The Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria chapter and Deputy Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Dr. Rose Suniso Gidado, has disclosed that technological advances are dramatically triggering plant transformation to meet specific needs. That with the help of technology, highly nutritious foods containing essential vitamins and minerals can be developed to meet nutritional needs.
She also hinted further that “food is therapy, and good food means good therapy. Malnutrition and immunodeficiency amplify and intensify the impact of every disease, including measles, malaria and the deadly COVID-19. That measures that will ensure nutrition security in Nigeria are therefore very important to curbing the negative impacts of the deadly coronavirus”.
While stressing on the need to employ the application of agricultural biotechnology to create more fertile and resistant plant resources as this has been used to achieve food security in some advanced countries, she emphasized that biotechnology is a promising way for mitigating the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic on food security through the production of foods with longer shelf life, higher yields, increased nutritional content, shorter harvest time, disease and pest resistance and stress tolerance.
Dr. Gidado stated this at the just concluded Agrobusiness Times virtual national conference on food security in the post covid-19 pandemic era, with the theme: aggregating sustainable innovations for food security, on Thursday.
With objectives to identity best agribusiness models for during and post disaster times; aggregate sustainable agricultural innovative solutions for food security; discuss adaptable foreign/international food security policies for post disaster times; and to identity and recommend best Agric economic policies that can propel/return the nation’s economy to enviable heights, Gidado, who futured as panelist in the conference, identified the following as problems posing serious threats to food security:
• The triple tragedy of climate change; crop insect pest infestation and COVID-19 pandemic are posing serious threats to the possibility of achieving the United Nations SDG Goal of Zero hunger by year 2030 in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large.
• That the world has been alerted by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the looming food crisis that could be triggered by the ongoing COVID-19 that has been declared by World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic in March 2020. With over 53,865 confirmed cases and close to 1,013 corresponding deaths in Nigeria, COVID-19 has been reported in over 160 countries.
• That having brought the world to a standstill with over 25.5 million infections and more than 851,346 deaths worldwide, the severe pandemic causing more than 25% reduction in labour availability could generate significant food shortages across the globe with Nigeria taking the lead. Once there is food shortage, what comes next is hunger and malnutrion.
• That malnutrition is the related term in medicine for hunger. Poverty is the leading cause of hunger, but poverty also results from hunger. Much more than the Coronavirus is the “hunger virus” which has led to several millions of death and diseases due to unavailability of nutrients-dense foods.
• From shortage of labour to increased crop food wastage, the novel coronavirus outbreak has put an enormous strain on the world agri-food sector and especially on small-scale producers in Nigeria.
• Movement restrictions, border closures resulting to disruptions in the shipping and aviation industries have made it more difficult to continue food production and transport agricultural produce internationally- placing countries with few alternative food sources at high risk.
• That whether we will be able to recover from this looming food crises only depends on the kind of approaches we take.
The Therapy of Nutritious Food according to Dr. Rise Gidado, was therefore stated to include the following:
• That food is therapy, and good food means good therapy. Malnutrition and immunodeficiency amplify and intensify the impact of every disease, including measles, malaria and the deadly COVID-19. Measures that will ensure nutrition security in Nigeria is therefore very important to curbing the negative impacts of the deadly coronavirus.
• The adoption of technology, one of which is the genetic modification technology has become very necessary in a time such as this as with the technology, highly nutritious foods containing essential vitamis and minerals can be developed to have foods rich in iron, zinc and vit A.
E.g. Golden Rice, a case study
• A perfect example of how the application of plant genetic modification can solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition is GOLDEN RICE which contains three transgenes that helps it to produce provitamin A.
• Currently, vitamin A deficiency is a global health challenge. The total number of children in low-income groups that are deficient in vitamin A have been estimated at 140 million spreading across 118 countries with Africa and South-East Asia taking the lead.
• A report from the WHO has estimated that 500,000 Vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year with 250,000 of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
• The mass distribution of the genetically modified rice in such low-income countries can put an end to night blindness and alleviate COVID 19.
• Though dietary supplementation with multi-vitamins, bioactive lipids, flavonoids and herbs may be a tool to support the human immune system against COVID19, such nutrient-dense foods are often not accessible by the poor and rural inhabitants due to cost and ignorance.
• The deployment of biotechnology tools can enable plant breeders engineer plants, most especially, staple crops such as rice, corn, cassava and others to express such vital micronutrients that are necessary to boost the immune system while also reducing cost and making it available to everyone.
• Biotechnology is a promising way for mitigating the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic on food security through the production of foods with longer shelf life, higher yields, increased nutritional content, shorter harvest time, disease and pest resistance and stress tolerance.
• The application of agricultural biotechnology to create more fertile and resistant plant resources has been used to achieve food security in some advanced countries.
On Synergy of technologies in achieving food security, Gidado stated that:
• “The combination of agricultural biotechnology tools and other advanced agricultural technologies offers an exciting and environmentally responsible way to meet consumer demand for sustainable agriculture in this period of COVID19 pandemic and beyond.
• To place Nigeria ahead of the Coronavirus, the government and other concerned stakeholders in the private sectors will need to create synergies in food technology, agriculture and biotechnology.”
• “In a time of pandemic as this when the restriction of movement is necessary to curbing the spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government of Nigeria should introduce the following:
i. Automated machines for the planting of seeds while engaging the use of:
ii. Value Stream Mapping to ensure the proper management of the supply chain from farm to fork and identification of food loss-generating resources.
iii. Climate smart GM seeds that will reduce the need for routine farm practices while ensuring higher yields should be adopted by the government and other stakeholders.
iv. Nano nutrients should also be used to boost crop production.”
v. “Internet of Things (IoT) platforms,
vi. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Satellite imagery
viii. artificial technology and
ix. BIG Data can be used to facilitate the redistribution of foods by simplifying the communication between suppliers and consumers.
x. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and
xi. agricultural drones that have been proven as a practice to reduce human contact in agriculture (which is necessary to curbing the spread of novel coronavirus) can also be a good way to tackle the threat to food security that is posed by the coronavirus outbreak”.
The Country Coordinator of OFAB, concluded by stating that In the future, biotechnology may revolutionize the way we think. That “technological advances have dramatically triggered the rates at which plant transformation can be achieved to meet our specific needs at every phase of life.”
With objectives to identity best agribusiness models for during and post disaster times; aggregate sustainable agricultural innovative solutions for food security; discuss adaptable foreign/international food security policies for post disaster times; and to identity and recommend best Agric economic policies that can propel/return the nation’s economy to enviable heights, the digital conference paraded seasoned industry stakeholders and experts as speakers and panelists: Mr. Dave Baro-Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, Agrobusiness Times, Moderator; Mr. Toyosi Ayodele, Founder and CEO, Agrorite Limited; Prof. Alex Akpa, Ag.DG/CEO, NABDA, as Keynote Speaker; and Dr. Rose Gidado, Director, NABDA/Country Director, OFAB.
Others are: Dr. Rufus Ebegba, DG/CEO, NBMA; Dr. Chinasa A. Ugwuanyi, Snr. Research Fellow, NIIA; Mr. Ayodeji Balogun, Chief Executive Officer, AFEX Commodities Exchange Ltd.; Dr. Kenton Dashiell, DDG-Partnerships for Delivery, IITA; and Mr. Bram Wits, Agricultural Counselor for West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire) Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture Nature and Food Quality, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Accra Ghana.