Growing applications of GMOs in Nigeria
In recognition of the importance of biotechnology to National development, the Federal Executive Council on 23rd of April 2001 approved the National Biotechnology Policy, which led to the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in November 2001.
The Agency was established under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to implement the policy that is aimed at promoting, coordinating and setting research & development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.
Based on this premise, the programmes of the Agency are structured in line with international best practices while taking cognizance of the development of biotechnology locally.
NABDA’s mandates include: promotion, coordination and deployment of cutting-edge biotechnology research and development, processes and products for the socio–economic well-being of the nation.
NABDA’s missions are: to make Biotechnology an engine of growth for socio-economic development of Nigeria.
NABDA’s visions include: promoting biotechnology activities that positively respond to national aspirations on food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery and sustainable environment.
Biotechnology is a very huge field and its applications are used in a variety of fields of science such as agriculture and medicine.
The pasture of biotechnology, genetic engineering, has introduced techniques like gene therapy, recombinant DNA technology and polymerase chain retort which employ genes and DNA molecules to make a diagnosis diseases and put in new and strong genes in the body which put back the injured cells.
The application of modern Biotechnology in an integrated multi-disciplinary approach can be a valuable ‘tool’ for addressing the several challenges in Nigeria in food production, genetic improvement of living systems (crops and animals) as well as health and environment.
It is used in the development of Genetically Modified crops (GMOs). A GMO is an organism that has had its Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA) altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering.
In most cases, GMOs have been altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal; these organisms are sometimes referred to as “transgenic” organisms.
In the words of Norman Borlaug, the father of green revolution, and a renowned scientist, “agricultural science and innovation has the enormous potential to increase the yields of small farmers and lift them out of hunger and poverty”.
Biotechnology amongst others is one of the technologies with such enormous potentials.
Its current impact on agriculture arises from the recent introduction of improved crops that belong to the class of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), marking the beginning of what appears to be a revolution that will bring substantial change to this sector.
But change brought about by scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations is not a new development in agriculture.
Crops derived from biotechnology are called transgenic crops. The following are the 3 major Benefits of transgenic crops (GMOs) and agricultural biotechnology:
1. Farmer Derived Benefits
Decades of documented evidence demonstrate that agricultural biotechnology is a safe and beneficial technology that contributes to both environmental and economic sustainability. Farmers choose biotech crops because they increase yield and lower production costs.
Farmers get a greater financial return while using more environmentally friendly farming practices through the use of agricultural biotechnology
2. Societal Benefits
Transgenic crops have recorded the fastest adoption rate of any crop technology in the last century. This is mainly because of the benefits that they confer to farmers, most of whom reside in developing countries.
Between 1996 and 2013, transgenic crops added US$116.9 billion to global agriculture, more than half of which accrued to farmers in developing countries.
According to the late renowned Scientist Calestous Juma in 2014, if the crops had not been introduced, the world would have needed another 123 million hectares of land to meet the same levels of production. These benefits are inconsistent with earlier concerns that transgenic crops would not benefit small-scale farmers.
As mentioned, transgenic crops not only offer increased incomes for farmers, bio-fortification, and environmental benefits.
But the impact of transgenic crops on the overall price of food is just as important, especially in a world where there is a need to feed a growing population of approximately 9 billion by 2050 and address a surge in consumption, including a 70% increase in the demand for food.
Transgenic technology leads to more efficient production methods as well as a reduction in loss, which in turn leads to lower food prices both in the United States and abroad.
3. Environmental Benefits:
Thanks to biotechnology, farmers have adopted no- and reduced-tillage systems, which utilize herbicidal weed control rather than plowing.
This is delivering important benefits in the form of improved soil health and water retention, reduced runoff, fuel conservation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and more efficient carbon storage in the soil.
Obviously, GM crops are helping mitigate the effects of climate change globally and should be adopted in Nigeria as well.
NABDA has been implementing its mandates through coordinating the efforts of Nigerian Scientists who have identified the indigenous food security crops and its productivity challenges, and thereby developing genetically modified varieties to help solve these challenges.
There are five (5) Biotech crops under confined field trials in Nigeria. They include Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea, modified to be resistant to Maruca insect larvae; Bt. Cotton, with resistance to pink bollworm; Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum (ABS), with enhanced levels of Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc to target malnutrition; Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice; Virus Resistant and Nutritionally Enhanced Cassava for Africa (VIRCA PLUS).
Through the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, NABDA has continued to promote access to biotechnology crops through the dissemination of information and increasing awareness on agricultural biotechnology for Farmers, Policy Makers, the media and other stakeholders.
This is achieved through its sensitizing people on the benefits and potentials of GM crops for increased productivity, economic improvement, nutrition enhancement, job and wealth creation.
*Dr. Rose Suniso Maxwell Gidado is Assistant Director NABDA and Country Coordinator Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter.