By Sylvester Thompson, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Statistics from World Population Review shows that Nigeria population is growing at the rate of 2.57 per cent. It projected that the overall population of Nigeria will reach about 401.31 million by 2050.
This projected increase in the Nigerian population necessitated the move to increase food production in order to meet the demands of both man and livestock via biotechnology and genomics.
Agricultural biotechnology includes a range of tools that scientists deploy to understand and manipulate the genetic make-up of organisms for use in the production or processing of agricultural products, while genomics is the study of an organism’s genome, its genetic material and how that information is applied.
John Komen, in his presentation at African Biennial Bioscience Communication (ABBC 2021) on “Global and Africa Policy and Regulatory Perspectives of Genome Editing,’’ outlined the power of modern agricultural biotechnology and genomics in transforming African food systems.
Komen said that the ability of agricultural biotechnology and genomics in transforming African food systems into a force of economic growth, create wealth in the rural space and beyond, feed an African population expected to reach 2.2 billion people by 2050 could not be ignored.
He said that biotechnology, including improved breeds and varieties, was not widely embraced across Africa, and was inadequately addressed in food production policy frameworks.
FACTORS INFLUENCING AGRIBIOTECH ADOPTION AND DEVELOPMENT IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
An article by Nature Genetics, “Genomics and our future food security,’’ explicitly stated that genomics has a part to play in ensuring that agricultural production meets the goal of feeding the world with continual human population growth and increasingly severe effects from climate change.
The article said genomics’ role was in the area of maximising the utility, diversity and yield of resources, as well as in contributing to sustained food security in the future.
It further noted that agricultural genomics is a rich field that has been contributing to advances in crop development for decades.
“From sequencing reference genomes to genotyping for genome-wide association studies to genomic prediction, advances in technology and applications have led to breakthroughs in crop improvement,’’ the article read.
Scientists have argued that one potential way for genomics to lend itself to crop improvement and food security was through the collection-wide sequencing and classification of established seed banks or gene banks.
They said that through this process, it would be possible for important agricultural species to be stored and maintained in large collections, organised by classification and origin.
Similarly, Nigerian scientists and agricultural biotechnology experts have affirmed that agricultural genomics uses technology to study the genes of plants in order to develop new and specific varieties of crops.
These new crops they say, can help address various food problems in Nigeria and Africa by helping to improve the productivity and sustainability of many plant varieties and livestock productions.
They also confirm that genomics can reduce the trials and failures involved in scientific research to a certain extent, which could improve the quality and quantity of crop yields in agriculture.
Dr Rose Gidado, Deputy Director at the National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA) and other experts have consistently spoken on the benefits of genome editing, also known as gene editing and the need for adoption of appropriate technologies to boost food production.
These indigenous experts listed some of these benefits to include among others: increased crop yields, reduced costs for food or drug production, reduced need for pesticides and enhanced nutrient composition.
AWARENESS AND UTILISATION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS IN NIGERIA
The establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA) and its recent 2022 Act, showed that the Nigerian government had taken a big leap in demonstrating willingness to improve food production and drive towards transforming the country’s food systems via application of modern agricultural biotechnology and genomics.
Unarguably, the Nigerian government believes that safe modern biotechnology application can proffer solutions and offer great potential in the agricultural and other sectors of the economy.
The National Biosafety Management Agency Act, 2015 (as amended) was set up to entrench legal, regulatory, and administrative mechanisms in the safe application of modern biotechnology and the use of its products, genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Dr Rufus Ebegba, Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency(NBMA), who spoke at a sensitisation workshop on modern biotechnology and biosafety regulations organised by OFAB for Board Members of the NABDA, hinted on the need for safety concerns.
He said biosafety was a means of addressing potential adverse impacts of modern technology and GMOs, particularly in the areas of gene flow, invasiveness, non-target effect, allergenicity, toxicity and socio-economic concerns.
Nigeria has embraced genetic modification and engineering, as the country is among the six African counties leading in adoption of genetically modified crops.
Prof. Chiedozie Egesi, Director, NextGen Cassava Breeding, IITA also at a sensitisation workshop said, “the application of genetic engineering has the potential to revolutionalise food production.
“But unnecessary fears and concerns fuelled by false information and myths is limiting the application, majorly in regions that needs it the most, Nigeria inclusive.”
Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General of the NABDA, who recently spoke on pod borer resistant cowpea, highlighted the gains recorded through the application of modern agricultural biotechnology.
“Biotechnology has proven its potential to help us overcome agricultural productivity challenges leading to more yield, for example, 2.9 tonness per hectare of Bt cowpea from 350kg of non-Bt cowpea and addressing various breeding limitations that conventional breeding method cannot address.
“The PBR Cowpea is a classic example of how the technology can provide solutions to one of the major challenges confronting cowpea farming,” he said.
Mustapha disclosed that with the commercialisation, adoption and use of the new variety of cowpea modified to be resistant to insect maruca vitrata, Nigeria was beginning to revolutionalise food production through tremendous yield, quick bumper harvest and good cooking characteristics.
Listing the economic benefits, he noted that a 20 per cent increase per hectare translated to N48 billion annually at N120, 000.0 per tonne.
Dr Rose Gidado, who is also the Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), outlined reasons at a recent sensitisation workshop on modern agricbiotech, why Nigeria and Africa must hasten up the adoption of modern agricultural biotechnology tools.
Gidado said major promises of biotech crops were abundance of healthy foods, less dependence on pesticides, decreased production risks for farmers, more agricultural yield per land mass to feed the people.
Comparing Africa’s progress in modern agricultural biotechnology to other developed and food secured nations, she said that with all the benefits of the technology, Africa was behind the rest of the world in application of genetic engineering in agriculture.
The OFAB country coordinator said Africa’s backwardness was largely due to restrictive and unpredictable policy environments, poorly functioning institutional mechanisms for biosafety oversight and lack of political will for GM technology.
However, she assured that NABDA remained committed to transforming Nigeria’s food systems and recovery of the economy through application of biotechnology. (NANFeatures)