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Towards better awareness creation on agricultural biotechnology

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
02 October 2023   |   4:06 am
With the state of emergency declared by Federal Government on Food and Agricultural sector, the integration of biotechnology becomes a necessity to address the lingering issue of food insecurity in Nigeria.

Women farmers harvesting on the field

With the state of emergency declared by Federal Government on Food and Agricultural sector, the integration of biotechnology becomes a necessity to address the lingering issue of food insecurity in Nigeria.

Stakeholders who made this assertion during a one-day interactive session on Navigating Biotech Frontiers for Accurate Science Communication for Editors held in Lagos, noted it was expedient to understand that agricultural biotechnology alone is not going to be an all-sufficient approach, but would definitely revolutionise national food production.

The Head, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology & Biotech Awareness, Iweajunwa Sarah Ogochukwu, said the workshop was aimed at providing accurate and up to date information about advances in the sector since its adoption in Nigeria to ensure that editors are fully acquainted with facts about Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) and effectively disseminate same to the public.

She stressed the need to enlighten and keep participants abreast of developments in agric biotech and how such changes could improve lives and general well-being of Nigerians.

“Other objectives are to demystify the concept of agric biotech and address the misconception about the safety of modern agricultural biotechnology; to build the capacity of participants for improved editorial decision-making on issues related to agric biotech; and to raise champions from among participant to lead awareness/sensitisation campaigns.”

In her presentation, titled: “The Status of Agricultural Biotechnology In Nigeria,” the Director, Agricultural Biotechnology Department, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Rose Gidado, said no traces of ill health or safety concerns have been traced to the two already commercialised biotech crops –Bt Cotton and PBR Cowpea in the market. “Considering the uncertainties of the number of GM crops in the market, it is very important to give this update on the status of GM Crops in the country with precise traits and approval status.
“Biotechnology offers new tools for increasing agricultural productivity and protecting food crops from climate changes such as heat, floods and drought.

“In 2001, Nigeria established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) to promote, commercialise and regulate biotechnology products,” she said.

In his welcome remarks, the Director General/CEO, NABDA, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said biotechnology, as known by many, is a transformative field that has the potential to address challenges facing the country and the world at large.

According to him, from agriculture to healthcare, environmental conservation to industrial innovation, biotechnology is at the forefront of driving positive change.

He, however, said for agricultural biotechnology to reach its full potential, it must be understood, accepted and embraced by the public. “It is our shared responsibility to ensure that accurate and balanced information about agricultural biotechnology is readily available to all Nigerians. This will empower them to make informed decisions about its applications and impacts on our societal interaction.

“These Lagos editors seek to foster a collaborative relationship between the media and the agricultural biotechnology community. We hope to create an open and constructive dialogue, where we can share knowledge, address concerns, and work together to communicate agricultural biotechnology’s benefits and challenges effectively.

“The media plays a crucial role in informing the public about these advancements and their implications. It is the bridge that connects complex scientific discoveries with the broader society, translating technical jargon into understandable language, and fostering informed discussions. Therefore, it is imperative that we engage in a constructive dialogue on how the media can better cover agricultural biotechnology, biosafety and related topics.”

He noted, therefore, that interaction serves as a platform to facilitate the dialogue bringing together editors, journalists, and experts in the field of biotechnology to exchange ideas, share knowledge, and explore ways to enhance the quality and accuracy of agricultural biotechnology and biosafety reporting.

“Our goal is to promote a balanced and informed narrative that enables the public to make well-informed decisions and policymakers to develop evidence-based policies.”

The Director General/Chief Executive Officer, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Agnes Yemisi Asagbra, said the rapid progress of modern biotechnology has given rise to new regulatory needs to safeguard human health and environment, while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities offered by biotechnology.

She identified inadequate funding, changing government policies, capacity strengthening cost, misinformation of the public by activists and wrong media releases as part of regulatory challenges.

“The Nigeria’s Biosafety regulatory system opens a door for the achievement of a wide range of crops with potentials for economic and national development.

“The NBMA is well positioned to amongst others, ensure safety in the use of modern biotechnology by providing a holistic approach in the regulation of genetically modified organisms, as well as ensure biosecurity,” she said.

The Communication Officer, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Alex About, said agricultural biotechnology plays a huge role in the country’s everyday lives, “from the clothes we wear to how we wash them, the food we eat to how we source them, the medine we take to treat pur bodies, and even the fuel we use to move our vehicles.
“Agricultural biotechnology is more than just a buzzword – it’s a crucial tool in helping feed the world’s growing population with the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, we need all the help we can get to ensure that everyone has enough to eat.
“That’s where agricultural biotechnology comes in. By using genetic engineering techniques, scientists can develop crops that are more resistant to pests and disease, have a longer shelf life and are more nutritious.”
“For example, a genetically modified strain of rice called Golden Rice has been developed to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. This rice contains beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, and could potentially save millions of lives.”