27 April 2011 | EN | FR
Pest resistance is one benefit of adopting GM technology to grow crops such as cassava
Flickr/CIAT by Neil Palmer
Nigeria must pass a biosafety law so the country's farmers can reap the benefits of GM technology, says Ademola A. Adenle.
Genetic modification (GM) has been used in the production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine and agriculture for more than 15 years.
GM crops bring increased yields, higher incomes, greater resistance to diseases and pests, improved varieties and environmental benefits — and they can improve the quality of life for resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
In 1996, when GM crops were first commercialised officially, six countries planted a total of 1.7 million hectares of these crops. By 2010 this had grown to 148 million hectares in 29 countries, of which 19 are from the developing world.
This 87-fold growth makes GM the fastest crop technology to be adopted in the history of modern agriculture.
Yet only a few African countries, including Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa, have functional biosafety laws — a major requirement before farmers can grow GM crops commercially.
Kenya is on the verge of growing GM crops commercially after enacting a biosafety law in 2009 and recently refining its biosafety regulations. But why is Nigeria, the most populous country, absent from the group of nations adopting the technology?
Nigeria's GM capacity
GM technology has been criticised, particularly by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), for its potential risks. But there is little scientific evidence to support such criticism. No human health effects or environmental problems resulting from GM products have yet been documented.
As one of the leading African countries in the development of basic biotechnological techniques, particularly plant breeding, Nigeria is well placed to use GM crops.
The Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has the necessary expertise and facilities. And institutions such as the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Umudike and the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria are working alongside IITA on confined field trials of GM cassava and cowpea.
This shows that Nigeria has made initial steps towards adopting GM technology. But it lacks a well-coordinated effort — and still needs a biosafety law before GM products can be released.
Nigeria is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which makes it compulsory for nations to pass biosafety laws before they can grow GM crops commercially.
The objective is to ensure that countries have both a regulatory framework and the capacity (in terms of people, expertise and technology) to undertake a full risk assessment with respect to using GM organisms.
Bamidele Solomon, director of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), which is responsible for coordinating and promoting Nigeria's biotechnology programme, says that NABDA and other relevant stakeholders have done all they can to pass a biosafety law — the rest is in the hands of the lawmakers.
The chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture under the previous administration, Gbenga Makanjuola, says the biosafety law has been passed by the House of Representatives (the lower legislative house) but must still be debated in the Senate (the upper legislative house) before being approved by the president.
The cause of the delay is unclear but is likely to be due to political lobbying, a change of administration, and the issue not being a high priority — but I expect the recently elected government to give the biosafety law serious consideration.
Most of Nigeria's population is engaged in farming, so its lawmakers should give top priority to any issues that relate to the country's agricultural development.
GM technology has the potential to increase agricultural productivity and to improve the quality of life of Nigeria's farmers. It can boost yields of crops such as cassava, potato, yam and maize, provide resistance to pests and diseases, improve crops' nutritional content and increase their shelf life.
For example, the average yield of maize in Nigeria is less than 1.7 tonnes per hectare, compared with an average of 10–15 tonnes per hectare in developed countries. As a result, incomes are low, which increases the poverty level among farmers.
Nigeria's once-booming agricultural sector has suffered from years of mismanagement, a lack of research and development, and inadequate facilities.
It must be modernised to reduce hunger and poverty, to allow Nigeria to compete with international markets, and to create job opportunities to sustain the economy. Adopting modern agricultural biotechnology, particularly GM technology, is key to solving some of Nigeria's agricultural problems.
The country needs to invest in research and development, and must put in place an appropriate policy and legal framework to protect traditional farming practices, because local crop varieties are an integral part of Nigeria's agricultural system.
Nigeria must adopt a cautious regulatory approach, and adapt when more knowledge becomes available. And it must educate the public, farmers and government institutions, including the media and private companies, to increase understanding of GM technology.
Ademola A. Adenle is a postdoctoral fellow at the United Nations University-Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) and a visiting research scholar at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Japan.
Tariro ( Zimbabwe )
3 May 2011
If there is ever any time for a green revolution in in Africa it is now, were once the words of Kofi Annan. My point is there is no reason to continue dilly dallying about the issue of GM crops. If we are ever to meet the MDGs, and if we are ever going to move foward as a continent we need to adopt this technolgy.
fburton ( Univeristy of Toronto [ret] | Canada )
4 May 2011
Mr. Ademola A. Adenle (April 27) states that there is no DOCUMENTED evidence of negative effects of GM crops. Yet a quick perusal of the literature on PUBMED regarding GM organisms shows—and I mention only four that  there are problems with insect resistance and effects on higher trophic insect levels, not to mention the chain of organisms that depend on these;  and while gene flow is a normative process , the dissemination of genes from GM modified organisms to other genomes has consequences whose effects are not known.  This fact has required a new technology for detection
Then too, there is the political/social/economic repercussions, as in the case of Schmeiser vs. Monsanto—which case is surely just the tip of the iceberg.
1. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 May 12;366(1569):1438-52. Insect-resistant biotech crops and their impacts on beneficial arthropods. Gatehouse AM, Ferry N, Edwards MG, Bell HA
2. Pest Manag Sci. 2008 Apr;64(4):428-40.Gene flow from glyphosate-resistant crops. Mallory-Smith C, Zapiola M.
3. Mol Ecol. 2006 Nov;15(13):4243-55. Establishment of transgenic herbicide-resistant creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) in nonagronomic habitats. Reichman JR, Watrud LS, Lee EH, Burdick CA, Bollman MA, Storm MJ, King GA, Mallory-Smith C.
4. (Anal Bioanal Chem. 2011 May;400(5):1433-42. Epub 2011 Mar 29. Development and validation of real-time PCR screening methods for detection of cry1A.105 and cry2Ab2 genes in genetically modified organisms. Dinon AZ, Prins TW, van Dijk JP, Arisi AC, Scholtens IM, Kok EJ.)
Sosa ( Nigeria )
11 May 2011
I do not blame Nigeria for not embracing GM crops as fast as expected by pro GM group. Apart from those evidences stated by fburton above, many pro GM scientists always relate high yield of GM crops to higher monetary income for farmers. Many of them should come back home and live among our rural farmers, they will discover that assess to market, pricing and preservation/value addition is more of problems to some of these farmers than higher yield. In addition, none of these scientists would like to discuss the future slavery that will arise from having to go back to these multi-dollars companies for re-planting especially when all the indigenous or local varieties would have been cross pollinated by the GM variety (as reported by Pablo Galeano et. al (2011)- 'Cross-fertilization between genetically modiﬁed and non-genetically modiﬁed maize crops in Uruguay'. Environ. Biosafety Res. (www.ebr-journal.org)). Some other questions that required answers is : (1) Some GM crops producers do not want it labelled as such, why? (2) Can many of these developing countries (including Nigeria) have what it takes to find out the truth or detect the type and source of gene in all types of materials? (3) Why do some developed countries refuse to sign all the aspect of the agreement on the GM crop and lastly (3) Why the force or rush?
AS Jeng ( Bioforsk | Norway )
8 November 2011
We must be careful with GM crops. Proponents talk about increased yields, food security, resistance to pests, and tolerance to dought. What they have always avoided talking about, is loss of biodiversity, threat of monoculture, farmers' loss of rights to seed, just to benefit the Syngentas and the Montsantos, profit-driven multinationals, who will invariably hold a patent to whatever they release to the public. Remember, GM seeds are not viable after first / second generation. Each year, you'll need new seed. Nigeria must be careful not to fall into this trap!
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