The federal government has said it has become necessary to strengthen the knowledge of farmers, extension agents and religious leaders on the benefits of modern biotechnology.
Speaking at the ‘Community Empowerment Through Agricultural Biotechnology: the Role of Council Chairmen, Clerics, Monarchs, Extension Agents and Farmers’, in Abuja, the Director-General/CEO of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said these categories of stakeholders have key roles to play in creating awareness and promoting useful and beneficial technologies, especially modern biotechnology at the grassroots.
He said African leaders have shown interest in adopting modern agricultural biotechnology because of its potential to address hunger and unemployment.
“Our agricultural environment is deteriorating. Seed varieties perform low and are obsolete and do not correspond to the new climatic factors. There is high pressure of insect pests and diseases. Soil fertility is low and there is lack of capital funding for investments.
“Therefore, adaptation to changing climatic conditions makes it imperative to explore adaptable strategies and emerging technology tools like modern biotechnology aimed at tackling these challenges to produce more food for the masses,” the DG said.
Represented by Dr Rose Gidado, a director in the agency and the country coordinator, Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), he stressed that modern biotechnology practice will provide safer, cheaper, better quality, less waste, less energy, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable products in the country.
The president, All Framers Association of Nigeria, Arc. Kabir Ibrahim, told the gathering that farmers in Nigeria have embraced biotechnology as a game-changer to take them out of poverty; take them to prosperity and enable them to bring about the much-desired food security as well as investments to the country.
“I can testify to the efficacy of the PBR cowpea because I have planted it and sprayed insecticide only twice instead of 8-10 times. The yield is also quite remarkable.
“The fear of GM as expressed by the Anti-GMO activists is not supported by good science as I have personally attended international meetings and held several discussions all over the world to come to the conclusion that GM crops do not cause any disease, especially as they are certified by the Biosafety Agency of Nigeria before being released.
“I implore our farmers, monarchs, Islamic clerics and extension workers to champion the advocacy to embrace biotechnology which ennobles the commercialization of GM crops as this will be the game-changer in our quest for the attainment of food sufficiency and exit from poverty as a nation,” the farmer said.
The director, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) Badeggi Niger State, Dr. Muhammed Ishaq, who allayed the fear of GMOs, said they “are designed to be extra — extra healthy, extra fast-growing, and extra resistant to weather or pests, aimed at tackling the adverse effect of climate.
“Many GMO crops have been altered to be less vulnerable to insects and other pests. For example, Bt-Cowpea is a GMO crop that has a gene added from bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium.
“This gene causes the cowpea to produce a protein that kills maruca vitrata (pod borer), a very devastating insect pest, thereby helping to protect the cowpea from damage.
“Instead of having to spray eight rounds of insecticide to prevent maruca, you now spray just two times to take care of other insect pests and save money in the process.
“Because they can save on resources, food producers can also charge lower prices for GMO foods. In some cases, the costs of foods like corn, beets and soybeans may be cut by 15% to 30%,” he emphasised.