The recent pronouncement of N14 billion grants for dry season farming by federal government, undoubtedly, is a welcome development, considering that such special grant was unprecedented, especially, when it is targeted at boosting the chances of Nigeria in achieving food sufficiency, particularly in rice production as planed by the federal government.
But how far this grant will go remains unclear, given that the Presidency is still withholding the bio-safety bill passed by the National Assembly, which is expected to arm Nigerians farmers with the latest technological tools and inputs to compete favourably with the food producing majors across the globe.
By Emmanuel Elebeke
The bill is one of the bills passed by the National Assembly that have been gathering dust on the desk of President Jonathan.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a committee to vet the long awaited biosafety bill as passed by the National Assembly before he could sign it into law, the new law is expected to usher in a new era in the deployment of biotechnology to boost food production, ensure food security and reduce the high incidence of food importation.
Participants at the 10th anniversary of African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF seminar held in Abuja recently said, Nigeria’s dream of achieving food sufficiency in 2015 will be a mirage, unless the country adopts biotechnology in the agric sector.
To achieve these goals, they were of the view that President needs to sign into law, the bio-safety bill currently before him, which they believe would open a new vista for massive production of food for local consumption and export, irrespective of other reforms going on in the sector.
Agricultural biotechnology is the application of technology to agriculture to make, modify or improve on a product for the benefit of mankind.
When the bill is signed into law, it is expected that Nigeria with vast arable land and so many agricultural potentials would benefit more, as it would make a significant economic impact on the populace by contributing immensely to job creation, wealth creation, eradication of hunger and malnutrition.
Farmers on their part, experts say, would not require special skills or training to key into the benefits of the initiative, as they are the end users of the agricultural biotechnology product otherwise called Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs; such as seeds and plantlets, which are the same as conventional crops.
Speakers at the seminar said the introduction of GM foods processing system in Nigeria would multiply food production that would ensure food security, improve nutritive value of food, improve agricultural practices by minimizing use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.
GMOs are organisms in which the genetic material, DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.
The technology is often called gene technology and allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between related species. It is this method that is used to create GM plants, which are used to grow GM food crops.
While, announcing the N14 billion grants during the inauguration of the dry season farm support programme held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan said the sum was reviewed upward by 56 per cent from N9bn earmarked for the programme in 2013 because more states were now part of it and promised to increase the financial support as more states keyed into the project.
According to him, the resolve to expand this dry season programme stemmed from federal government’s commitment to ensure that farmers from October get what they need before the commencement of the dry season.
Jonathan said he would expand the Growth Enhancement Scheme to reach more farmers, adding that sometime this year, the federal government would launch a fund for small and medium scale farmers.
He admitted that agriculture remained the largest contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product and the largest employer of labour.
“Our nation shall be green, our barns shall be filled and our farmers shall prosper,” Jonathan said.
On his part, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijani said he believed that biotechnology has the strong potential to achieve sufficient food for every Nigerian, one of the aims of the transformation agenda of the present adminis-tration, which is to ensure food security for all Nigerian.
“The African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF, through its synergy with NABDA does not only ensure food security, but ensures the local farmers utilize appropriate technologies such as biotechnology. One of their key projects in Nigeria is the development of nitrogen-use, water efficient and salt tolerant rice. This is key because Nigeria is the second largest importer of rice in the world, about two million metric tons of rice from countries like Thailand and China. The project would ensure Nigeria is self sufficient in the production of rice and would boost the countries revenue,” he added.
The Director-General of NABDA and Chairman, Open Forum for Agricul-tural Biotechnology, Professor Bamidele Solomon said though, he believed in the ability of President Goodluck Jonathan in sign the bill into law soon to ensure food security in the country, there was need to prioritise the importance in order to fast-track the high food yielding process.
According to him, the new law will usher in a new era in the deployment of biotechnology to boost food production, ensure food security and reduce the high incidence of food importation. Food production will soon take an upward swing
He said, “Having a law will ensure the safe use of modern biotechnology while protecting human health, the environment and national biodiversity.
“It will also facilitate risk assessment exercises, monitoring and enforcement measures relevant to import, export, trans-boundary move-ment of the products of modern biotechnology, laboratory and field testing/use of modern biotechnology including handling, containment disposal, control, monitoring and release of biotech products.
“Therefore, biotechnology research will be given the opportunity to thrive as soon as the bio-safety framework is in place. It will soon be signed into law.”
The global convention by which the world keeps watch over biosafety issues is the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD. Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF recently hosted an interaction around this convention between experts and farmers.