GM Seeds: The Biosafety Bill was signed into law in 2015, putting Nigeria on the map of countries with requisite regulations for effective practice of modern agricultural biotechnology.
The biosafety law allowed for the establishment of a biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) which has announced the nation’s readiness for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) products.
This means that Nigeria will soon begin the commercialization of staple crops which have gone through the world standard procedure of studies and observations in the field called confined field trials (CFTs).
These crops of interest include Maruca-resistant cowpea (Beans) fortified with Bacillus thuringiences (Bt); the nitrogen use efficient, water use efficient and salt tolerant (NEWEST) rice; African bio-fortified sorghum (ABS); Bt maize; herbicide tolerant soybeans and virus resistant cassava enhanced with iron and zinc as well as the Bt cotton which is on general release.
The Bt cowpea which has gone through all the stages and is currently being observed by farmers in the field trial and the Bt cotton which is on general release have been penciled down for commercialization in 2018.
There are various key stakeholders with various roles in the commercialization chain of GM crops and among such strategic players are the seed companies.
The assistant director of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Dr Rose Gidado, said local seed companies would have a strategic role to play when GM seeds are finally commercialized in the country, particularly in the multiplication and distribution of the seeds to farmers.
Gidado who spoke exclusively to our correspondent said: “When GM seeds are finally commercialized, our indigenous seed companies have a very key role to play in the commercialization and multiplication of seeds.
Of course, they have to take over, it is not the foreign seed companies that will determine, even if the foreign seed companies are going to be part of it, they are going to work hand in hand with our local seed companies, build their capacities and all that.
“Let me give you an example with India, they did not allow that kind of monopoly, Monsanto had to work with a local seed company, Miyako, because they own the cotton, they are the developers of hybrid cotton in India and they went into partnership with Monsanto.
Miyako gave out their hybrid germ plasm and Monsanto brought the technology, that is their own trait of insect resistant and the trait was inserted into the Maiko hybrid.
So, that kind of partnership is what is likely going to play out in Nigeria.” She added: “The Miyako hybrid is a very good one, it gives very strong yields and so on.
And so, when the business commenced I think they went into agreement in terms of profit sharing and all that and it was 50/50. You know that kind of thing is good, very mutual kind of understanding and they went into that and today Miyako has grown very strong, it is everywhere in Africa.
However, we also want the participation of our own indigenous seed company, but I think that will be left for IAR to work it out since they have the mandate for cotton cultivation in Nigeria.”
Gidado who is also the country coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter disclosed that local seed companies were already being engaged and sensitized on their role in multiplication and distribution of the seeds.
“We’re already taking steps, we’re already dialoguing with them, bringing them and building their capacity, telling them of the science behind the technology, safety and how they can import and take part in technology development.
They are free. So, there’s nothing stopping them, Nigerian seed companies, from taking over and playing the lead role in this business,” she added.
Also speaking in an exclusive chat, the deputy director of seed research department of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), Bensarah Aromolaran, pointed out that the National Biosafety Committee was already on ground to screen and approve seed companies that would actively participate in the seed multiplication when GM seeds are finally commercialized.
“The National Biosafety Committee directly liases/acts as a bridge between biosafety and seed council. The members will screen the seed companies that have the integrity in the multiplication value-chain from foundation to certified seed. But the basic thing remains that the technology would be driven by Nigerians.
However, the market is an open one, when the foreign seed companies bring their own high-tech seeds, I am sure they’ll have a level playing ground,” he said.
Meanwhile, the chief executive director of Da-Allgreen Seeds Ltd, a Nigerian-based seed company, Engr. Stephen Yakubu-Atar, noted that though genetic modification is a foreign technology, local seed companies were already positioning themselves as active participants in promoting the technology, adding seed companies were already forming alliances and collaborating with Nigerian scientists developing genetically modified seeds with a view to making them accessible to farmers once they are commercialized.
He said: “We know that the technology you are talking about is foreign in the sense that those who hold the axe of that technology in the world are foreigners and they always have the advantage because the technology was developed by them; but we are also aware that there are some collaborations between some public scientific agencies to release some varieties of this technology, for example IAR, i,e. varieties developed in Nigeria, driven by Nigerian scientists.
IAR is already doing confined trials of the cowpea which is beans, and we’re already talking with them and by the time it is released we will collaborate with them to commercialize it.
We’re already talking with them. “Apart from that there are also one or two more varieties of sorghum, we’re yet to see that one and how it performed in the field but I know it’ll be of benefit to Nigerians and seed companies in Nigeria are willing to be the link between farmers and the seeds.”