Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose genetic makeup have been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The Nigerian government seems to have accepted this technology with open arms for farmers in Nigeria. Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology, said the approval and adoption of the new varieties of seeds for planting in the country shows that Nigeria has joined the comity of nations in the area of transgenic crop development and adoption, and is therefore ready to develop its agricultural sector. He noted that the Nigeria government will adopt policy measures to enhance the farming community’s access to the products and technology to facilitate immediate and large scale adoption of GMO seeds.
In fact Nigeria made remarkable progress in agricultural biotechnology (B.T.) in 2019, approving two genetically modified crops – pest resistant B.t. cotton and cowpea, two important crops in the country’s economic development and food value chain. The adoption of B.T. cotton is expected to help revive the nation’s textile industry which had declined from employing over 450,000 in more than 180 mills and contributed some 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The government and civil organizations have equipped Nigerian farmers with the right information on how to grow GM crops. In 2019, over 2,500 farmers were specially trained in growing Bt cotton, a number that reportedly will increase to 5000 this year and 7,500 to 10,000 by 2021. They equally will grow cowpea to meet the nation’s demand of 3.6 million tons. Nigeria is the world’s largest consumer of cowpea but farmers have been unable to meet the demand due to pest – related crop losses. As a result, the country must import 500,000 tons per year to the tune of N20 billion.
But some agricultural scientists have discovered that GM crops and similar herbicides, affect birds, insects, sea wildlife and different species living underground. These GM crops reduce the number of species, contaminate water, and they are not healthy for the environment. The emergence of new genes, reportedly because of the consumption of GM products lead to DNA mutations in human body, and could even cause the body to develop cancer.
Nutritionists affirm that GM products consumption is highly likely to provoke allergic reactions because they contain genes taken from allergies. The genetic changes which increase crops resistance to certain diseases or make them more herbicide – tolerant could reduce human body ability to resist illnesses. It has been proven that genes from GM products could invade the human body. The most dangerous thing about it is that some GM plants have genes which are anti-biotic resistant. Such genes could become a part of the human body cell.
Really GM products threaten the health of future generations. They lead to significant economic losses on different levels, ranging from small farm households to whole countries. In this context the cultivation of genetically modified cotton in Burkina Faso in the last few years led to the collapse of yields. Many health and environmental issues caused by the usage of GM crops are ignored by governments and other stakeholders, especially those who work in biosafety.
It is believed that some influential political and economic lobbying is involved. Widespread corruption in Nigeria as well as inefficiency of Management system providing controls and regulations of GM products distribution within the country (because of absence of modern technology designed to track GM products in local distribution chain) have created the enabling environment for American biotech companies to operate on Nigerian market. This situation also helps U.S. firms to achieve their goals without considering devastating consequences of testing their new technologies on the future generations of young Nigerians.
Several entities in the country, including the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the National Biotechnology Agency are aware of these dangers and are already calling attention to them. The D-G of the Biosafety Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba , has warned about safe application of the technology because it is a relatively new innovation that should be closely tracked for the safety of Nigerians and the environment. However Nigeria has regulations that require all GM products to be labeled to allow consumers the option of freely choosing the products they want to buy.
The D-G of the Biodiversity Development Agency, Dr. Alex Akpa, also has warned of production of super organisms such as super weeds in the case of herbicide tolerance species. He reportedly pointed out that GM crops can also become suddenly invasive if their herbicide tolerance goes beyond what is expected. They could also become so strong as to destroy all other crops grown alongside them because they have the ability to tap more nutrients than other crops so those can no longer survive.
‘’When we talk about genetic engineering we must realize that tampering with nature has consequences because every GMO that you have is an unnatural organism that cannot be found in nature,’’ reportedly said Casmir Ifeanyi , of the Department of Veterinary Microbiology at the University of Abuja, ‘’the way forward is that we don’t need GMOs in Nigeria. What we need is a farming system where farmers are adequately supported and assured of good prices for their harvests’’.
Nnimmo Bassey, an environmentalist and Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation says, “It has been said that GMOs have higher yield simply because they are made in the laboratory. This is not borne out of facts”. Dr Emmanuel Mbah, Agronomist at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Umuahia, calls on the agricultural research institutes in Nigeria to work on the improvement of our crops and provide scientific solutions for Nigerian crops to thrive at all times, instead of celebrating the use of GMO crops with their many rewards and adverse consequences.
– Awuru wrote from Lagos