If Nigeria is unable to produce enough food to feed its over 180 million population, the impact may be devastating on other African countries, especially the smaller West African countries, which may starve or be plunged into food crisis.
The regional head of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, in an exclusive chat with our correspondent in Abuja expressed the same conviction, saying Nigeria is a huge market in Africa whose food security should never be taken lightly because of the ripple effect it could have on other smaller African countries.
Citing an example in 2006, he said Niger had serious food crisis because Nigeria was unable to produce enough maize that year and had to go out to buy its supply from other West African countries.
“In 2006, Nigeria didn’t produce enough maize and they had to go all the way to Ghana and Benin to buy maize. A small country like Niger buys its maize from Benin but when they came, Nigerian traders had already bought all the maize and it created serious problems. It was all over the news that there was a big hunger in Niger but the problem was Nigeria had to have enough maize, so this is why maize became a very strategic crop,” he pointed out.
Speaking on the prospect of improving on Nigeria’s staple crops using modern technologies, the AATF boss said biotechnology could be effectively deployed to address challenges of weeds, insects and pest infestation of staple crops, boost production and enhance food security for the nation.
Abdourhamane gave instances of how science can be deployed to tackle pest infestation, citing projects like the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) and PBR Cowpea as good examples of how genetic engineering (GE) can solve visible challenges by improving the crops to resist and withstand adverse/harsh weather conditions and pests.
It would be recalled that Nigeria like other African countries was struck by fall army worm (FAW) invasion last year leaving in its trail maize farms eaten up by army worms in the country’s five corn producing regions of the South-east, South-south, South-west, North-east and North-west.
The regional head of AATF assured that the WEMA project initiative being handled by the foundation and which is likely to get support from the African Development Bank (AfDB) would provide lasting solution to challenges like the FAW as well as stabilize the nation’s food market, pointing out that the project would kick off in the country once it is approved by the appropriate bodies.
He said: “Currently, maize is displacing sorghum which is drought tolerant in the sub humid areas of Africa, which means we put our food security in a very dangerous situation without knowing. If you get one-week drought with maize at the time of harvest forget about your maize, and Nigeria would have to buy maize. So, this is why drought tolerant maize, the water efficient maize is strategically important for the sub humid areas of West Africa including Nigeria.
“And WEMA, I think, would even have some support even from the African Development Bank. So, at least more countries would be involved, especially Nigeria because if we don’t solve Nigeria’s food problem forget about the rest of West Africa. This is because Nigeria is about 80 per cent of West Africa. And you don’t want Nigeria to go out to other African countries which do not have enough capacity to support its food needs. Countries like Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin depend a lot on Nigeria.”
He explained that WEMA has two essential benefits, namely resistance against the fall army worm and very importantly drought resistance.
On the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea project in Nigeria, Abdourhamane, who is also the PBR project manager, stated that the project whose aim is to develop and disseminate to farmers preferred and locally adapted maruca resistant cowpea varieties which entails transferring the Bt. gene which confers resistance to the pod of the improved cowpea varieties was at the very final stages of its trials and would boost the nation’s beans production once commercialized.
He added that the foundation is currently working very hard to develop a dossier to show that PBR beans is safe for human consumption for subsequent approvals by the national varietal release committee, and biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to facilitate its commercialization this year.