October 31, 2014

Why we need biosafety law in Nigeria — AFAN

Why we need biosafety law in Nigeria — AFAN

File: Sorghum farmers in Kaduna

….As N’Assembly holds hearing


THE President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Mr. Kabiru Salman did not mince words when he told the gathering at the National Assembly last week that Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) will take his members away from subsistence farming to commercial farming.

This position was echoed by the representative of the Cotton Association of Nigeria, who said they will become rich like farmers in other West Africa countries and developed countries that have taken to the cultivation of BT cotton.

They made these revelations as they joined other stakeholders at the National Assembly last week at the Public hearing on a bill for an act to establish the National Biosafety law for the country.

Nigeria signed and ratified an internationally binding Biosafety Protocol Known as Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2000 and 2002 respectively.

The Protocol entered into came into force on the 11th September 2003 and currently has 160 members. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety addresses the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity, taking into account risk to human health.

As a signatory, Nigeria made efforts at domesticating the Cartagena protocol with the National Biosafety Management Agency Bill 2011 which was initially passed by the 6th National Assembly but was not assented to by the President because it was passed a day before the end of the life of that Assembly.

The bill was returned under this 7th National Assembly, so it was not surprising that supporters of the bill were at the national assembly last week for the public hearing.

Declaring the hearing open, the Senate President, David Mark, said the issue of biotechnology is an international one and Nigeria is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

“But we must domesticate the issues involved so as to benefit from modern technology. “

The Senate President represented by Senator Atiku Bagudu, said global population is growing geometrically and to feed the world there is need for technology, saying “this bill is going to provide guidance in the areas of agriculture, stable environment and wealth creation.”

The Chairman Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, said the National Biosafety Bill is to provide a regulatory regime and guidance for the sustainable development of the science of modern biotechnology.

While promising to see to the bill being passed by the present assembly, he said they are neutral as the will of the people will be taken into consideration.

He said Nigeria signed the protocol on Biodiversity to enjoy the benefits associated with modern technology.

It is those benefits that the agriculture sector stands to gain that Arc. Kabiru Salman said they will be deprived of if there is no law regulating biotechnology in the country.

“As farmers, we embrace biotechnology and the passage of the bill will make whatever we do legitimate. GMO will lead to high yields and safety of what we do.”

He added that law on biosafety will take them away from subsistence farming to commercial farming and “this will make us food secured and good player internationally

Salman said “farmers might result to smuggling of GMO seeds they considered will enhance their earning without risk assessment being carried out on them if the bill is not passed.”

While urging that the bill should be passed into law, he said the country might not be able to guarantee the purity of its agricultural products for the international market, there by loosing her international partners and also foreign earnings.

The representative of the
Cotton Farmers Association, Samuel Ishaku, who also urged the National Assembly to pass the bil, saying having a law in place for the regulation of their activities will enable his members make more money from cultivating cotton.

Tracing the decline in production of cotton in the country,   he noted that many countries have been cultivating genetically modified cotton commercially, but since Nigeria has no law in place, “cotton farmers can not cultivate BT cotton which has led to the downfall in cotton production in the country.”

He revealed that Burkina Faso farmers and India farmers have benefited more from cultivating BT cotton that they now cultivate twice in a year and making good money.

Dr. Chiedozie Egezi of the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, speaking with this reporter said a biosafety law will enable trials for prospective and promising products.

Dr. Egezi, who is also the
In-country Principal Investigator, BioCassava Plus, added that Biosafety law will provide capacity building of local expertise in Ag-Biotech that would engender ownership of technology and thereby build trust. He said the law will provide strong outreach linkages and networking to rural areas and stakeholders especially local farmers; infrastructure for testing GM plants with appropriate biosafety measures in different ecologies.

The Coordinator Nigeria Chapter, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Mrs. Rose Gidado disclosed that the issue of Biosafety Regulation in Africa is rapidly gaining momentum as more African Countries are embracing GMOs.

She revealed that Republic of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt already have biosafety laws and are currently growing and consuming GM crops. Kenya, Togo, Tanzania and Mali also have Biosafety laws.

“The African Union has developed a model biosafety law to assist Member States develop their biosafety laws. However, to further strengthen Biosafety system in Africa, the NEPAD-African Biosafety Network of Expertise project has been put in place to develop the capacity of member states in biotechnology and Biosafety.