The right to food in a changing world
through modern biotechnology and the role of biosafety
By Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu
refers to any technique that uses living organisms ranging from virus,
bacteria, plants and animals or parts of the organisms to derive other products
for the benefit of mankind. It is not a new technique. Traditional
biotechnology such as the use of yeast to make bread or wine has been applied
for thousands of years. Since the late 19th century, knowledge of the principle
of hereditary gave farmers new tools for breeding crops and animals. They
selected individual organisms with beneficial characteristics and developed
biotechnology is the fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcomes
natural physiological, reproductive or recombination barriers that are not
techniques used in traditional breeding and selection. It entails the movement
of desired genes from unrelated species in the chromosome of another organism
to exhibit the characteristics of the donor.
It is a tool in addressing challenges that have been difficult to
resolve using conventional approach particularly in the improvement of
agriculture, medicine, industrial growth and enhancing environmental
sustainability. For instance, a year after the genetically modified Friendly
Aedes mosquitoes were launched in Piracicaba, Brazil, the Epidemiologic
Surveillance service released new data which showed a 91% reduction in dengue
fever cases in the CECAP/EI Dorado District. The latest data roundup also
reports zero cases of Zika and chikungunya in CECAP/Eldorado.
this, did you know that Insulin is GMO?
modified (GM) crops so far produced and globally commercialized are for
herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, disease resistance, drought resistance
and bio fortification.
agricultural science was the key to reducing rural poverty and preventing
starvation in Asia, similar advances is being kept out of Africa. The cultural
turn against agricultural science among affluent societies is now being
exported to Africa whereas it has been noted that sustaining African economic
prosperity will require significant efforts to modernize the continent's
economy through the application of science and technology in agriculture.
Thomas Jefferson (American Founding Father) in Memorandum of Services to My Country after 2 September 1800
remarked that "the greatest service which can be rendered to any country
is to add a useful plant to its culture; especially a bread grain".
There has been a
lot of campaign by anti-GMO activists against modern biotechnology and
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria creating fears in the minds of
Nigerians. This campaign is not farfetched from trade war amongst Agrochemical
Industry and Biotechnology Industry apart from political undertone. It should
be realized that outright opposition to new farm science on the part of some
pressure groups is contributing directly to the continued growth of poverty and
hunger. Incidentally, the international authorities like the Food and
Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Health
Organization (WHO) and the codex commission have not found any harm with the
use of GMOs.
has been projected that the world's population will rise to 9 billion by 2050.
Today, one in eight people among the world's growing population mainly in
Africa do not have enough to eat, especially women. To satisfy demand, the Food
and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has predicted that
food production will need to increase by 70%. Besides, land and water resources
are increasingly being degraded and depleted, which has serious implications
for developing countries and in particular African continent.
myriads of critical global changes which also affects Nigeria. They are huge
challenges, but one possible solution is for farmers to combine their expert
local knowledge with recent advances in bioscience.
challenges requires adoption of safe technologies that would foster green economy;
address the factors that mitigate the impacts of climate change, ensure food
safety and economic growth which are of national priority to enhance the
wellbeing of citizens.
There is no
doubt that advancement in any technology also goes with some potential adverse
impacts and modern biotechnology is not an exception in this regard. This is
the basis for Biosafety, as a means for addressing potential adverse impacts of
modern technology and GMOs on the conservation and sustainable use of
biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health.
and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), in 2000 and 2003 respectively.
The objective of the protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of
protection of human health and biodiversity from potential risks of modern
biotechnological practices. Parties to the Protocol are required to domesticate
the Protocol through administrative and legal frame work. In this regard,
Nigeria came up with the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 which
heralds the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). The insinuation by
anti-GMOs campaigners that the Act was rushed is far from the truth. The
process began in 2002 and those making insinuations were involved in the review
process of September 2006 at Sheda Service and Technology Complex (SHESTCO). It
was duly passed initially in 2011 and again in 2015 before it was assented to
on April 18, 2015.
Union (AU) Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology adopted Biosafety
and Biotechnology for the economic development in Africa. To assist member
countries to develop biosafety capacity, the AU-NEPAD Agency established the
African Biosafety Network of Experts (ABNE). The ABNE since 2010 has supported
Nigeria in various capacity building programs. ECOWAS on its part is currently
developing common biosafety regulations for the sub-region and Nigeria has made
some inputs into it.
Nigeria also has
a National Biotechnology Policy to promote biotechnology in the country. The
National Biotechnology Agency (NABDA) which is under the Federal Ministry of
Science and Technology was established in 2001 to implement the Policy. There
are also Research Institutions, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria,
Universities and the private sector involved in biotechnological activities.
With these frameworks
in place, Nigeria has strategically placed itself in the forefront of Science
and Technology to re-double its efforts in the acquisition of the capacity for
the judicious utilization of all the tools of modern biotechnology to confront
the challenges of the changing world.
decisions so far taken before the advent of NBMA and currently include: the
accreditation of institutions such as the Institute for Agricultural Research,
(IAR) Zaria and four others for modern biotechnology activities.
Also is the
approval of Confined Field Trials for:
cassava enriched with pro-vitamin A and Iron, concluded at National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike.
Biofortified Sorghum: bioavailability of iron, zinc, protein and pro-Vitamin A
is on-going at IAR.
iii GM rice modified
for Nitrogen use efficiency, water use efficiency and salt tolerance is on-
going at National Cereals Research Institute Badeggi.
resistant to insect and herbicide tolerance.
No wonder why
the Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe in his Agriculture Promotion
Policy 2016-2020 outlined strategic approach to address the gaps in our todays
agriculture: The inability to meet domestic food requirements and to export at
quality levels required for market success. The Ministry of Agriculture thus is
proposing that agricultural research in the country should receive massive
support for increased productivity.
application for GM Maize NK603 and MON 89034 X NK603, the procedure for
processing of application was followed according to the National Biosafety
Management Act, before its approval for confined field trial and not for
commercial release. Although there were objections expressed by some
respondents against the applications, they were scrutinized and the basis for
the objection to the application was found not adequate to warrant refusal of
permits to the applicant.
stated that “Adoption of any Monsanto-promoted crop (or even weed killers) will
not serve the best interests of Nigerians in the long run”.
It was reviewed
that herbicide containing glyphosate has been in use over the years for
conventional crops not necessarily for GMOs alone.
around GM Cotton MON 15985 lacks scientific backing. Mon 15985 is a known
product and has been reviewed and considered safe by many regulatory agencies
in the world. It has been commercially cultivated since 2003 in the US, Austria
and South Africa and has regulatory approvals for import into the EU, New
Zealand, Japan, China, Columbia, Mexico,
Canada, Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan.
The recent fiasco
on the turn of events over Burkina Faso’s Bt. cotton fibre length and lint
quality–and the decision by cotton companies to slow adoption while the issue
is being resolved, is being interpreted differently in the region.
Cotton is the
second-biggest source of revenue for the impoverished West African country
after gold. In an effort to increase yields, the Inter-professional Cotton Association
of Burkina (AICB) began introducing Monsanto’s Bollgard II trait into Burkinabe
cotton varieties beginning in 2009 as protection against caterpillars. Burkina
Faso’s success story has been celebrated as an example of how GM crops can help
poor farmers. Many farmers have enthusiastically adopted the technology, and
for good reason. Studies show that Bt cotton has increased yields and profits.
The average Bt cotton farming family gained 50% more profit than from
conventional cotton. This is despite the very high cost of Bt cotton seed. Bt
cotton growers also use significantly less pesticide. The total number of
sprayings has gone down from six to two, reducing exposure of damaging
chemicals and saving valuable labour time.
AICB, which groups together Burkina’s three cotton companies and the national
cotton farmers union (UNPCB), believes the trait has increased levels of short
fibers in its cotton, reducing its market value. But evidence from peer
reviewed publications shows that Bt cotton has not failed in Burkina Faso or
anywhere else (Traore, O. et al., 2008. Economics of marketing: Testing the
efficacy and economic potential of Bollguard 11 under Burkina Faso cropping
condition. The Journal of Cotton Science 12:87-98 (2008) and ISAAA, 2014.
Burkina Faso Biotech Country Facts & Trends.
the Bollgard II varieties had consistently delivered increased yield potential
since they were launched. The company acknowledged that recent changes
concerning fiber length had been observed, but added that fiber quality is
influenced by both environmental conditions and genetic background. “This
variation exists between all cotton varieties (conventional or biotech) and is
independent of the Bollgard II trait,” spokesman William Brennan said in a
reply to Reuters.
As Burkina Faso is
exploring how best to engage with the technology, Nigeria in collaboration with
Monsanto Nigeria Limited are being careful to eliminate similar challenges of
Burkina Faso to ensure quality and safety to Nigerians and the environment
before the commercial release.
In her press
release of 20th June, 2016, the Honorable
Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed has called on Nigerians not to
panic over the issues of GMOs. She said presently no genetically modified
organisms are officially grown in Nigeria. The Minister stated that ‘’All the
GMOs in Nigeria officially approved are under experimental fields, citing the
insect resistant cotton for commercial release will still be subjected to
further processes for the next two years”.
She enjoined the
citizenry to cooperate with the federal Government in its quest to diversify
the Nigeria economy for the present and future generations adding “Nigerians
should be rest assured of protection of their health and environment by the
National Biosafety Management Agency”. As Mark Cantly said in 2006, “The new
ingredient in Biotech crops is not black magic or radioactivity; it is
Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu is the Executive Director of Every Woman Hope Centre,
publishers of Life Care Journal (firstname.lastname@example.org)