It is with deep pleasure that I stand here this morning, as part of this noble gathering, to speak on behalf of myself and for Every Woman Hope Centre (EWHC), an Abuja based NGO, that advocates for better health for humans, (especially for women & children) , sustainable development and good governance, and also the publishers of Lifecare Journal
I wish to thank the organizers formally, for inviting EWHC and for organizing this important conference for exchange of ideas and information on the application of modern biotechnology and biosafety regulations on genetically modified foods (GMOs) for informed policy making on food security and sustainability in Nigeria.
The issues that are lined up for discussion today are indeed of interest to us in EWHC because we have on many public occasions and fora in Nigeria, openly joined in canvassing and indeed support the application of modern biotechnology and proper biosafety regulations on issues of food security. EWHC has also expressed its support on the issues, through the media, and I think what we are doing is right. It has the support of science and greater people globally have now come to terms that if the fight against hunger and malnutrition is to be defeated, the application of modern biotechnology to agriculture must be given a priority. Recently, a representative from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria has recommended a partnership with Research Institutions for the development of pest- resistant maize that can withstand the menace of “Army Warm” which is currently attacking maize crops across Nigeria since 2016. “The warm migrated from the Republic of Benin and the spread was aided due to late rainfall in 2016” he said.
In our discussions today, we must put at the back of our minds, what is trending globally now. We must listen to institutions that are in the forefront of the discussion. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program has noted, for instance, that global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population. Coincidentally, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has predicted that to satisfy demand, food production will need to increase by 70%. Besides, land and water resources are increasingly being degraded and depleted and they have serious implications for developing countries and in particular, the African continent. There are myriads of critical global changes that also affects Nigeria which are huge challenges.
Addressing these challenges requires adoption of safe technologies that would foster green economy; address the factors that mitigate the impacts of climate change, ensure food security and nutrition including economic growth which are of national priority to enhance the wellbeing of citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 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 regulation, 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.
Fortunately, the genetically modified (GM) crops so far produced and globally commercialized are for herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, disease resistance, drought resistance and bio fortification.
The polished rice grain for instance, does not contain beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor which the body converts into vitamin A. In Low-Income populations where rice is the primary staple, several micronutrient deficiencies are chronic problems including Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) which is often a problem where rice gruel is used as a weaning food. Such deficiencies are particularly pronounced in children who need greater nutrient density in food to meet their high nutrient needs. VAD is responsible for 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness ,now estimated to be up to 2million deaths each year. Particularly susceptible are pregnant women and children. Across the globe, an estimated 19million pregnant women and 190 million children suffer from the condition. The good news however is that dietary supplementation of vitamin A can eliminate VAD.
Creating rice with beta-carotene content was not possible until the advent of biotechnology. Golden Rice (GR) is genetically modified to provide beta-carotene in the rice grain and it could potentially address widespread vitamin A deficiency in poor countries where rice is a staple. Very significantly, GR improves vitamin A status so that it could become a solution to address vitamin A supplementation, the promotion of breastfeeding, nutrition education, homestead food production and food fortification. The idea behind GR is to improve the food that people have access to or can grow themselves. It is very important to note that earlier, on November 7, 2013, Pope Francis also gave his personal blessing to Golden Rice (www.everywomanhopecentre.org news blog).
Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects. Although modern 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.
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 under tone. 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.
“Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity”(Nobel Laureates).
The worldwide scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering is as solid as that which underpins human-caused global warming. Yet this basic truth on GMOs, that they’re as safe, as conventionally cultivated food, is ignored when ideological interests are threatened.
The suspicion often caused by the anti-globalization activists against GMO crops (but not GMO processed foods like cheese and beer or medical applications like insulin and many new drugs) paradoxically reinforced an “environmentally justified” set of regulatory hurdles, which only large companies can afford. As such, they end up shooting themselves at the foot while the farmers and consumers who would benefit from those crops are collateral victims as there seems to be no scientific justifications for these high regulatory costs.
Previously, the European Commission’s anti-GM policies prohibited the growing GMO-crops within all or part of their territories. A total of 19 EU countries initially decided to ban the cultivation of GMOs, even if they are already authorized to be grown within the union. Today, indications are that this phobia and its chilling effect on biotech science in Europe will end dramatically. Following a public consultation and an independent risk assessment, field trials for GM wheat plants got the green light from the UK government. The field trials will be undertaken between 2017 and 2019 to determine if the engineered plants can carry out photosynthesis more efficiently in the field.
In Western Australia also, new act lifts Moratorium on GM crop planting. The parliament has repealed the GM crops Free Areas Act 2003 which imposed a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM crops in the country. The repeal of this act gives growers certainty, that not only will they be able to use the existing GM technologies, but they will also have access to future advancements in plant biotechnology that could improve their productivity and sustainability.
Ladies and Gentle men, it is very instructive to note that the pro GMO advocacy has been growing from strength to strength globally and should be encouraged for informed policy and choice. Let us sustain the tempo. IN EWHC, WE SHALL AND WE WILL. This has become imperative now as a tool to contain hunger and malnutrition and ensure sustainable agricultural development. I wish to end with this widely spoken and cherished words: “the greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture; especially a bread grain” (Thomas Jefferson).
GOODWILL MESSAGE AND CONTRIBUTIONS
EVERY WOMAN HOPE CENTRE (EWHC)
A ONE-DAY SENSITIZATION WORKSHOP ON THE APPLICATION OF MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY AND BIOSAFETY REGULATION OF
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
THE NATIONAL BIOTECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (NABDA), THE NATIONAL BIOSAFETY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (NBMA), THE OPEN FORUM ON AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY (OFAB) IN AFRICA, NIGERIA CHAPTER IN COLLABORATION WITH THE CATHOLIC SECRETARIAT OF NIGERIA (CNS) AND THE ACTION FAMILY FOUNDATION (AFF)
ENGAGE RELEVANT FAITH-BASED AND CIVIL SOCIETY STAKEHOLDERS ON ISSUES OF MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY/BIOSAFETY AND PROVIDE EVIDENCE-BASED ADVICE FOR POLICY MAKING.
Venue: Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference Centre(DRACC, Abuja), Aco/Amac Housing State, Sabon Lugbe, Airport Road, Abuja. 08035970335
Date: Tuesday, 7th February
Time: 8.30 am