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Deploying Modern Biotech To Tackle Post COVID-19 Food Security Challenges



As the world is currently battling to contain the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-2019) disease, the crisis is currently hitting all sectors of the global economy with different degrees of lockdown directed by world governments to contain the disease and keep their citizens safe.

Nigeria is not left out in the dash as the Federal Government directed lockdown in three key states with the highest number of cases in the country. They are the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states. The government also placed a restriction on interstate movement as well as border closure of the country to reduce interstate spread of the virus.

As the disease continued to spread in other states, the state governments also borrowed a leaf from the federal government as they also directed partial lockdown in the states.

This move by the government, though in the interest of Nigerians, spiraled a chain reaction as all sectors of the economy felt the pinch of the lockdown. Though, statistics show government is winning the war against the virus given the fact the spread is yet to hit the alarming predicted percentage of world health bodies and commentators.

Various sectors still reel from the lockdown. One of the key sectors that was hit by government’s move was the agriculture sector. Experts predict a looming food crisis after the Covid-19 era, expressing the fear Nigeria may be unable to meet up with enough food to feed its over 200 million population and saying the after effect of the Covid-19 era is definitely going to affect the nation’s food security status as the lockdown affected the planting season as well as stock up of quality seeds by farmers owing to the fact that most of Nigeria’s agric produce are imported and the lockdown was directed during the period agro-allied companies restock for the season.

Speaking during a webinar roundtable series on “COVID-19: Effects on food security and the use of genetic modified products toward food sustainability” hosted by Greenspring Communication Limited, the country coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr Rose Gidado, pointed out there is a looming food crisis in the country in the post Covid-19 era.

She, however, said all hope was not lost for the country if it adopts genetic modification (GM) technology during and after coronavirus pandemic to ensure food sustainability.

According to her, whether or not the country will be able to recover from the looming food crisis only depends on the type of approaches adopted.

Gidado, also a deputy director, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) described the technology of genetic modification of crops as a promising tool in mitigating the negative effect of the pandemic on food security.

“It involves the manipulation of genes in a living organism to make or modify biological product or to improve the organism for specific uses.

“It enhances food security through the production of foods with longer shelf life, higher yields, increased nutritional content, shorter harvest time, disease and pest resistance as well as stress tolerant,’’ she said.

She further said the application of GM in agriculture to create resistant plant resources had been used to achieve food security in some advanced countries.

Gidado contended that climate smart GM seeds that would reduce the need for routine farm practices while ensuring higher yields should be adopted by the government and other stakeholders.

In his remarks, the director-general of the National Biosafety Management Agency, (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, who was also a panelist at the webinar, said the issue of the adoption of safe modern biotechnology products to ensure food security and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic is key to the development of the country.

He said: “With the advent of COVID-19, there has been a lot of challenges which has impacted negatively on food security, the world has been thrown into confusion, social security system has broken down, the issue of health system has been highly negatively impacted and food security has been trampled upon.

“Farmers are finding it difficult at this time because there are less farming hands, movement of food and crops from various places to another is also delayed due to the impact of COVID-19 on the transportation system. These challenges can be overcome through the safe application of modern biotechnology products.”

The NBMA boss said modern biotechnology tools that have been confirmed safe had been used to produce crops that could aid farmers and boost food production and it is very important at this critical time for farmers to adopt modern biotechnology crops that have been approved and its safety ensured.

Ebegba said: “Nigerians should take advantage of the laid down government policies on food production as the NBMA has a major role which is to ensure that farmers use safe seeds that have been approved for cultivation.”

He said the use of modern biotechnology tools must go with biosafety application as biosafety compliance is very important, noting that with this pandemic, it has become very evident that safe technologies are very key in addressing national and international issues.

“The federal government’s effort in establishing the National Biosafety Management Agency is a major achievement in the bid to boost food production and ensure food security and this administration has supported the NBMA to effectively discharge its duty and deliver on its mandate.

“Due to the existence of the NBMA Nigerians have been enlightened on the issue of genetic modified organisms and a lot of misinformation has been dealt with as the agency has been able to carry out series of enlightenment campaigns and programmes on our activities and mandate.

“We have been able to assure Nigerians that GM products will be tested for safety right from the developing stage before it even goes into the market as the agency has continually carried risk assessment to ensure that these products are safe” he pointed out.

Ebegba assured Nigerians that the NBMA is not resting on its oars in ensuring that products are safe for humans and the environment, adding even in this period the agency is on its toes in ensuring that farmers get safe products for planting in order to boost and ensure food security in the country and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.