Just as there have been calls for adoption of genetically modified crops in Africa as a means of providing food for the teeming population, so also there have been objections to its introduction based on ethical and moral issues. Our Correspondent, JIMOH BABATUNDE presents the views of Prof. Bamidele Solomon and Dr. Diran Makinde on this debate.
Prof. Bamidele Ogbe Solomon, Director General, Nigeria Biotechnology Development Agency, is a sad person in the sense that he is pained by the inability of the country to benefit from biotechnology in agriculture because of lack of enabling law. He revealed his pains and others on the issue of biotechnology in agriculture in Nigeria and why the country has been left behind by other countries on the continent. Here is an excerpt .
On biotechnology in agriculture
One of the aspects of the side event which I was supposed to look at as a promoter is regulation. My major concern is that we should not be over regulated.
Because regulation that is not science based could become bias and could stifled even development where people begin to have what you call perceived unintended effect and say if we eat this thing that in hundred years we will develop four legs. Such perception cannot be based on science , so such discussion has to go on.
I also wanted as an agency to see where the other African countries have reached Vis a Vis the East African countries and the direction Nigeria can go.
Already in Nigeria we have three crops in confirmed field trial which is the BT cowpea in Zaria, the African bio fortified sorghum also in Zaria and the Cassava plus in Umudike .
There are many crops that are of great importance both nationally and internationally. For example, is the cotton. We know the Nigerian dilemma is in the sense that almost all the textile mill in the country is closed down and one of the problems is that of shortage of raw materials and now the major raw material for cotton worldwide is from genetically modified cotton (BT Cotton) .
Over 70% of the total world cotton is BT cotton. The Americans, China , South Africa and even Burkina Faso are involved in this BT cotton and we are wearing the cloths made from them, so why can’t we get Nigerians to do it.
So one of the things we need to do as an agency is how to start the domestication of this technology. The genes for this are already own by many companies outside . Monsanto is the leader, they are the one giving the technology to them in Burkina Faso. We have Mayer , which is German. They are giving the technology to them in the Cameroon . Nigeria is now in between, we are looking for partners that will be able to work with us in Nigeria.
We have addressed and approached a company called Dell Agro services and we will be consummating the partnership very soon, but before then we are discussing on the need for Nigeria to begin to build the confined field trial site both in Zaria and also in Abuja specifically for capacity building and regulation, so that regulators from the regional environment can be trained there on what regulation is all about.
On maize that does not need much water to grow
We don’t have such in Nigeria yet. The water efficient maize for Africa as they call it has been developed specifically for five countries in East Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. We have been beckoning , because the organization that is responsible for developing this is the Africa Technology Foundation which we call the AATF, they are in Nigeria and we have been discussing , the only thing they said can make it happen is if there is an enabling environment in Nigeria then the project can also be in Nigeria.
On enabling environment
The enabling environment is an act that will regulate the practice of this modern biotechnology and that is the bio safety law which has already been passed by the national assembly. It was first passed by the House of Representatives on July 1st, 2010 and the senate did same June 1st, 2011.
After that, it was sent to the presidency and we are waiting for the assent of the president , we have tried through our Open forum on agricultural biotechnology that is run once in a month in different part of the country to draw attention to the need for the bill to be passed into law.
The responses we get from our people are that they are anxious to get these improved seedlings. The rural people , the farmers are so excited , more than that, we have gone to the former President who is a farmer and former minister and present ministers to get the President to sign it.
This is the era for biotechnology and we need to unlock human existence. I know there organisation in Europe who calls themselves the friend of the earth that are opposed to the development of biotech, it is unfortunate because the Europeans have already solved the problems of food in their environment as they can afford to import.
The Europeans import GM grains from America for their livestock ,so indirectly they still take it , they say don’t grow it in our country, but they have money to buy it . We don’t have money to buy grains , we are looking for money to finance education.
More than that , the Europeans because they were behind this technology, they did not adopt well , there is trade competition.
Now, the Germans have suddenly developed the industrial potatoes and already, the Irish that we named the Irish potatoes after have taken the German potatoes and are already growing it. So, it now pleases them to do that. In Spain they are already growing BT rice and many part of Europe BT crops are already being developed.