“GMOs‘ll Come When We Are of Age” – Prof. Malachy Akoroda

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“Government should invest in agriculture to minimize the degree of food importation and this can be achieved provided there is strategic planning over a long period of time”.

Above are the words of Professor Malachy Akoroda, an agriculturist of Delta State origin. He acquired his B.Sc and PhD from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, South West Nigeria.

Having spent 45 years in Ibadan, Malachy Akoroda, a Professor of Seed Production and Plant Breeding, is the Director General of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria. He is also a lecturer at the Faculty of Agric and Forestry, University of Ibadan.

Akoroda has trained about 160 students with 14 of them as professors. His publications in journals and documents relate to: yams, cassava, sweet potato, cowpea, maize, sugarcane, okra, Telfairia occidentalis, jute (Corchorus), peppers, amaranths, Celosia argentea, eggplants, tomato, Egusi melon, plantain (Musa sp.) and spice species.
As our personality of the week, agrobusinessngr.com had a chat with him at Ibadan.

Excerpts:

What has kept you this long in agriculture?
Passion for agriculture.
I have found joy and satisfaction in what I do not just monetary reward, but the service I render and the contentment with what I do.

During the course of advancing research in agriculture, what have been your constraints?

Agriculture suffered a lot of setbacks because the amount of investment in this sector is mini-scope, too tiny to make impact. To move agriculture forward in this clime, we must seek ideas from communities, nations that have recorded numerous successes in agriculture. How and what they do to attain the level they are, whereby they are able to feed their population while also exporting farm produce to Nigeria. It is up to us to learn. We do not have to rediscover the wheel; if it is the challenge of inadequate water for farming, then water can be pumped from the environment to farmlands.

If we can pump petroleum from Niger Delta to Kaduna, then we should be able to pump water to anywhere within the country. We must invest our time, resources, treasure and talents for us to have head way as a nation. Scientific models have been applied by other countries to turn their fortune around, because science is universal, it has no respect for culture, tribe or faith. Nigeria has been stagnant for over 54 years due to deceit; if Israel located in the desert can pump water from the sea (desalination) for irrigation, why can’t we?

As the ED of the Cocoa Research Institute, what are your challenges?

Cocoa Research Institute is a research institute under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; it simply means that whatever token is shared to the ministry, certain portion of it will be disbursed to all the departments, agencies within the ministry. When as an institute you plan your budget, then you are told what your appropriation is, the question that follows is what percentage of that appropriation will eventually get to your institute. This scenario is peculiar to all institutes and ministries in the country.

Major Findings of the Institutes

The Cocoa Research Institute has the best variety available for cocoa production. These varieties, about 8 of them can mature within 18 months, in this case, if you plant them in the right ecology of soil and weather, in 18 months they will start fruiting and they can fruit continuously like that for 25years with minimal maintenance while the quality of cocoa produced is top class. It is the preferred flavor for making chocolate in the world. It is lucrative when exported or converted to cocoa products for local consumption.

Nobody grows cocoa alone, it has to be grown together with plantain or banana, therefore one can profit from plantain and cocoa together. Sometimes, we grow other trees called cocoa agro-forestry, it could be fruit or timber, and thereby you have multiple source of income from cocoa to plantain, fruits, and timber. This will guarantee you a year round income. We have failed to master such system by doing it correctly, because of the psyche of cutting corners, making quick money syndrome. In essence, agriculture requires patience, time for crops to mature. There are early, mid, and late maturity crops, all these combined will give a year round income.

Why the bad press about GMOs?

GMO is not a stagnant issue; it is an issue where continuous research reveals new areas that are unknown. Areas of risk properly analyzed and anatomized, broken down into pieces so that we can see clearly what is causing a problem. New evidence has shown that what seems to be a problem in the past is no longer a problem. This new wave of information from various countries and the evidence in a balance is now tilting in favour of GMOs. Note, there are different types of GMO, the permissible and the non permissible; depending on the method of production.

GMO means genetically modified, and then the method of modification must be clearly described. For instance, the gene structure a mother and that of the father meet naturally to form union; they produce a child genetically modified by marriage. Same with woman who has no husband but wants a child, then a sperm donated by someone is collected to fertilize the woman, in this case, the sperm is still natural, but methods defers. It is the same way vaccination is delivered to children with syringe.

Bio-fortified simply means we have a good thing but lacking in one other thing, then how to find the lacking nutrient and adjust it to the former. We can either cross breed or hybridize in the laboratory or on the field, hence, there are many ways biologically to do so. The result far supersedes the methodology and that is more important. Furthermore, if 28 countries are already producing through genetic modification and their products are being exported to other countries which eventually use the products to feed their livestock, then consume the livestock; are they not already eating such?
We can take certain things in pepper and add to plantain to improvise for what is missing in the plantain to improve it by avoiding diseases. It simply means the pepper you consumed everyday has just simply been added to plantain.

Capacity building and getting policy makers to endorse GMO

There is nothing wrong for the acceptance of GMO in countries where there are bio-safety regulations. They can police anyone doing it wrongly. A country that cannot police ordinary things, such country is not mature enough to police technical things. It is not because GMO is wrong; it is because the country is not yet capacitated to be able to do that. In other words, the absence of modern facilities, technology and capacity to police, monitor and track the movement of genetic materials; hence, the wrong will escalate. By the time we have that in place, technology for proper tacking and monitoring, then it is possible.

What is the future of GMO in Nigeria?

It will come eventually, when we are of age, by the time we are able to put in place the technology for adequate monitoring, then we are good to go. By that time, every farmer will definitely embrace it considering the advantages associated with genetically modified crops in terms of quality yield, increase in output and huge profit from sales.

However, with modern facilities in place, we can eradicate the culture of mislabeling and eventually monitor the movement of wrongly modified materials.
Hence, in order to ascertain the effect of GMOs, we can carry out findings from countries that have been eating genetically modified foods for the past 20 to 30 years. Then we can conclude if it is harmful or good for human consumption, however, none of these countries have recorded negative effect from its usage. Majority of the oil in the international market used for the production of margarine are genetically modified.

Advice to Government on agriculture

Government and agriculture requires that, we should have more hands on deck; whereby, everybody should recognize the importance of food supply. Secondly, nutrition adequacy, one can eat enough food but not the proper food. For instance, most Nigerians lack the knowledge of good nutrition; they consume what they see, economically and culturally determined diet at the detriment of the body requirement.

A kilogram of human body by weight requires one gram of protein daily. Someone who lacks the major classes of food such as protein, carbohydrate, minerals, oil and vitamins will surely age faster than his or her age. Therefore, government should put in place the necessary education to inform the public on the benefits of good nutrition and proper diets.

In terms of food supply, government should put a guideline on how the relationship between farmers and herdsmen would be regularized. Otherwise, farmers will be discouraged from planting and will indirectly affect the volume of food supply nationwide and cost of food importation will skyrocket.

Government should invest in agriculture to minimize the degree of food importation and this can be achieved provided there is strategic planning over a long period of time.