…President asked to sign Biosafety bill into law
Although President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a committee to vet the long awaited biosafety bill as passed by the National Assembly before he could sign it into law, participants at the 10th anniversary of African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF seminar say Nigeria’s dream of achieving food sufficiency in 2015 will be a mirage, unless the country adopts biotechnology in the agric sector.
To achieve these goals, they called on the President not to further delay signing into law the biosafety bill currently before him, which they believe would open a new vista for massive production of food for local consumption and export.
Agricultural biotechnology is the application of technology to agriculture to make, modify or improve on a product for the benefit of mankind.
When the bill is signed into law, it is expected that Nigeria with vast arable land and so many agricultural potentials would benefit more, as it would make a significant economic impact on the populace by contributing immensely to job creation, wealth creation, eradication of hunger and malnutrition.
Farmers on their part, experts say would not require special skills or training to key into the benefits of the initiative, as they are the end users of the agricultural biotechnology product otherwise called Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs; such as seeds and plantlets, which are the same as conventional crops.
GMOs are organisms in which the genetic material, DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.
The technology is often called gene technology and allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between related species. It is this method that is used to create GM plants, which are used to grow GM food crops.
Speakers at the seminar said the introduction of GM foods processing system in Nigeria would multiply food production that would ensure food security, improve nutritive value of food, improve agricultural practices by minimizing use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.
In his remarks, Minister of State for Agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijani commended NABDA for its pioneering role and achievements in the development of sustainable agriculture through the utilization of biotechnology tools such as culture, molecular breeding and genetic engineering.
The minister said he believed that biotechnology has the strong potential to achieve sufficient food for every Nigerian, one of the aims of the transformation agenda of the present administration, which is to ensure food security for all Nigerian.
‘‘The African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF, through its synergy with NABDA does not only ensure food security, but ensures the local farmers utilize appropriate technologies such as biotechnology. One of their key projects in Nigeria is the development of nitrogen-use, water efficient and salt tolerant rice. This is key because Nigeria is the second largest importer of rice in the world, about two million metric tons of rice from countries like Thailand and China.
‘‘The project would ensure Nigeria is self sufficient in the production of rice and would boost the countries revenue,’’ he added.
Another key project AATF has in Nigeria is the Cassava Mechanization and Agro-processing project.
Being the largest producer of cassava in the world, the minister said the project would boost farmers’ capacity for production thus showcasing a local product globally and boosting the economic growth for the country.
Earlier in his welcome address, Director-General of NABDA and Chairman, Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology, Professor Bamidele Solomon said the advent of AAF has triggered revolution of ideas, leading to mind bogging decisions and game changing actions in the Nigerian research and agric sectors.
He said biotechnology is no longer viewed through the lens of suspicion and uncertainty, but that is seen as a panacea for food security, economic growth and stability.
‘‘The Nigerian people are becoming more open to the technology and its numerous benefits and applications.
‘‘We at NABDA would positively respond to national aspirations for food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery and sustainable economic environment and working together with AATF has made the fulfillment of this mandate a lot easier by the day. The resultant effect has led to unimaginable breakthroughs in the proposed domestication of biotechnology in Africa,’’ he said.
Continuing, Professor Solomon said, having a law will ensure the safe use of modern biotechnology, while protecting human health, the environment and national biodiversity.
‘‘The law will also facilitate risk assessment exercises, monitoring and enforcement measures relevant to import, export, transboundary movement of the products of modern biotechnology, laboratory, and field testing/use of modern biotechnology including handling, control, monitoring and release of biotech products.’’