Efforts to establish Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria are currently enmeshed in controversy as two key agencies- National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) accuse each other of sabotaging the nation’s food security. Taiwo Hassan reports
Indeed, Nigeria is one of the luckiest countries in the world that is blessed with large span of arable lands for planting of crops to ensure food productivity and security.
But in spite of the oil, which currently account for 90 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue and foreign Exchange earnings, agriculture remains the base of the nation’s economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The sector, no doubt, faces many challenges such as outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs and poor access to credit. Also included are inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets, which have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high post-harvest losses and wastes..
Despite these challenges, agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy -employing two-thirds of the entire labour force.
Over the past three decades, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than one percent annually. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost $15 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities. Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency.
The main factors undermining production include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others
Introduction of GMOs
Meanwhile, the introduction of GMOs into the country’s agriculture may not have gone down well with many Nigerians over lack of empirical evidence to ascertain and certify
them safe for human consumption, even though the country is facing challenges in meeting food production for its teeming huge population.
Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production will need to double in some parts of the world by 2050 and this translates to the need for more land for cultivation, which will not be readily available. Hence, the introduction of GMO crops to make enough nutritious food available with limited land, water and other resources was one of the reasons GMO was approved to compliment food security in the world.
The Nigerian authorities had given legislative approval (‘junk science’) to the NBMA.
Those in support of GMOs said population growth will necessitate the need for more food production.
But this may not be suitable yet for Nigerians who are yet get acquainted to GMO products locally except the foreign nationalities living in Nigeria.
Besides, findings have shown that GMO crops are reportedly resistant to droughts, pests and crop diseases, while some are purported to be packed with extra vitamins, minerals and other health benefits.
However, in order to buttress its stance on aggressively developing of GMOs in Nigeria, the NBMA accused an advocacy group- HOMEF for opposing GMOs empirical test and alleged that it was trying to sabotaging Federal Government’s efforts at moving Nigeria towards food security through the application of technology in food production.
The NBMA in a statement, said it was not established to halt the use of GMOs, but to ensure the safety of GMOs on human health, plants, animals and the environment.
The agency said: “The agency has no intention and will never verbally engage HOMEF, but these statements made against the agency are not only incisive but negate the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure safety in the application of the technologies that assure Nigerians of food security and food safety.”
NBMA accused HOMEF of being unpatriotic, noting that it had never breached the law in the discharge of its duties.
“The attention of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has been drawn to a series of incisive and unpatriotic statements peddled by the Health for Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) about the agency and its activities,” said the agency in a statement..
“While the agency does not want to banter with HOMEF or any of its kind, it is important to state here that NBMA is a government agency established by law as a regulatory agency to ensure the safe handling and use of modern biotechnology and its products, which includes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).”
It will be recalled that HOMEF and its partners had last September criticised the approval by the NBMA for the confined field tests of genetically modified cassava in Ibadan, Oyo State – a move they said was designed to flood the country with genetically modified foods.
But the agency in the statement defended its approval of the field tests of some genetically modified crops, stating that the approval followed due process.
Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, accused the NBMA of abandoning its regulatory mandate.
“The NBMA are not the federal government, they are just an agency of the government and they are the ones that are inciting Nigerians because when they say that GMOs are safe and their job ought to stop GMOs but they are bringing GMOs. It’s completely what a regulatory agency should not be doing,” Bassey said.
Despite the controversy trailing GMO crops in the country, the multimillion dollar questions anti-GMO campaigners are asking is the safety of the environment and food
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