GM Crops: Between Golden Harvest And Risks

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Nigeria is set to introduce genetically modified crops into the country’s farming system starting 2017 with the commercial release of the home-grown genetically modified cowpea (beans), which Institute for Agricultural Research, ABU, Zaria worked on in the last 13 years.

Also next year, the country is expecting the research on Bt. Corn and Cotton for which research arrangements was conducted following the permit granted to Monsanto to collaborate with local research institutions to commence the introgression of the Bt. gene variety into local farmers preferred varieties.

Some believed the introduction of these sets of crops will assist farmers save money which they hitherto spent on insecticides to keep insects and other pests away.

Prof. Bamidele Solomon, former Director General/CEO, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) recently said “experience and data show that crops improved through biotechnology provide significant benefits for farmers, and restrictions on biotech crops slow the growth of agricultural productivity.

“This is particularly acute in low-income nations where farmers have less ability to mechanize production and where biotech-improved seeds offer a low-priced way to boost yields and rural incomes.”

Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku at the cowpea trial field at IAR in Zaria

But proponents said those campaigning against it are group of Nigerians who have no knowledge of molecular biology or genetic engineering but playing out script of multi-million dollar chemical companies who want to keep farmers in perpetual poverty.

Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, a plant breeder and Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea Project Principal Investigator, at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in a presentation at the open demonstration to the public at the site of the cowpea confined multi-locational trial in Bakura Local Government Area of Zamfara State, said that the decision to go into the genetic modification of beans was for the overall benefits of the nation.

“Over the years, we have witnessed a situation where farmers tried so hard to increase their harvest but the more they tried the less result they get. But science has availed us the opportunity to change the situation. We have succeeded in last few years in introducing a gene into the cowpea to make it resistant to the insect that have devastated it.

“When NGICA approached AATF to assist with accessing the rights to the ‘Bt’ gene (cry1Ab) from Monsanto company to be used in developing a ‘Maruca’ resistant cowpea, I started to see hope for our farmers. Today, I see that hope coming closer to reality and I look forward to the day when I will actually be able to share the ‘Maruca’-resistant cowpea seed with farmers,” Prof Ishiyaku said.

According to Edel Quinn Agbaegbu, the Executive Director, Every Woman Hope Centre: “Today in Nigeria, the media is awash with reports of rising food prices and many now go to bed each day without food. The path to food security as an aspect of the global panacea to socio-economic development begins by exploring the challenges and developing solutions which science presents.

“We support the harnessing of the potentials of modern biotechnology and its derivatives for the benefit of Nigerians while maintaining regulatory standards.”

However, there have been campaigns by some anti-GMO activists against the introduction of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, which created fears in the minds of some Nigerians. The groups are opposed to biotechnological development in agriculture and have repeatedly denied what opponents called “highly verifiable evidence that foods developed through biotechnology are bio-fortified to enhance nutrition and ensure food security.”

According to Dr Rufus Ebegba, Director General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), “It is wrong to play unnecessary politics with issues about need to adequately feed our nation and fight raging poverty by enhancing availability, affordability and quality. Biosafety regulation of modern biotechnology and GMOs is very crucial for safety assurance and confidence building.

Science and technology are some of the drivers of change and Nigeria as a country cannot continue to look backward for obsolete technologies to drive her socioeconomic survival. The opportunities in the adoption of safe technologies are endless and their borders seamless. This is therefore not the time to get bogged down with fears, or inconsistencies or lethargy. Nigeria cannot afford to stand aloof or left behind in this fast growing world,” Ebegba added.