Biotechnology, Powerful Tool With Potentials To Address Disease Outbreaks, Hunger, Malnutrition, Pest’s, Drought —Prof Alex Akpa

Being Excerpts from "Keynote Speech at Conference On Post Covid-19 Innovations For Food Security




It’s a great privilege to present a Keynote Address in this Virtual Conference with the theme: “Aggregating Sustainable Innovations for Food Security” at this time of our lives in Nigeria and globally. I would like to say that the event has come at the right moment: a time where our dear Country’s economy has been rattled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is important to note that majority of Nigeria’s agriculture is at subsistence level and this cannot address food insecurity. Most of the innovations currently being adopted by the nations of the world that are food-secured are yet to be embraced in this clime. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food Security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This is not yet the situation in Nigeria.

Therefore, it has become imperative to point out that food security has become a contemporary development issue in view of the role it plays in transforming people’s livelihood, prompting good health and mitigating endemic poverty. Having attained a worrisome dimension in Nigeria, various factors including poor economic policies, undercapitalization, lack of innovative approach to food production and the absence of proper application and embracement of technology and innovative solutions  have been identified to be responsible for food insecurity in Nigeria.

Nigeria cannot attain food security through the current way agriculture is practiced. To come out of the woods, the nation’s economic growth must be accompanied by diversification of economy through the adoption of sustainable and innovative technologies that advance food production.

While we commend Mr. President on the current border closure that has now made farming attractive, it is important to follow swiftly with available innovations, business models and policies that can increase food production and turn our economy around.

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As scientists, we are striving to find solutions to the challenges facing mankind through the deployment of science and technology. This webinar therefore provides us with the opportunity to let you know the strategies NABDA has fashioned out to take advantage of modern biotechnology to address this monster- COVID 19 pandemic. Biotechnology is a very powerful tool that has the potentials of helping us address a lot of situations including disease outbreaks, hunger, malnutrition, insects/pest’s infestation and drought.

Biotechnology, Powerful Tool With Potentials To Address Disease Outbreaks, Hunger, Malnutrition, Pest’s, Drought —Prof Alex Akpa
Biotechnology, Powerful Tool With Potentials To Address Disease Outbreaks, Hunger, Malnutrition, Pest’s, Drought —Prof Alex Akpa

NABDA as a government agency mandated to lead the deployment of biotechnology in the Country has over the last two decades worked with both national and international scientists to ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians enjoy the best of the technology in a safe and productive manner.

NABDA with a host of others including NCDC (for validation), Verdure vision Limited, Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia partnered with the University of Sheffield, UK on RNASwift Extraction Kit developed by a Nigeria Scientist, Dr. Alison Nwokeoji. The goal of the partnership was to expand testing capacity in Nigeria and Africa at large.

The RNASwift extraction kit is cheap, versatile, safe and has higher performance and testing capacity than the commercial RNA extraction kits by at least 50 times while reducing the cost of detection by 500%. The deployment of the kit will expand Africa’s capability to increase SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) testing. The extraction kit has enabled the development of a pan-African testing programme for COVID-19 with sponsorship under consideration by the African Development Bank. NABDA is providing platform for technology transfer, further research and local manufacture with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) as a major off taker of the Kits.

With biotechnology deployment, we can leapfrog our agro-production, have better quality produce and high yields, reduce drudgery and improve resistance to pest and diseases in the agricultural sector. In practical demonstration of this, NABDA unfolded a programme capable of producing about 5 million yam seedlings using the aeroponics technology for farmers across Nigeria in this COVID-19 lockdown era. Last year, 1 Million seedlings were produced which, were distributed to farmers for cultivation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am glad to tell you that NABDA has grown to have more than 31 Bioresources Development Centres (BIODECs) all around the Country. The BIODECs are charged with the responsibilities of harnessing and developing the bioresources of host States and Communities.  These BIODECs impact on the lives of the people by providing food on the table, creating job/wealth and empowering women and youth through direct deployment of proven agricultural biotechnologies.

In addition, the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), an advanced Center of NABDA, regulates the seed, livestock and fisheries industries through its Varietal Release Committees. NACGRAB also conducts research, gathers data and disseminates technological information on matters relating to genetic resources conservation, utilization and biotechnology applications. The National Biotechnology Development Agency through NACGRAB, has released hundreds of improved varieties of crops, livestock and fisheries, being the main Secretariat of the National Varietal Release Committee (NVRC).

In 2018, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in partnership with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Bayer and Mahyco Agricultural Nigeria Ltd concluded the development, commercialization and deployment of MRC 7377 BGII (MAHYCO C 567 BGII) and MRC 7361 BGII MAHYCO C 571 BGII MAHYCO C 567 BGII and MAHYCO C 571 BGII varieties of Transgenic hybrid Cotton. These varieties are high yielding, tolerant to Bollworm complex and are expected to meet the challenges of raw material supply in the textile industry.

We have strategically chosen cotton as our crops of pride because it reflects one of our national needs and efforts towards transforming our industry. 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 with the subsequent transformation of the textile industry.

Our confidence is that the private sector, including seed companies, textile industries and ginneries will complement our commitments by taking up the challenges of full-scale commercial deployment.

NABDA also designed and constructed a level -2 containment facility in collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Kenya, at the Institute of Agricultural Research, Zaria, Ahmadu Bello University, which is being used for containment studies of genetically modified crops e.g. Bt. cowpea and Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS). Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, the Executive Director of IAR, who is the PI of the Bt. Cowpea Project will talk elaborately on it.

Other agro-innovative technologies in NABDA that are ready for deployment include advanced hydroponics system for animal fodder production, aquaponics for fish and vegetable production and the semen technology for enhanced milk and meat production in animals.

Once more, my dear colleagues, eminent scientists, Civil Society Groups here present, distinguished guests, members of the Press, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you today. Together we can make Nigeria’s economy a knowledge driven economy, enhance food security and attain zero hunger by 2030.

I thank you for being part of the collective consistency in the Agric sector and I wish us successful deliberations.

Thank you all for coming and God bless Nigeria!!!!

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