(By Chizoba Aninwoya)
“There is need for intensive enlightenment campaigns by the government at both state and federal levels. This will help create awareness of biotechnology and its benefits among Nigerians but most importantly among the youths who need to be inspired to pursue careers in biotechnology research or to engage in any part of the biotechnology business “value chain” such as farming, food processing, retail or wholesale of biotech products etc. Biotechnology enlightenment programs must be restructured to better target the youths. For instance, existing programmes such as the open forums on agricultural biotechnology need more publicity and youth participation.“
Continued from last Monday
THE Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) in another report also highlighted recent advancements in agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria as three biotech crops are currently undergoing Confined Field Trials. These biotech crops include the Bt-cowpea, bio-fortified sorghum and the bio-cassava Plus. The trials for the Bt cowpea and bio-fortified sorghum are said to be going on at the Institute for Agricultural Research, ABU, Zaria, while that of Bio-Cassava Plus is being conducted at the National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike. Although, the development of these three biotech crops were said to have been with significant participation of Nigerian scientists, none of the three biotech crops was developed in Nigeria. The transgenic cassava was developed by the Danforth Plant Academy in United States, the cowpea in Australia while the biofortified sorghum is being developed by Africa Harvest Biotech International Foundation. This goes to show that none of Nigeria’s research institutes including the Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), the Nigeria’s main centre for modern biotechnology research housing the country’s most advanced biotechnology laboratory, is equipped enough to conduct fruitful biotech research and development. This again shows how poor facilities and inadequate funding for Nigeria’s research institutes can impede the development of biotechnology in the country.
The next phase after the field trials should be the commercial testing of the biotech crops and afterwards their eventual deployment to farmers once the crops are found to be safe. However, the biosafety bill which should provide the necessary legal framework for such progress is yet to be signed into law by the President. This biosafety bill, if signed into law, should ensure that the practice of modern biotechnology and the handling of its products (GMOs) are safe for the environment and to human health.
There have been various agitations for and against the endorsement of the biosafety bill. Whether the biosafety law will achieve its much touted benefits and ensure the safe application of agricultural biotechnology for the attainment of food security in Nigeria will greatly depend on the effectiveness of the regulatory system. Adequate regulatory measures must be put in place to avoid over-importation of GM products as this may negate current efforts to reduce the billions of naira spent yearly on food imports and plunge Nigeria into a new form of slavery – over-dependence on foreign seed companies or research institutes. The biosafety law must rather promote the application of agricultural biotechnology to the improvement of indigenous crops through providing the necessary infrastructure for research, development and commercialisation of biotech products. The regulatory agencies must be manned by highly-trained staff to ensure product safety during trials as well as product quality and standardisation throughout the process of commercialisation and marketing of biotech products in Nigeria.
A number of other measures are recommended to ensure agricultural biotechnology delivers significant economic, social and environmental benefits to the millions of poor Nigerians. The government must embark on nationwide capacity building and equipping of all the nation’s research institutes and universities with state-of-the-art biotechnology equipment and facilities. Nigerian scientists on their part must also brace up and take up the challenge of applying their knowledge and research work towards solving the nation’s problems. The efforts of the researchers, however, must be protected and rewarded through intellectual property rights and payment of royalties as this will serve as a huge source of encouragement to both present and future scientists.
There is need for intensive enlightenment campaigns by the government at both state and federal levels. This will help create awareness of biotechnology and its benefits among Nigerians but most importantly among the youths who need to be inspired to pursue careers in biotechnology research or to engage in any part of the biotechnology business “value chain” such as farming, food processing, retail or wholesale of biotech products etc. Biotechnology enlightenment programs must be restructured to better target the youths. For instance, existing programmes such as the open forums on agricultural biotechnology need more publicity and youth participation.
The curriculum of the Nigerian educational system must be redesigned to prepare the Nigerian child to take biotechnology development to the next level. Basic science subjects in elementary schools and “Introduction to technology” subjects in secondary schools must be designed to stimulate the Nigerian youth’s interest in biotechnology. Biotechnology departments must also be established in Nigeria’s numerous universities with the curriculum of the universities updated to meet the needs of the country’s biotech-based industries.
The application of biotechnology to animal husbandry is also needed to achieve food security in Nigeria through producing higher quality (and quantity) animal products. Biotechnology will thus help in creating employment opportunities for youths not only in agriculture but many other industries. For instance, the upgrading of local food processing methods with the use of biotechnology will help to improve the quality of food products to meet export standards. Biotechnology processes can also be applied in the treatment of agricultural and municipal wastes as well as in the generation of cheap renewable energy from the wastes. Development of pharmaceutical biotechnology can also help address the nation’s need for vaccines for various human and livestock diseases. In conclusion, capacity development and support of the Nigerian youth remains critical to achieving sustainable economic development through biotechnology.
• Aninwoya is a Masters Graduate of Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom; and is based in Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”