modified beans would help to bridge the gap in production.
Bako, who was represented by the director, special duties in the ministry, Mr James Sule, gave assurance that the quality of genetically modified beans expected to be released in 2020 would be safe, nutritious, harmless and insect-free.
“It may interest you to note that Nigeria is the number one producer of cowpea globally yet there is consumption deficit of half a million tonnes, prompting imports from neighbouring countries like Cameroon and Burkina Faso which is estimated to cost N16bn annually.
“With BT cowpea, the gap in production will be bridged and Nigeria will save N16bn on its import,” he stressed.
Bako who emphasized that government has embraced modern biotechnology and that the technology has come to stay decried activities of the detractors of modern biotechnology, saying government would continue to engage the media to sensitise the public on benefits of the technology.
He said: “Though we are all aware of a number of agitations against genetic modification which seem to polarize the public but let me reiterate that science is fact not fiction which is a product of research and innovation outputs and not sentiments. There is no doubt that the media has remained the hope for the common man and it is very important to ensure that information it sends out is not only credible and objective but verifiable and factual.”
Earlier in his presentation, the director-general of NABDA, Prof Alex Akpa, listed the steps the country had taken to realise the potentials of biotechnology and expressed confidence that Nigeria would soon begin to reap the benefits of its investment in the sector.