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GMOs: Nigeria making steady progress

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In the last two weeks, the scientific community in Nigeria has been agog with celebration of two main feats that showed genetically modified products have come to stay and that Nigerians are eager and ready to adopt it.It all started with the release of two varieties of Genetically Modified (GM) cotton varieties by the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC) on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Materials at its 26th Meeting in Ibadan.
 
The committee approved the official registration of two Bt. cotton varieties known as MRC7377 BG11 and MRC7361 BG11, making it the first genetically modified crop to be approved for planting in Nigeria.As the scientists took to the streets to celebrate their achievement, a Federal High court seating in Abuja struck out a case instituted by a group of civil societies, led by Health of Mother Earth Foundation, challenging the powers of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to grant a permit to Monsanto Nigeria for confined field trial of GM maize and commercial release of GM cotton.
 
The judge struck out the case on the ground that the case as instituted was status barred, meaning the 30 days allowed by law for anyone to seek redress from an action has lapsed and that the plaintiff was unable to prove how the action of the NBMA affected their human rights.The judgement brought to a close the long orchestrated legal battle canvassed by the anti-GMO activists, who never believed in the ability of our scientists to turn around the challenges facing our farmers.

The victory is significant on many fronts. One, it shows that the acceptance of the technology has been legally confirmed in the country and that the era of spreading unscientific rumours is over.Two, the victory has validated the 2015 NBMA Act as a law that can stand the test of time, having undergone all kinds of rigorous reviews and ratifications before two sessions of the national assembly approved it as a law for Nigeria.

Three, the victory has confirmed the fact that regulating GMOs in the country is not based on emotion, religion or culture but on science.The double victory recorded by the proponents of biotechnology in the country therefore is an achievement worth celebrating.Prof. Alex Akpa, Acting Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), commenting on the development, said: “It is a milestone considering the state of our textile industry which used to be the second highest employer of labour in the country in the 60’s and the 70’s.”

The textile industry has been in comatose due to the absence of viable raw materials, hence Nigeria became dependent on other countries for textiles, leaving over 250 companies under locks and keys.”According to Prof. Akpa, succour has come the way of our farmers and the textile industry following the development of a genetically modified variety of cotton by Mahyco Nigeria Pvt. Limited in collaboration with the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

“This new variety that has just been officially registered has the potential of being adopted in all cotton growing zones of Nigeria with maturity of 150 -160 days, it is resistant to the Bollworm complex, has a high seed  cotton yield and its early maturity, it is tolerant to suckling insect pests and has fibre length of 30.0 to 30.5mm,” he said.

The BG11 has the potential of producing 50 to 100 balls as compared to the 20 produced by the local variety and also has the potential to withstand drought.With this development, Nigeria has demonstrated that it has the institutional capacity and human resource to safely deploy genetic engineering in the agricultural sector. 

The feat achieved by this registration goes to show also that the Federal Government’s investment in our research institutes is not in vain. With encouragement and support from the Government, Nigeria has registered its home grown GM Cotton, thus saving our farmers the trouble of contending with the local conventional variety which is no longer accepted on the international market.

Nigeria is not isolated from other countries in the region or the continent at large. As the giant of Africa, we must take our pride of place as far as technological advancements in the continent are concerned. That is why the judgement by the Abuja High court is of utmost significance. The suit was instituted to draw back Nigeria’s scientific progress but the Judge was quick to see the handwriting on the wall.

Dr. Rufus Ebegba, Director General, NBMA said the judgement has affirmed the belief that the judiciary remains the hope of the common man. “The judiciary in Nigeria is one of the best in Africa and that is what they have just displayed by the excellent judgement delivered by the High Court here in Abuja. The NBMA Act 2015 is a law that took over 8 years to put together and it will withstand the test of time. The Agency was not established to stop GMOs or promote it, our duty is to ensure that any approved GMO does not constitute a threat to Nigerians,” Dr Ebegba said.

For farmers and civil societies, the victory and release of the two GM cotton varieties has demonstrated the country’s readiness to deploy the technology for the well being of Nigerians. Alhaji Usman Ibrahim, a cotton farmer noted that the release of the two cotton varieties show that government was determined to revive the ailing textile industry which hitherto used to be one of the largest employer of labour in the country and above all stop farmers from going across the boarder to get seeds from other countries. 
 
As we celebrate this breakthrough, I encourage other scientists and institutions engaged in other confined field trials not to relent as Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the outcome of their research which ultimately will enhance the quality of food at their tables as well as increase the income of our peasant farmers.This is the era of biotechnology, although, we missed previous revolutions, the good news, is that we are positioned to be an active player in this era to better our agriculture and national economy.


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