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Biotechnology vital to Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in food production.

In the last few years, anti-technology crusaders have expressed doubt about Nigeria’s ability to attain food security employing technologies unknown to us and their doubts are premised on the fact that these technologies may have negative impact on our health and the environment.
But researchers working on the technology in national research institutes across the country have been able to debunk and allay the fears on the ground that Nigeria is entering the race to deploy the technology after twenty-five years of use in countries like United States of America and other developed and developing countries.The need to deploy modern biotechnological tools has become very crucial following the recent outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic which has changed the ways we had conducted ourselves since creation.
COVID-19 pandemic has tremendously affected agriculture and food production in the last few months following the decision of governments to lockdown countries as a move to contain the spread of the virus.
Experts and stakeholders in the agricultural sector expressed fears over looming food crisis. The fear is also expressed by the Director General of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, QU Dongyu who raised concern over the looming global food crisis following the ongoing lockdown to curb the spread of Coronavirus. He called for immediate actions to minimize disruption in food supply chains. 
However, to reduce the risk of food shortage for millions, especially in affluent countries, – the world must take immediate actions to minimize disruptions to food supply chains.
Also, the President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Agnes Kalibata recently cautioned that the outbreak of COVID-19 shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa.
While Dr. Kalibata said though the movement restriction imposed in some African countries is a step towards curbing the spread of the disease, the implication on food production should also be considered. 
She added that already, 250 million people in Africa are without food, and these set of people would suffer from both the long and short-term effect of the pandemic. In Nigeria, maize farmers are one of the worst hit by this pandemic, as they could not access their farms to plant maize as a result of the lockdown. 
The President of Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN), Dr Bello Abubakar said due to the lockdown directive from the government as a result of the pandemic, many maize farmers found it difficult to access their farms.
Dr Abubakar added that farmers who planted during the 2019/2020 dry season farming found it difficult to go to their farms and harvest their crops, hence, they lost the crops. 
He stated that as the rainy season set in, some maize farmers in the South South and South West were unable to access their farms to plant due to movement restriction.
It was also observed that poultry farmers couldn’t find maize to buy in order to process feed for their birds during the lockdown. 
Since early June this year, there has been scarcity of maize, and we saw that the situation may not improve because the new maize will not come out about this time, and it will not dry for you to have the required moisture content of 12 to 13 per cent to enable you use it for poultry feed until December or January”, the Director General Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Dr Onallo Ankpa said.
The deficiencies experienced by the country in meeting national demands are usually augmented with importation. So, every year, the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria award contracts to organization to import this shortfall.
The recent call by the CBN for the importation of maize which anti-technology crusaders have turned into a news topic to misinform the public is not new. It has been the routine; Nigeria has been importing grains from Brazil and Argentina for many years.
Development, production, movement and distribution of genetically modified goods are critically regulated around the world and Nigeria has put in place all necessary regulatory strategies to ensure that no GMOs enters the country unchecked.  It should also be noted that before any product which contains genetically modified material is allowed into the country, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) would first if all, certify the wholesomeness of the product before it is released into the nation’s market.
NBMA Director General/CEO, Dr. Rufus Ebegba had in many fora, said the agency would not compromise it’s mandate of regulating the application of biotechnology across the country. 
Recall that Dr Ebegba had warned those who import Genetically Modified Foods and grains without obtaining the Agency’s Biosafety certification to desist from that or face the consequences.
In the same vein, he also called on sister agencies to always demand for Biosafety permit from importers of products containing Genetically Modified ingredients before giving them approval to import. “Henceforth, any product that contains Genetically Modified Ingredients without Biosafety certification will never be allowed to be sold, imported, planted and used in Nigeria, so we require every government Agency that deals with related product to demand for Biosafety certification before the process such materials’” Dr. Ebegba reiterated.

“We have realized that there quite a number of food substances, food in the country that contain Genetically Modified Ingredients, we have given a moratorium for those importers and it has expired, we have started intensive monitoring and inspection of facilities. Henceforth, any organization that is in charge of any product that is being imported and seem to contain Genetically Modified Organisms, particularly when they are labeled, please request for Biosafety certificate from the Agency, if that is not done, such product will not be allowed to enter the Nigerian market”, according to Dr. Rufus Ebegba
He stressed that the National Biosafety Management Agency has the responsibility to do that, and respect the extant laws of other agencies. It is therefore worthy of note that the NBMA has been up and doing in ensuring safe application or release of any product that contains Genetically Modified Organisms into Nigeria. 
Nigeria as a country has worked so hard to ensure that she has her own home grown genetically modified crops and Nigerian scientists have lived up to the expectations as they have taken up the challenge and today, they have been able to develop two crops, Bt. cotton and PBR cowpea while research into Sorghum, Casava and rice has advanced.
The Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria is leading Nigeria’s institutional initiative to genetically improve crops under their mandates and they were able to successfully pilot the first two crops (Cotton and Cowpea) that were officially approved and release by the federal government of Nigeria.
At the National Root Crop Research, Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, researchers working on Virus Resistant and Biofortified cassava have reported progress on their work just like those handling the Nitrogen Use, efficient Water Use efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice project at the National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi that have started the second phase of their confined Field.
Now is not the time to either discourage our scientists nor government, instead, emphasis should be on how to increase agricultural productivity in the country without necessarily expanding the land areas under cultivation.   

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