As President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday signed the National Biosafety Agency Bill into law after he failed to do so when it was first sent to him for his assent during the life of the 6th National Assembly, Jimoh Babatunde takes a look at the journey of biotechnology law in the country.
With the current population of Nigeria which is put at over 140 million people and the need to guarantee food security in the country, many have argued that traditional agricultural practices, characterized by the use of poor seedlings, must give way to modern tools to allow agriculture to grow by double digits.
Biotechnology, many stakeholders in the agricultural sector believe, holds the key to some of the problems in agriculture and health, and the earlier the country joins other African countries that have tapped into it the better.
They see the passage of the bill by the Nigerian Parliament as a path that will launch the country into the production and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMO) with the capacity to increase crop production, ensure food security, and improve rural livelihoods.
It is expected that the entrance of GMOs will increase crop productivity, lower the cost of production, guarantee food security, and improve both the health and livelihoods of resource-poor farmers who make up more than 70% of the rural population.
But, the absence of a biosafety law was seen as the problem. In addition, research and development in GM crops are indeed in their infancy in Nigeria as very few establishments in the national agricultural research system have developed the critical mass of human capacity and the infrastructural requirements that would lead to the accelerated development of transgenic materials.
So, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), made several attempts to have the country signed and ratified an internationally binding Biosafety Protocol Known as Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
The Protocol entered into, according to Mrs. Rose Gidado , the Country Co-ordiantor, Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) , came into force on the 11th September 2003 .
“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.”
Not deterred by that initial set back, the Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), went ahead to mobilized stakeholders to represent the bill to the 7th national assembly in 2014 with the hope that the passage of the bill into law will regulate the safe application of biotechnology in Nigeria to harness benefits in fields of agriculture, medical and the environment.
President signs bill into law
The cheering news that President Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Agency Bill on Monday was received with joy by stakeholders who have been waiting for opportunity for Nigeria to join the league of countries cultivating GMO crops.
The Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, Prof. Lucy Jumeyi Ogbadu, while braking the news , said that the National Biosafety Act is crucial in the management of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, adding that the Act would create more employment and boost food production if given good attention by government.
According to her, “The Biosafety Act will provide the legal framework to check the activities of modern biotechnology in the country, as well as the importation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Nigeria, including the provision of an avenue to engage Nigerian scientists/experts from different fields to identify and pursue solutions to our local challenges.”