The Country Coordinator of the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Rose Gidado, in this interview with COLLINS NNABUIFE, says Genetically Modified seeds will not take over from the conventional seeds, and highlights some characteristics of GMOs and how they can help Nigeria in attaining food security.
What exactly is GMO?
Genetically modified organisms otherwise known as GMOs are those plants, animals and micro organisms that have been improved or their DNAs have been altered and that altering for sure is for good, it is for improvement and the improvement is to enable the crops have some resistance, to enable the genes of those crops have some resistance against diseases, against insect and pest, and harsh weather conditions as well, also to enhance nutrition, there are some crops that do not have some minerals or vitamins will be able to have these minerals and vitamins, we have example of those crops like cassava, sorghum, for sorghum to have high level of vitamin A, iron and zinc because it is a carbohydrate based cereal, cassava is also carbohydrate based, but you know these are staple crops, we depend on them in our daily diet and children consuming these foods only end up having some stunted growth because it is highly carbohydrate, especially those ones in the rural areas, their parents mostly cannot afford to buy proteinous food like egg, meat, it is very expensive, so all these diets are carbohydrate based so they end up being malnourished and malnutrition is a killer disease.
Herbicide tolerance is also one of the traits of importance especially soyabean and beans, the fix nitrogen to the soil so most of the time if you plant, a lot of weeds come up and eat up the crop and the farmers end up incurring losses. So this is a serious challenge and that’s why the scientists seeing these challenges that farmers battle with, came up with developing a herbicide tolerant soyabeans variety which will also help in reducing the losses that farmers incur in terms of soyabeans cultivation because in farming, what matters to the farmer is harvestable yield.
That’s why using the genetically modification tool, these problems have been reduced, if not eradicated, because this is the only tool that can really take care of these challenges, the conventional tools cannot work, hybridization can only give you yield, it doesn’t solve some of these challenges.
So genetic modification is an intervention tool, it is a complimentary tool to what is already on ground which is conventional agriculture, combination of the two is good, the technology cannot stand on its own but it depends on what is already on ground, we are not saying it should replace conventional breeding.
There is a concern raised by the anti GMOs that the seeds of GM crops cannot be replanted.
It is non scientific, it is unfounded, it is fictitious, GM seeds can be replanted, even the hybrid seeds that the farmers go back to buy, they can be replanted as well, but in terms of hybrid, the yield that you can get will not be as much as the yield you can get the previous year of your planting, and this is very normal even with the conventional seeds, and like I said earlier, farming is all about harvest-able yield, it is all about productivity, that is what the farmer needs, the farmer is not concerned about going back to buy seeds because he wants to make more yield, that should not be a matter of concern, but they can be replanted and even the hybrid seeds can be replanted, just that you are not sure of the yield.
The idea of the farmer going back to buy seeds every time, if he chooses to but if he does not choose, he can replant the seed, but he will not get the much yield as he had the previous year, and if he is comfortable with that, they can continue but that will not put him in the part of business, we want to transit from subsistent farming to business farming so that our farmers can be lifted out of poverty, so that they will be empowered.
There is another fear that when GM seeds are planted on a land for some couple of years, the land degrades and it poses health hazard for inhabitants.
All these are not true, those propagating this kind of information are paid agents, it is due to trade issues, and some companies are sponsoring them.
They study the human physic and know what of things they will say to make people to hate the technology and it is not unique to this technology, other technology that have come to stay, have had such experiences, they are seeing this technology as a threat that is coming to take over business, that’s just it, otherwise this is just unfounded.
GM crops is as same as its conventional counterpart, if I develop a GM maize, the parent of that maize that I have taken, should be the same as that GM derivative, colour taste and the chemical constituents in the grains like carbohydrate, protein, the mineral content should all be the same. Before the final product goes out to farmers or to the market, tests would have been carried out to ascertain that everything is the same, the only thing different is that the new one has a new gene and that gene is for a particular purpose, maybe to control insects or be resistant to some diseases.
So if a GM seed is seen as when planted, it degrades the soil, that means the parent of that crop must be doing the same thing. Under normal circumstance, before this technology was invented, how was farming? Our fore fathers were practicing shifting cultivation. The reason why they adopted shifting cultivation is because the nutrients in that particular soil have been used up by the plants.
Because of the way the Nigeria population is growing, birth rate is higher than death rate and if we don’t adopt some of these technologies, we cannot meet up with the demand in all the staple crops we have, there is a deficit in our productivity, the demand is higher than the supply, and we import virtually all the crops.
So why can’t we grow and domesticate these technologies, because if you can invent it yourself, you can borrow, it is allowed. GM crop does not contain toxic substances.
There is what is called substantive equivalent, it is progressively developed, the research about this technology has not stopped, and it is progressively developed by WHO, FAO, these are internationally recognized organization, we trust in them, they take care of standards about foods and drugs and they have never failed and they have endorsed the safety of this GMOs. That substantive equivalent makes use of comparative analysis, comparing a GM derivative with its own conventional counterpart, the ones that been used to develop the GM derivative, grow it side by side that is during testing, the regulation demands that all these must be carried out. Several tests are being carried out to ensure that what is developed is not different from what is there.
Do you think our farmers are ready for this technology?
Our farmers are ready because of what they go through like insect infestation, I have approached by so many people, they have been looking for even the hybrid seeds, and they have been asking me of the products of what we have been talking about, that they can’t wait to have it. We have been to 6 geo political zones of this country and all we received in 2012 was where the seeds are? Because no one will want to labour in the farm then come out with a little or nothing. I know many people have complained to me about stem borer in the case of maize, they suffer a lot of losses 80 to 90 per cent losses, and they use so much farm input like chemicals and the residual effect of those chemicals is not pleasant. It can cause cancer and other diseases, so anything that can make the farmer realize the yield that he is looking for, will help to empower him and guarantee food security.