BY PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
As food scarcity looms in Nigeria, with farmers facing enormous challenges, agricultural biotechnology involving use of different scientific techniques to modify plants and animals may be the way forward. Scientists have reported that genetically modified crops have more yields, require less spraying, and enhance nutrient composition. They also are resistant to pests and disease.
Nigeria approved its first biotechnology crop in 2018 and presently, two crops; Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) cotton and cow pea has been approved for commercial use. This development, though welcomed by some Nigerians especially scientists, also raised safety concerns. Countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland, Denmark, Malta, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia are reported to have chosen a total ban on GMOs.
The national vice president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Daniel Okafor, told me that from what he had seen, scientifically modified crops do better in terms of yields but urged the institutions to carry out more research while the regulatory agencies do their work as well.
“I am encouraging researchers to do their work while the regulatory agencies should also do their work. GMOs are now being used in many countries. Many places where I went with them to see what they were doing, their crops are doing better than ours.
“Let every agency for safety do their work. If it is something that is bad, let them condemn it. Farmers are not scientists. If it is GMO that will benefit the farmers more, so long as it is safe for consumption, let it continue because other countries that are using GMOs are doing well,” he said.
Meanwhile, the country director, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria, Dr. Rose Gidado, says GMO is surely the way to go if the country wants to improve and sustain agricultural produce.
“Nigeria should begin to think inward, we don’t have to keep depending on other countries and the government needs to invest in research and development because it is the bedrock of any economy.”
Also, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, director general, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), told me that NBMA is the regulator of GMOs, and that even before any GMO is produced, the agency grants approval for it and before they are released for planting and commercialisation, the agency carries out risk assessment and risk management activities on them before confirming whether they are safe or not.
He says “So far, there is no GMO approved or released in this country that is not safe. All the ones that we have released so far are all safe.”