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GMOs: Between science and myth-based skepticism who to believe?

 

By Dr Rose M. Gidado

In recent times, the anti GM crusaders, as usual, circulated misleading information on the efficacy of GMOs with the aim of causing panic and to threaten the core fabrics of our society, this development has given rise to the question of whether the group who see nothing good in the works of our indigenous scientists should be neglected in the fight to end hunger and poverty in Nigeria?
But the fact that no nation of the world has been able to advance without adequate investment in science and technology have become clear to all, as the world most developed countries are highly research oriented. Nigeria is looking set for national development with adequate investment in science and technology as the nation’s 8th National Assembly recently held a one day public hearing on “a Bill for an Act to amend the National Biosafety Management Agency act 2015, to enlarge the scope of the Act and include other evolving aspects of the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria (Hb. 1578)” during which discussions were made on how to end the national hunger-crisis using the gene editing- and modification- technology. Though, science and technology have the capacity to revolutionize Nigeria and lift the country from being the ‘poverty capital’ of the world, fears and concerns are continuously being planted among the public by some opposition groups in order to limit the countries progress with science and technology.

Recent claims that the insurgency in Northern Nigeria is linked to the biotechnology promoters so as to cause food insecurity have been made by the opposition group, but is this really true? The issue of food insecurity and chronic malnutrition has long been in existence even before the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria: Soil infertility leading to low crop yield, increasing pest infestation resulting from climate change, water pollution stemming from the excessive application of chemical insecticide sprays by farmers (the effect of chemical spray on the Nigerian crops is multi-linked, the Nigerian beans was recently rejected at the international market due to excessive chemical insecticide residual deposit. This made Nigeria to lose several millions of dollars that would have been used to boost the country’s economy and alleviate poverty. Beans is not the only food-crop to have been rejected at the international market. Our sunflower seeds that were predicted to be the next “oil boom” of the country was also rejected at the international market due to substandard nutritional quality), increased greenhouse gases due to the excessive application of nitrogenous fertilizer (it has been estimated that the nitrous gas, a greenhouse gas that is originated due to fertilizer application, has a 300 times heat-trapping power as carbon dioxide and therefore makes it one of the most climate threatening gas in the universe capable of dilapidating the ozone layer at an unimaginable rate), excessive food crop spoilage due to insect pest infestation (as mostly common with tomato which has often resulted in it acute scarcity during the raining season of the year) and inadequate preservation system, emitting of smoke generated from farming equipment used during the irrigation of plants by Nigerian framers among several others have long been reported by numerous researchers in Nigeria even before the advent of the insurgency in the Northern region of Nigeria.

Though, no Nation in the world have been able to advance without the application of science, the anti-GM advocacy group are trying to slowdown the progress of Nigeria by spreading fears among the public with their false and unscientific claims. The fact that the application of the GM technology can revolutionize Nigeria’s agricultural system and bring about poverty alleviation has been predicted by many researchers all over the world. For instance, taking the issue of tomato spoilage, the application of the CRISPR gene editing technology have been used by scientists to generate tomato with longer shelf life thus, ensuring a stable supply all-round year. This was done by silencing the receptor gene of the bacteria in the tomato. The application of the GM technology can lead to production of seeds that will require no or little chemical insecticide spray. The effect of this alone can lead to climate change mitigation due to reduction in the release of toxic chemicals, end of water pollution that has often resulted to death of several aquatic animals and health safety of our farmers thereby protecting them from the cancerogenic compounds of the chemical spray. For instance, it has been estimated that the Nigeria’s Bt. beans which is resistant to the notorious insect pest larvae called maruca vitrata, will bring about a drastic reduction in chemical spray by about 80%. This will revamp the Nigeria’s food crop industry that will translate to food security, increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and poverty alleviation. The Bt. cotton is a climate smart crop that has early maturation period and as well capable of growing with little need for irrigation or water application. This is in no wise a small achievement because it will translate to reduction in the application of irrigation machines that often generates smoky gas containing the principal greenhouse gas, carbon monoxide (CO).

If the world most hungry and malnourished countries are insurgent free, why then link Bokoharam to the principal cause of food insecurity in Nigeria? Zambia, despite being a peaceful country in Africa, has been ranked as one of the hungriest countries in the world. About 60% of the country lives in poverty. Climate change resulting to poor soil infertility, increased insect pests infestation and drought have been reported by several researchers as the principal cause of hunger in Zambia. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has listed Burundi as one of the most chronically malnourished countries in the world. Bad weather conditions that often resulted to poor farm harvest that could have been easily mitigated by planting GM Crops have been reported as the root cause of chronic malnutrition in Burundi. Rwanda is also not left out as she was recently ranked the 6th most chronically malnourished country in the world with a record of more than 50% children being severely malnourished. Population increase, soil erosion that could easily be averted by planting GM crops and less agricultural productivity have been identified as the root cause of their epidemy. Ethiopia, though with stable economy, is one of the five most chronically malnourished country in the world. Principal root causes of malnutrition have been linked to: Population growth, drought re-occurrence and soil degradation all of which can easily be averted by planting GM crops. Unnecessary fears planted by the anti-GM advocacy group in Africa has led to the rejection of GM crops in countries where they are needed the most.
The tide is changing however. African countries like Kenya and Ghana are beginning to reconsider their stake in GM Crops adoption with the recent declaration by Kenya farmers that they need an urgent intervention to their food crisis.

Answering the ultimate question, should we neglect the anti-GM advocacy group in the fight for a food secured Nigeria? With several scientific proofs that the adoption of GM crops can revolutionize Nigeria’s agricultural system and end hunger crisis, Nigeria as a nation should buckle up to avoid distractions and fears. Unnecessary concerns raised by the opposition group should not be allowed to hold us back in food insecurity and poverty. With the great rise of competent Nigerian scientists, informed policy makers and the public, investment in science and technology to end hunger crisis is inevitable if she must join the league of developed countries to tap into the numerous benefits of science and technology.

Dr. Rose M. Gidado
Country Coordinator, OFAB Nigeria Chapter
08033142898

About Edwin

Edwin is an agriculture enthusiast who believes in the potency of agriculture in driving economic growth in developing countries. He also believes in the use of biotechnology to advance agriculture in order to fight hunger and poverty. Edwin believes in the power of the media to bridge the gap between policy makers, sector actors and the farmers, especially those in the rural areas.

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