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By Bashir Bello, KANO

The Kano State Deputy Governor, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna has said that Nigeria can leapfrog other countries to become major supplier of agricultural products if it harness, deploy and adopt use of biotechnology.

Gawuna made this known while declaring open a 2-day retreat for journalists, farmers and extension workers organized by National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA in collaboration with Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter held in Kano State.

The Deputy Governor who was represented by his Special Assistant on Agriculture, Mr. Hafiz Muhammad said Nigeria’s agricultural prowess is being consistently weakened by some age-long practices and factors like over reliance on rain fed agriculture, smallholder land holding, poor planting material, low fertilizer application and the weak agricultural extension system in the country.

He however expressed optimism that Nigeria could by-pass these challenges with effective use of emerging technologies and the media.

“For many decades, we have been experiencing a gradual decline in our farming population, static land size with an ever-increasing population that must be fed. Meeting this demand looks almost impossible when viewed against our degraded land, poor yield and the emergence of new crop diseases and pest.

“Even though agriculture remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy and employs two-thirds of the entire labour force, the production hurdles have significantly stifled the performance of the sector. Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 percent annually. According to FAO, Nigeria has lost USD 10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.

“The main factors undermining production include reliance on rain fed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others.

“When other countries are getting almost 10 tons of maize per hectare, in Nigeria, the highest variety is giving about 4 tons; when we are getting 13 tons for cassava, others are getting 40 tons; bean which is popularly called, “Naman Talaka”, and one of the most important legumes in the country leaves us with farmers producing 0.75 tons per hectare.

“The question now is how long do we have to wait? The time is now, we now have technologies that have been tested and proven to be safe with many years of usage and there has never been any published report of adverse effect on both human and on the environment.

“Our strength as a country lies in our ability to optimize our agricultural production to create jobs, create incomes and raise the standard of living of our people; for all this, agricultural biotechnology offers us a golden platform and I think we should grab it with both hands,” the Deputy Governor said.

Gawuna therefore challenged the media to promote activities that would increase agricultural productivity noting that for many decades, the nation had experienced a gradual decline in the farming population, static land size with an ever-increasing population that must be fed.

Similarly, the Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, reiterated the need for the media to play a crucial role in Nigeria’s efforts to boost food production especially the deployment of modern biotechnological tools in addressing agricultural productivity challenges.

“Northern Nigeria is one of the leading producers of agricultural products in the country hence, the just commercialized products of biotechnology (Cotton Bt. and PBR Cowpea) will go a long way in helping our farmers profit from their efforts, this means the media must be prepared to support them in their efforts to ensure a food secured Nigeria.

“The National Biotechnology Development Agency as a Federal Government Agency responsible for promoting biotechnology activities has been doing so positively in response to the government’s aspirations of ensuring national food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery, and sustainable environment,” Prof. Mustapha said.

The Country Coordinator, Open Forum On Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB),
Dr Rose Gidado, however, said that the training was aimed at providing accurate and up to date information about advances in the biotechnology sector since its adoption in Nigeria in order to ensure that the media are fully acquainted with facts and effectively disseminate same to the public

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