By Adanna Mgbojikwe
The growth of Nigeria is tied to the ability of its various sectors to boisterously flourish in their different mandates. Oil and Gas, Finance, Manufacturing, Mining and Agriculture are only few of the numerous sectors that contribute to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Nigeria cannot continue to solely depend on oil to boost its GDP which was estimated to be 375.77 billion US dollars in 2017 compared to Americans 19.39 trillion USD in the same year. We must tap into other natural resources that we are blessed with. Our country has vast lands for cultivation and numerous economic crops but several factors have deterred the growth of agriculture in Nigeria.
Massive infestation by pests, poor storage practices, bad roads that slow and even impede transportation of agricultural produce and archaic methods of farming.
The problem of massive pest infestation is common among many crops in the country leading many farmers to over use pesticides thereby putting themselves in harms way by inhaling these chemicals and harming our climate when the chemicals are washed into the ecosystem.
All hope is not lost as Nigerian scientists recognised early that the modification of crops to internally defend themselves from pests using agricultural biotechnology is the way to solve this problem.
Several Agricultural Research Institutes in Nigeria have been given the authority, by the federal government, to genetically modify crops to generally make them better in ways that are unique to each crop.
The National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi, Niger State, is currently working on modifying a variety of Rice to make it Nitrogen Efficient, Water Efficient and Salt Tolerant. Research on this crop has been on going for at least 5 years and if it is successful, it can be planted in drought areas and will require way less nitrogen fertiliser to grow. The National Biosafety Management Agency, who monitors modern biotechnology activities in Nigeria, regularly monitors this research and others like it to ensure they are up to par with global best practices.
The National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike, Abia State, for years now has been developing a genetically modified variety of cassava to bio-fortify it with vitamin A. The success of this research will mean that, that variety of cassava can grow and supply its consumers with a higher content of vitamin A, which is majorly important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and for good vision.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Oyo State is researching the possibility of reducing post-harvest starch degradation in cassava. This research, if successful has possible applications, in perishable crops which rotten even before they leave the farm to be transported to markets after harvest, leaving farmers with heavy losses.
Last year, the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, released 2 new genetically modified varieties of Cotton called Bt. Cotton which are fully resistant to the Bollworm Complex that destroys hectares of Nigerian cotton. These 2 new varieties yield 4.1 – 4.4 tonnes (4100-4400kg) of cotton per hectare while the non-modified local cotton variety produces about 0.3 – 0.9 tonnes or 300 – 900kg per hectare. These varieties have the potential of being adopted in all the cotton growing zones of Nigeria with maturity of 150 -160 days, high seed cotton yield and early maturity with fibre length of 30.0 to 30.5mm and a fibre strength of 26.5 to 27.0 g/tex (tenacity) and micronaire (strength) 3.9 to 4.1. Not only does this vivaciously revive the textile industry, it also increases the contribution of both the Agricultural and Manufacturing sectors to the growth of our economy.
The Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, is also at the brink of releasing a new beans variety that has been genetically modified to resist pest attacks by Maruca vitrata, a pod-boring, lepidopteran insect that attacks Beans on the field and leaves farmers with almost zero yield. The beans which is called PBR Cowpea, also reduces the need to spray the food crop with excessive chemicals. We would recall that sometime last year, a wave of shock swept across Nigeria, as we discovered how farmers used excessive, dangerous chemicals to preserve beans. With this modification by our Nigerian scientists, the need to spray with such pesticides will be almost completely eliminated. We would also be able to confidently export our beans outside the country which is consumable in the international community without immense embarrassment from border officers in other countries.
If we want to progress as a country and call ourselves the Giant of Africa not because of past glory but current strides, we must look beyond primitive methods of farming and adopt agricultural innovations. If we want to grow the Nigerian economy to become a world power, we must look beyond the petroleum sector and invest heavily in agriculture.