Furore over introduction of GMO cotton
*Minister claims varieties contain agents that confer ability to resist attack by devastating pest disease, revamp comatose textile industry by boosting production
Despite growing opposition against introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the country, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) has named, registered and released into the Nigerian Seed Market, two transgenic cotton hybrid varieties through the National Varietal release Committee at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), and Moor Plantation, Ibadan, Oyo State.
Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, told journalists that the varieties were developed to contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) agents that confer on them the ability to resist attack by bollworm, a devastating pest disease that has hampered cotton production with time and represents a nightmare to farmers,
Onu said globally, science and technology are shaping development and the way people think and act. He said the Federal Government and the FMST recognise the immense contribution of agricultural biotechnology in bringing about the needed economic transformation for growth and revitalization.
Onu congratulated the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria; the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC); the National Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) which have been the lead institutions working in collaboration with Bayer/Mahyco Agriculture Nigeria LTD- the technology developers in the development and domestication of this Hybrid Bt. Cotton in Nigeria.
The Minister said the results of the Bollgard II Cotton Hybrids and the commercial varieties across two years as presented by IAR, Zaria in On-station, Multi-Locational (MLT) and on-farm trials revealed that the two hybrids viz. MRC 7377 BGII and MRC 7361 BGII performed significantly higher over the local varieties (SAMCOT 9 and 10) for seed cotton yield and tolerance to bollworm complex. High seed cotton yield of 4.1 and 4.4 tonnes per hectare respectively with added advantage of early- medium maturity while the yield of the local varieties ranges from 250 kg to -900 kg per head.
He said the farmers’ perception in the field was very positive in terms of Seed Cotton yield and tolerance to insect pests especially bollworm complex. This great feat will enhance production and productivity of cotton in the country as well as revamp the textile industry, which used to be the second employer of labour in 60’s -70’s.
Onu said that this is a landmark in the history of modern biotechnology in Nigeria as the newly improved varieties have the potentials of revamping the comatose textile industry by boosting cotton production in Nigeria.
On growing concerns of biosafety, Onu said in countries that cultivate Bt. cotton and GE crops, No adverse, toxic or any allergic effects of Bt. cotton on human or animal health have been reported. He explained: “The Bt. “Cry proteins” require certain specific conditions to be activated, for example, it has to be ingested into the gut of the organism, no contact effects. When ingested into the gut of humans, the Bt. Cry proteins cannot be activated because the human gut is acidic and lacks the specific receptors for the Bt. toxins to bind and initiate the structural and physiological changes that lead to death in insects.
“The release of Bt. cotton in Nigeria is such good news. The new cotton varieties have the potentials of raising thousands of farmers from extreme poverty particularly in Northern Nigeria since the Northern States have the largest share of cotton production in Nigeria.”
Permanent Secretary, FMST, Mr. Bitrus B. Nabasu, said: “Why cotton you may ask? The answer is not farfetched! With well over 180 million Nigerians needing textile for clothing and other products, cotton lint, a raw material for textile manufacturing, has been a major item on the Nigerian import list. Today we have set the stage for self-sufficiency in the production of cotton as industrial raw material and subsequent transformation of the textile industry.
“Today’s event is a clear indication that partnership works. A partnership between an administration that listens and scientists that are committed to meeting national needs using cutting-edge technologies. It is not hard to see that in the next few years, Nigeria will assume its place of pride in the global textile and garment trade.”
Acting Director General (DG)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) NABDA, Prof. Alex U. Akpa, said to generate yields at economically viable scales for the Nigerian farmer, it has become necessary for genetic engineering (GE) techniques to be integrated into crop production. Akpa said many great countries of the world have adopted various aspects of genetic engineering to meet challenges in crop production, health and environment.
He said genetic engineering applied to agriculture is no different than the scion-stock technology that predated other mid-level and even the high-level crop engineering technologies of our time. “The difference is that with higher level precision, GE eliminates the trial-and-error incidences of the previous low-precision bio-techniques.”
Akpa further explained: “We did not change the local advantages of our varieties. Instead, we have transformed these varieties that have unsustainably clothed us and supported our textile industry into competitive varieties to meet the challenges of today! Just like us, India and China are global examples and leaders in Bt. cotton deployment. Back home and within the continent, South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan lead the pack.
“NABDA’s role is to develop and deploy biotechnology in the safest way known to man and for the benefit of man both directly as food and indirectly as raw material.
This is what we have demonstrated in the Nigerian Bt cotton in collaboration with IAR; National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC); the National Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS); the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA); National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI); and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and is also what we are celebrating today.”