By Gabriel Olawale
The National Vice President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Chris Onwuka , has condemned those campaigning against biotechnology in the country as he asked them to come up with scientific evidence to back their stance.
Speaking at a Stakeholders meeting in Abuja recently, he said “a group came and were telling us recently that biotechnology is not good. I asked them to show us scientific evidence but they could not,” he told other stakeholders.
“The truth is that without biotechnology we cannot feed ourselves. What we farmers need is more yield. We already have a regulatory agency just as there is NAFDAC. It is their job to tell us what is good and what is not good. They are capable,” he added.
Also at the meeting were representatives of the academia from all geopolitical zones of the country, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Consumer Protection Council, Genetics Society of Nigeria and the Nigeria Agricultural Society among others.
Mr. Chris Onwuka said “as the reality of a rapidly burgeoning population stares Nigeria in the face, the arguments for and against the adoption of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria as a potential solution to stem a likely food sufficiency crisis has been top on the agenda.
Onwuka said the unequal distribution of technology between the developed world and developing countries like Nigeria consistently make it unnecessary to compare their priorities with ours.
“By 2030, Nigeria’s population will have crossed 250 million. Without a technological intervention, and with continuous decrease in arable land due to urbanization, desertification and erosion, farmers’ yield are only going to decrease.
He added that the challenge before Nigeria is not just about volume of food being produced but also about its quality as well. “Nutritional efficiency is one of the hurdles we are not likely going to be able to overcome even in the medium to long term with conventional methods. Rural populations depend on a restricted number of staple foods because of their purchasing power and this keeps them excluded from a host of nutrients that are important to their physical health.
“These are some of the areas that companies like Monsanto and agricultural research institutes in the country are working to create nutrition enhanced seed varieties as well as seeds with drought and pest tolerance to help farmers maximize yields and ensure nutritional balance even for the poorest in our communities.
He added that for the most part, those against the adoption have driven their campaign mainly around calls for a reversal of the Act establishing the National Biosafety Management – an Act which the country spent almost a decade to pass into law- ostensibly as a means to halt the country’s biotechnology initiatives.
“Without an agency to regulate, every development in that direction will certainly be truncated. In addition to the NBMA, another entity that anti-GM campaigners have been cast into the role of an enemy is the America-based Agricultural company, Monsanto. ”
The farmer representative said sometimes it becomes difficult for people to separate the fight against biotechnology and the fight against Monsanto, “clearly, some of these campaigners actually do not even know that several research institutes across the country are seriously engaged in biotechnology research and may soon have their own seeds in the market.
While noting that some of the campaigners are appealing to nationalist sentiments, Onwuka said some of the important details many of the campaigners here in Nigeria do not tell those they recruit to join them is that for instance on June 29 this year, 107 Nobel Laureates, out of whom only ten were not from the sciences, signed a petition against the anti-GMO campaign.
“That singular event marked a significant in the decades long call for a halting of agricultural biotechnology. In the letter addressed to the United Nations and world leaders, the Laureates described the campaign led mainly by Green Peace, the multi-million dollar organisation spearheading most of the global efforts against GMOs, “…a crime against humanity”.
“It will be hard for all 107 to stake reputations they had built over decades for a technology which they were not sure was tested to meet all standards.
He added “their position is following series of denouncements of the anti-GM movement by former key figures from within Greenpeace itself.
A case in point is that of Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, who served for nine years as President of Greenpeace Canada and seven years as a Director of Greenpeace International.
“He has been a leader in the international environmental field for over 30 years. Over time, he has come to realize that the facts did not support many of the opposition campaigns he had worked on through Greenpeace and is now a staunch supporter of agricultural biotechnology.
Onwuka said another case is that of Stephen Tindale, who was for six years the head of Greenpeace UK. In his words, “The reason I’ve decided to speak out on GM now is because I think it is necessary for people like me who’ve opposed it to say things have changed… The overwhelming majority of scientists think that it is safe. It is, in my view, morally unacceptable to stand out against these new technologies.”
Whilst they are quick to make reference to the report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which described Glyphosate (a chemical used against weeds in GM farms) as a “probable” carcinogen, they never get around to mentioning that the IARC is only one of 4 (four) WHO programmes that are concerned with chemicals and cancer research and is the only one out of the four to classify glyphosate as such.
As a matter of fact, a joint Food & Agricultural Organisation and WHO issued in May 2016 clearly stated that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
As a matter of fact, several reports issued after the IARC reports, notable among which are those from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (2015); the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (October 2015); The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Nov 2015; and Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency, April 2015 all agree on glyphosate’s safety.