Application of agric biotechnology will contribute significantly to food security—OFAB Country Coordinator | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Application of agric biotechnology will contribute significantly to food security—OFAB Country Coordinator

Posted: Sep 14, 2016 at 5:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dr. Rose Gidado, is the Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Nigeria Chapter. In this encounter with CHIBUZOR EMEJOR, she spoke extensively on the controversies surrounding the introduction of GMOs in Nigeria in spite of the health concerns raised by some Nigerians.


Madam, what is the core mandates of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nigeria?

The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology is a programme that was set up and initiated by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Kenya to serve as a platform that will create awareness on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

It will enhance food security and at the end, the profile of agricultural biotechnology will be raised. It is also platform that brings all sectors together from the policy-makers, law-makers, the media, farmers, the civil society groups, in one umbrella to discuss pertinent issues about genetically modified organisms, food crops and other products of this cutting-edge technology in a bid to enhance the acceptance of these products of genetic modification. It has so many names. It is either you call it modern biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology, or genetic modification, genetic engineering. It is a tool used by the scientists to enhance crop productivity to solve specific problems.

The acceptance of the products of this technology is low, Africans and other people globally; even policy-makers are confused when it comes to decision-making on the issue of genetic modified products due to mis-information, the myths that have been placed by the green pigs and other anti-genetically modified groups’ .They have said the products from these crops cause cancer, they are hazardous. They mystify these products. They will draw a tomato and put teeth on it. This has led to low acceptance as they put fears into people which ordinarily are not supposed to be like that.

The products are original. They are produced through natural means. The technology was developed to solve just certain problems that cannot be solved by other means except this technology.

The breeders have found out, some of these challenges that cannot be overcome by other means are insect and pest infestation. We have drought-tolerant and other weather conditions where rise in temperature which farmers suffer  a lot due to weed invasiveness.

The weeds would come up and consume the crops which will not give them high yields. Hoeing is labour-intensive in the bid to get rid of the weeds. This situation has made the youth to run away from agriculture because of the labour involved. And most of them cannot afford mechanisation, as it is very expensive. So this platform has been put in place not just in Nigeria but also in other African countries as an avenue where all will meet and discuss, the scientists are always invited to provide knowledge and share their experiences.

To tell the people behind the development of these crops how they are developed, why they are developed. It is for our own good. It is for the comfort of mankind and his advancement.

We are trying to de-mystify the crops. Our vision is to ensure a food secure Africa through the use of modern technology.


Considering the situation we have found ourselves in Nigeria, we have been grappling with nagging issue of food insecurity. Currently, the prices of food items have astronomically increased. There is hunger in the land. How would this technology enhance the production of food to feed the teeming population of Nigeria?


Agricultural biotechnology can contribute in reducing food insecurity in Nigeria by provision of herbicide tolerant crops. That is, the crops that will be resistant to some herbicides. That will reduce labour-intensiveness. When you spray your crops, the weeds will die and the crops will remain intact. By so doing, there is no tillage of the soil in the course of weeding.


The herbicide that you talked about, is it not harmful to the environment?

No, it is not really harmful to the environment. The soil is intact. The nutrients in the soil are retained because of lack of tillage. So the herbicides are produced to attack the weeds.

The plants are still having the nutrients are not shared in between the crops and the weeds. You will end up having high productivity.

We visited a soy bean farm in 2012 in the United States of America. The farm was very neat and the crops were doing very well. They were flourishing because of the application of this herbicide.

This reduces labour-intensiveness and soil tillage. The nutrients are conserved in the soil. It doubles the productivity. Once the productivity is high, it is advantageous to the farmer because there will be more food. It is the same with crops that are insect and pest resistant.

The number of space is reduced through the development of insect and pest resistant herbicide. This is because the problem of insect and pest infestation has been solved. In some countries where this technology has been taken-off and commercialised, the farmers make profit of about 33 per cent.

The cost-effectiveness is low. The cost of buying spray chemicals is reduced; water is also reduced especially in drought areas where water is very scarce. In applying these chemicals, the farmers use large volume of water. So, the farmer is saving his own time.

There is also a gain of health benefit.  But in using the chemicals, the farmer is distorting the ecosystem, as target and non-target insects are killed. But if you have insect and pest resistant herbicide, the farmer is reducing the number of space, the environment is conserved, and the water is saved as well as the cost of production. On a small piece of land, you plant your crops and harvest a lot.

These things have been done and tested erstwhile in the developed countries such as in China, Japan, Canada, India, South Africa and Burkina Faso. With all these in place, we are not saying that technology is the panacea to food insecurity, but it can contribute significantly to food security, having in abundant affordable and quality food.

The crops that are resistant to insect will give rise to quality seeds. The benefits are really enormous.


Madam, let’s talk about GMOs. Many Nigerians are currently confused about GMOs. Do we have GMOs currently in the markets in Nigeria?

Officially, I cannot say we have GMOs because we never had a regulatory system in place until last year 2015. So, if we don’t have a monitoring system to check for GMOs, Nigeria is an import dependent country, even toothpicks, we import them. I cannot say it officially. If I say it officially, I have to substantiate it. But unofficially, I cannot rule out that there are GM products in the markets.

In Nigeria, farmers don’t have access to GM seeds. The GM seeds are not taking to other countries like that. There has to be a regulatory framework. The GM seeds are seeds that have been enhanced to resist pest and diseases. The GM products are products made from GM crops like cornflower and colly flakes. The colly flakes are imported products from the United States of America.

We know that 90 per cent of the maize in the USA is genetically enhanced. This is the same with soy bean. We have products like soy bean oil. I don’t know where it is produced anyway. I know in Canada,USA, they have commercialised soy bean.

I think 70 per cent of soy bean products are GM. They are normal products. In GMOs, you will not be able to differentiate them. If you pick the product, and analyse it, you may not find GM material inside it.

This is because it underwent processes. You remember, the essence of genetic modification is to increase yield and ease labour-intensiveness, as well as make crops resistant to herbicide spray.  That improvement is at the farm level.  If I show you GM soy bean, you cannot differentiate it from the ordinary one. They have the same colour. They taste the same. Safe test and analyses are being carried out, before they are released to farmers.

During developmental process, so many tests are conducted rigorously for weeks, before they would come out with wholesome and safe GMOs. Because you have improved it, the improvement has been checked if it has affected the taste of the said crop.

Under the research, the ones have been modified are grown side by side with the ones that have not been modified. Before any GM products are brought to the markets, they must be safe for human consumption. If they are not safe, they will be thrown away.

Madam, you know that in Nigeria we have a number of countless porous borders. These borders are not manned by relevant security operatives to check the influx of unapproved GM products from other countries. Does this situation not raise serious health concern for the Nigerian citizens who patronise these products?

Like I have told you, we have a regulatory body-National Bio-safety Management Agency which took off in 2015. It is about one year now. It is still at the infancy stage. Their budget is not yet out. So they are responsible for the safety of these products.

There are supposed to have their staff at various borders and airports. So we are calling on the Federal Government to adequately fund the Agency so that they can carry out their responsibility like NAFDAC. So that Nigerians will be assured of safety. So that Nigerians will put their confidence in this technology.

The Agency needs to be well-equipped to carry out safety analyses. They need to analyse every product that is brought into the country to find whether they are GMOs and safe for human consumption.

We are in the process of domesticating this technology by making it our own. So we need this Agency to be able to carry out their safety experiment very well and adequately. Their capacity needs to be built. That is what we need now. The National Bio-safety Management Agency has a home-grown Director General who equally passed through all the processes and ranks.

He is well-experienced and I think he can deliver, given the enabling environment. I want assure you that any GM Product you see in the market is safe because the safety of the GMOs has been endorsed by Internationally-recognised bodies like World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) and the Royal Society of the United Kingdom. They have conducted independent trials on these crops. For them to come out and say that GMOs are safe. To quote Pope Francis, “There is no conclusive evidence against GMOs but there are concerns.”

Since the NBMA just started their operations one year ago and they are not well-funded, they are not at every border posts; does it not raise serious health implications for Nigerians?

It does not raise health concern on the Nigerian citizens because we have not begun the process of commercialisation of GMOs.

Like I told you, any GM product you see on the shelf is as safe as it conventional counterpart. Have it from me.

The oil I use for cooking is soy oil. You know that soy bean is a miracle crop. It is very useful to the body. It has most of the amino acids you can think about.

In some countries such as France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary and Greece, the GM products have been banned due to their health implications and environmental concerns?


Let me tell you, these countries import GMOs. Europe spends a lot of money in the importation of GMOs. They feed their animals with GMOs and you know that they eat their animals. They don’t even feed their animals with organic feed. They spend about 9billion dollars annually on soy meal; they spend money research on GMOs. They have European Safety Authority as their own regulatory body. They practise what is called precautionary principle on GMOs. They have some crops that were developed by their scientists. The money they spent on GMOs is huge. You should forget all these actions by green pigs. They go about mis-informing the public about GMOs. They go to one corner and take some pictures and come out to tell the world that GMOs have been banned in some countries. Even Spain and Germany spend so much money on GMOs.

In Burkina Faso, it is a German company that is conniving with Burkina government to drive away Monsanto. The said company wants to take-over Bt cotton.

Please don’t mind the opposers of GMOs.  We should embrace the technology. The EU trading block buys massive quantities of animal feeds mainly for the feeding of their animals. About 70 per cent of soy bean meal used in the EU is imported, and 80 percent of these meals is produced from GM soy bean. On average, the EU import of soy bean meal amounts to $9billion and soy bean is $6.5 billion annually.

It seems that the level of awareness creation by stakeholders who promote GMOs is very low when compared with your opponents who oppose GMOs. What is your take on this?


Actually, you are correct. The blame is on the scientists.

The awareness level is low generally. Our opponents are all over the place because they are being well funded. This is a state issue. They are yet to grasp what we actually need. We are not saying that this technology solves all problems. It can solve part of it.

The breeders have carried out research and they know what farmers are going through in their farms. These farmers have tried other means to solve those problems which they could not solve. But they resorted to this technology, they are better-off. You know scientists don’t like blowing their trumpet especially when they are working. Even when they make breakthroughs, they don’t talk.

Awareness creation is a problem. But we are trying to bridge the gap between the society and the scientists. The scientists like going on their own. They envisage that what they are doing must transform to the society. The end users of the technology are the consumers.

The scientists would remain in their shelves. But we need to engage the society on what they are doing. The scientists are solving the problems out there; we need to create awareness to get consumers buy-in.  At least, with the activities going on, everybody rising against the technology, I think things will improve. In the USA, the public is being carried along in all the stages of development of GMOs.

Here in Nigeria, we are trying to see how we can upscale our awareness creation, though we are constrained by funding challenge. It is not really easy. We are doing our best to bridge that gap through creation of awareness so we can be on the same page with the public.

We want to hold town hall meetings where we will engage the public. Some reject GMOs due to ignorance. If they are well-informed, they will embrace it.

Are there disadvantages in consuming GMOs? Are there areas that GMOs are harmful? Some of your opponents have been going about saying that GMOs cause cancer and other terminal sicknesses and diseases. What do have to say on this?

Actually, in the history of the use of GMOs in the USA, Canada, China, there has not been any case anywhere that somebody has eaten GM products and died.  Or that it is has caused disease to someone. There has not been any case like that. There is scientific proof. This is because caution is being taken in developing these GM crops. During developmental stages or research processes, they are highly scrutinised. They are rigorously studied. You can imagine that in USA, that is highly developed, they cannot compromise the safety of their citizens. If any food developed that has caused allergy that is when the food is eaten, it may cause some rashes.

The disadvantage it has is that there is the perceived fear that it can cause allergen city. This is very normal. Tests are carried out. When I am developing a GMO, before it gets out, I have to take it for thorough tests.

I have to administer to the rats and observe. I will be studying the behaviour of the rats. It takes up to 10 to 13 years for all these processes to be concluded. It is not a joke. Do you know that for the past seven years, we have been carrying out analyses on some GM crops in Nigeria? We have not released them. Cowpea and Sorghum are on experimental trials. Any one that is not going to be used will be incinerated or burnt.

All the scientists in that section are not allowed to come out of the laboratory with anything. We are doing it in Nigeria. We are capable. Our scientists are working on these things. We have been carrying out research on Bt Cowpea. In October, we are taking people to Zaria to see them.

The crops we are carrying trials cannot be released until they are certified safe. You cannot throw away baby with the bathe wash. Every technology has its risk component.

Generally, life is a risk. You take it you survive, you don’t take it, you fail. Even the natural food, we have risk in them. If you eat corn, there are risks in corn. It does not have all the nutrients. So if you depend on the corn all the time, you are bound to be malnourished. So it is just for us to educate the populace on the safety of GM products. The GMOs are the fastest adopted technology.