Agricultural Biotechnology holds a lot of promise for the development of the agricultural and industrial sector. Its role in National development includes providing the technology to transform the agricultural sector to enhance food security, ensure industrialization, create jobs, reduce poverty and create wealth. However, debate on the safety of this technology to humans and environment, labelling issues etc in Africa and all around the world has been on the increase. These have led to lack of understanding and fear about what this technology really holds for the developing countries in future.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and its potentials to drive development led to a spate of criticisms in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. Incipient activism against the technology has also raised concerns in recent times. With the aim of building confidence in the Nigerian public, biotechnology practitioners, crop developers and the industry paving way for the use of science and technology in agriculture, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in collaboration with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Programme for Biosafety System (PBS), Washington DC, and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Organized an agri-biotech and biosafety workshop with the following objectives:
i.To bring biotechnology to the front burner in the diversification of Nigeria’s economy under a sound biosafety regulatory framework.
ii.To accurately educate participants on issues of biotechnology and biosafety so that decisions by policy makers are effectively understood and communicated to the general public and also to sensitize the general public on genetic modification, biosafety and best practices in GM research and development.
iii.To encourage the research communities and developers of products of agricultural biotechnology to intensify their activities in line with the ‘Change Agenda’ of the Federal Government as it relates to Agriculture.
Present at the workshop included the Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; DG /CEO, NABDA, Prof. Lucy J. Ogbadu; Director General/CEO NBMA Mr. Rufus Ebegba; Former Director General/CEO NABDA, Prof. B. O Solomon; Representative of the Director, FDA, FMARD Mr. George Opara; Executive Secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) represented by Mr. Yarama Ndirpaya; Nigeria Representative, Food and Agricultural Organization, Dr Louise Setshwaelo; Country Coordinator, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), Dr. Mathew Dore; US Embassy Foreign Affairs Officer, Environment, Science and Health, Mrs. Laura Harvey; the Agricultural Attache the Executive Director, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research, Dr E. Asemota; Representatives from the Federal Ministries of Science and Technology, Agriculture and Rural Development, Environment, Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigeria Customs Service, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), IAR Zaria, Universities and Research Institutions, Scientists, Farmers, NGOs, Development Partners/Institutions including, AATF, OFAB, USDA, ABNE, ISAAA Africenter, USAID, BSN, AFAN, Journalists, Association of Women Farmers of Nigeria and Organized Private Sector (OPS).
2.0 OPENING CEREMONY
The Opening Ceremony featured remarks and goodwill messages by dignitaries and those represented at the event. The DG/CEO, NBMA, Mr. Rufus Ebegba in his welcome address said the National Biosafety Management Agency was to ensure safe and responsible application of biotechnology for sustainable food production, wealth creation, job creation, poverty alleviation, etc
“The workshop aims to build confidence of the Nigerian public, in the adoption of Biotechnology as an alternative tool for the diversification of the Nigerian Economy to bring about the ‘CHANGE AGENDA’ of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Your participation at this workshop would bring your expertise and experiences to bear in assisting to guide National Biosafety and safe biotechnology policies that would enhance our economic growth and environmental sustainability,” he emphasized.
Mr. Rufus added that the growing world population is a major challenge, which has led to increased demand for food, feed, fibre and fuel. It has also led to loss of agricultural land, shortage of water for irrigation, climate change, increasing demand for renewable fuels, Reduced agro-biodiversity and loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. The DG/CEO indicated that the application of safe modern biotechnology under a legal framework can be a valuable tool for addressing these several challenges arising from national population growth and giving consumers in Nigeria the sense of choice and availability of quality products under a sustainable environment.
Challenging Nigerian Scientists, the DG/CEO stated that with the NBMA Act 2015 in place, indigenous researchers no longer have any excuse in bringing out the results of their long years of research work in the laboratory for use in the development of the Nation.
Similarly, the Director General/CEO NABDA, Prof Lucy Ogbadu in her presentation posited that Biotechnology has been in existence for a long time but the question it faces is whether it is effectively deployed to improve our livestock and foods. “GMO foods have been approved for consumption since 1996 duly certified by WHO, FAO and all the world foods bodies, without any scientifically proven negative side effects but have helped in the countries that embraced the technology to enhance food production, healthy lives and wealth creation” she remarked.
Speaking further, Prof Ogbadu said Biotechnology has become a necessity in view of increasing world population, reducing arable land, need for water conservation, climate change, crop infestation, aging farmers, preference of the young ones for white-collar jobs, etc are glaring in the nation.
She proclaimed that State owned institutions; public sector funding and government support is necessary to make the dream a reality.
2.1 Goodwill messages:
The Executive Director, Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, represented by Prof. Ishiyaku, congratulated the organisers of the workshop and informed the meeting that IAR had been involved in the research and release of important agricultural crop varieties for several years and that the institute was in the final stages of its work on Bt. Cowpea. He specially thanked the HMST, on behalf of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria for his personal donation of his book to the school. While the Executive Director NIFOR, Dr. Asemota Omorefe in his goodwill message congratulated the organizers for the workshop and explained that NIFOR had worked on various palm crops (oil palm, data palm, raffia palm etc) for several years and is presently looking at how to use modern biotechnology to improve oil palm trees. He thanked all collaborators and pledged continued support of the institute to both NABDA and NBMA.
In another development, the AATF Regional Director, Dr. Prince Addae, represented by Abu Umar extended his goodwill message and informed participants that AATF has been involved in confinement field trials (CFT) of Bt Cowpea in IAR, the Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient & Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice, in NCRI, Badeggi, Nigeria. Mr Umar pledged continued support of AATF to Biotechnology adoption and development in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Director, African Biosafety Network of Expertise AU/NEPAD, represented by Dr. Olalekan Akinbo, after welcoming participants, pledged the continued support of ABNE to both NABDA and NBMA. He explained that the mandate of the ABNE was to navigate through African Countries assisting in all biosafety issues. He stated that there are three ABNE node in the continent (Burkina Faso, Uganda and Senegal) working together to facilitate its mandate.
Hirtherto, theFAO Nigeria Rep, Nigeria, Dr. Louise Setshwaelo in her message thanked the organisers for inviting her to the workshop and explained that biotechnology goes beyond genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It has been in existence for a very long time and that very little of its potentials were tapped. Dr. Setshwaelo further stated that while biotechnology is not a panacea, it provides a complementary tool for agricultural development and has been used in eradication of many diseases, major among them was the lethal rinderpest that devastated livestock farmers not too long ago. The FAO Rep. disclosed that biotechnology is not meant to replace the conventional method of agriculture but an alternative tool for use. She informed participants that FAO had supported many National agricultural programmes and projects and that the support would continue in line with its mandates.
Others that presented goodwill messages were the USDA representative, Mr. Ryan Scott; Monsanto representative, Mr. Kehinde and that of the DG/CEO /CEO, NASC. All pledged their continued support in the adoption and deployment of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria.
2.3 DRAMA INTERLUDE
The OFAB Nigeria Drama Troupe presented a very entertaining drama at the event aimed at showcasing the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology. The drama featured a poor farmer, Papa Dayo who had lost all his crops to insects/pests and a rich farmer who makes his money from the cultivation and exportation of Bt. Crops. It also featured a mother whose anaemic children made her spend a lot on multivitamins. Then, a health-worker brought the message of biofortified crops to her and how it can improve her children’s health. Also presented by the drama, was a poor banana farmer who needed more ways to improve his yield. Meanwhile Papa Dayo who was introduced into Bt. Crops later became a rich farmer and the three groups met madam solution who explained the technology to them and how it can improve their livelihood.
2.4 Keynote Address by the Hon Minister of Science & Technology
The Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu gave a keynote address titled, “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in the achievement of Food Security and Economic Diversification in Nigeria”. In the keynote address, the Honourable Minister said Nigeria’s population growth is expected to hit 1 billion in the next few years amidst the growing world population, thus there is a need to be proactive to meet increasing demand for food, feed, fibre and fuel. It has also led to loss of agricultural land, shortage of water for irrigation, climate change, increasing demand for renewable fuels, reduced agro-biodiversity and loss of natural habitats. The application of modern biotechnology under a legal framework can be a valuable tool for addressing these several challenges. Nigeria as a Nation should take advantage of biotechnology to increase the choice of farmers for improved seeds, provide solution to malnutrition; combat issues of food insecurity enhance their financial status and make farming attractive to the young folks.
“The establishment of biosafety law should allay the fears of the public with regard to modern biotechnology and its products. Mr President is committed to using relevant technologies to feed the people of Nigeria to ensure that no Nigerian went to bed hungry and no farmer unable to pay his bills”, he added.
At the end of the keynote address, he declared the workshop open.
A total of 16 technical papers where presented at the workshop. The summaries of some of the presentations are as follows:
1.Biotechnology and its place in Agricultural Development by Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, DG NABDA:
This paper Highlighted the benefits of biotechnology including testimonies from farmers who have cultivated bt. Crops in other parts of Africa. It also indicated ways Nigeria can benefit from this technology which can wealth creation, food security, nutrient enhancement and employment.
According to his Presentation, Dr. Dore said Nigeria must not lean on Europe or the USA but should move boldly towards their future with an Act in place. He noted that in one form or another, one may have been consuming GMOs unknowingly as most livestock feeds are genetically modified especially in Europe, America and China from where we majorly get our food imports which means invariably, we consume GMO foods. It is a known fact that Agro based business thrives more in America and Canada than EU because of the economic and competitive advantages over EU. EU has left the decision to individual countries and 5 countries in EU including Spain are on. Forty Seven (47) GMO foods have been released in EU. Quoting ISAAA, he said a record of 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted GM crops on 181.5 million hectares of land in 2014 amounting to an increase from 3% to 4% over 2013.
Dr (Mrs.) Rose Gidado in her presentation stated that in agri-biotech communication, the questions of how Bt crops can produce more affordable foods and fiber; contribute to sustainability; help with climate change mitigation and adaptation; contribute to food security, poverty alleviation and hunger; increase farmer competitiveness; affect nutrition and safety needs to be addressed. She also articulated the challenges faced by GMOs, which include; Legal challenges, Regulatory guidelines, High regulatory costs, Negative public perception, Uneven approval regimes, Aggressive anti-biotechnology groups, Lack of supportive environment for research. She also proferred solution to these challenges which include: Stakeholders mapping to target stakeholders centric activities, Developing champions (spokespersons and advocacies), Changing political climate, Learning by sharing people exchanges, Appropriate contextual messages, building mass support to provide cover, building and mobilizing grassroots support to lead to effective understanding and commercialization of agric biotech products.
4.Risk Management in Agricultural Biotechnology by Prof. Sylvia Uzochukwu, Federal Uuniversity Oye Ekiti
This Presentation outlined the risk management, risk analysis and communication guidelines, which are always strictly, followed in phases before the general release of a GMO into the market. She stated that with all these processes and appropriate regulatory body in place, there should be nothing to worry about with regards to GMO safety.
5.Case Study: Confined Field Trials on Africa Biofortified Sorghum by Prof. Mary Yeye, IAR Zaria
According to Prof. Yeye, Billions of people in developing countries suffer hidden hunger. This hunger is hidden because the victims appear to be eating sufficient quantities of food but does not guarantee nutritional quality. Nigeria is the highest consumer of sorghum and the 3RD highest producer. It’s a major staple food. To address inadequate nutritional value of the sorghum, it became necessary to develop a sorghum biofortified with essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals for the general better health, better immune system.
6.Case Study: Bt Cowpea Trial in Nigeria by Prof. Ishiyaku, PI, Maruca Resistant, Cowpea Project IAR/ABU, Zaria.
Prof Ishiyaku in his presentation demonstrated how the cowpea (beans) has been genetically modified with the use of Biotechnology, and enhanced with proven yield result of 4-5 times better than its conventional counterpart. He said Nigeria is the highest producer of cowpea and consumer of cowpea thus needs to commercialize this crop to improve its productivity and also contribute to our foreign earnings through export.
Bibiana Irakhi said a WIN-WIN situation could be achieved with effective communication strategy between the scientist and the public. Scientist must be adequately trained in communication and adopt the best strategy to drive their message.
Other Presentations made at the event included:
16. Effective Media Relations including use of social media- Michael Simire, Media Online
In conclusion, it was unanimously agreed that the benefits of GMOs in Nigeria couldn’t be over-emphasized.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE WORKSHOP
The Interactive session featured a lot of positive remarks and satisfaction by the participants at the workshop. A woman who had her doubts raised a question about the safety of the Technology and why Europe and other countries banned GMOs. Her questions were well answered by Prof. Lucy Ogbadu and Dr. Mathew Dore. The farmer groups also expressed their satisfaction with the workshop