THE myths and realities about GMO

By Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu

The above title is being discussed with Nigeria in mind. Controversies are still raging on various angles, about the  issue of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMO. The proposed introduction of modern biotechnology vis-à-vis genetically modified organism (GMO) towards the eradication of hunger and poverty in Nigeria (NABDA, 2015) has continued to raise considerable levels of concern among the populace.

The anti-GMO campaigners have expressed serious concerns on the muted commercialization of GMO products in Nigeria based on perceived risks to humans and biodiversity. The anti-GMO campaigns, championed by some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and environmental right groups, who claim to be speaking on behalf of millions of Nigerians, call for outright rejection of GMO products. This has been on the increase in the past couple of years in the country, mainly due to limited knowledge on key facts about GMO’s among the citizens. The growing concerns are inspired by the misrepresentations of facts by the anti-GMO campaigners (EWHC, 2017, Cerier, 2016).

Till date no information exists on what the general public, especially rural farmers and consumers, whose voices are drowned out by the cacophony of the anti-GMO campaigners, really think about the introduction of modern biotechnology in the country. This is a vital piece of information that will enable the government and agricultural policy makers in Nigeria, marshal out effective strategies to address public concerns and perceptions of GMO products and generate informed decisions and policies such as:

(i). Adoption and commercialization of biotech crops in Nigeria to enhance food security and improve the GDP, especially in this era when government is moving to non-oil economy..

(ii Maintenance of safe and progressive use of agricultural biotechnology, through biosafety regulations.

Food security is one of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria, and calls for concerted efforts and strategies to cater for the growing food demand in the country. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), has predicted that food production will need to increase by 70% to meet the demands of a growing global population (FAO, 2009). This has serious implications for developing countries and in particular Nigeria that is the most populous (estimated at about 180 million) country in Africa. Addressing this challenge requires adoption of safe technologies that would foster green economy; mitigate impacts of climate change, ensure food safety and nutrition as well as promote inclusive economic development which are of national priority.

Genetically modified (GM) crops have demonstrated potentials to tackle global food security. They are products that offer substantial benefits ranging from more convenient and flexible crop management, lower cost of production, health and  social benefits and cleaner environment through decreased use of conventional pesticides. GM crops that have so far been produced and globally commercialized are for herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, disease resistance, drought resistance and bio fortification.

Golden Rice (GR), which is genetically modified to provide beta-carotene in the rice grain, has demonstrated potential as a means to address widespread vitamin A deficiency in poor and low income countries where rice is a staple.

Most of these facts are lost to the general public and even some high-ranking government officials in Nigeria. Instead various myths are creating unnecessary fears in the minds of the citizens and this is limiting sustainable development through modern technology. Some of the myths include:

Myth 1: Seeds from GMOs are sterile.

A vote for GMO
A vote for GMO

This has been proven to be false as GM crops usually germinate and grow just like any other plant. Although there is a so called Terminator Gene that can make a plant produce sterile seeds, but it is currently not in use as there is an a global moratorium and Monsanto which owns the patent on this technique, but has promised not to use it (ETC Group, 2006).

Myth 2: Monsanto will sue you for growing their patented GMOs if traces of those GMOs entered your fields through wind-blown pollen. This is also false as GM companies only sue when there are good reasons to believe that the GM crops have been planted intentionally without permission. Monsanto has never sued anybody over trace amounts of GMOs that were introduced into fields simply through cross-pollination. The company asserts, in fact, that it will pay to remove any of its GMOs from fields where they don’t belong (NPR, 2012).

Other myths such as “any contamination with GMOs makes organic food non-organic”, “before Monsanto got in the way, farmers typically saved their seeds and re-used them” and “most seeds these days are genetically modified have all been proven wrong (NPR, 2012).

As a result of the knowledge gap, there appears to be increased levels of apprehension towards the adoption of modern biotechnology as a means to ensure food security in Nigeria.

Agricultural policy makers in the country are currently faced with the challenge of managing the negative perceptions which is creating doubt about modern biotechnology and biosafety which regulates GMO’s commercialization, import and export while defining their procedures in the country. However, no empirical study has been conducted to gain insight on what the people know of GMO, how deep-rooted the perception is or what the general masses actually think about the introduction of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. This missing information impairs agricultural governance in the country as the government/policy makers lack effective insights required to develop agricultural strategies and policies with far-reaching impacts on the people. This limitation is attributable to minimal direct engagement of government agencies with the general public, leading to stakeholders disconnect from government policies.

Therefore, there is urgent need for the development of a strategic solution through which government/policy makers and the people can effectively engage on a range of agricultural issues. Given the identified challenges, it has become imperative to enhance knowledge sharing on agricultural biotechnology through strategic communication and outreach for a food secure Nigeria, free of hunger and poverty. It is also necessary to improve transparency and access to information on regulatory frameworks and policies aimed at safeguarding public health and biodiversity from its potential adverse effect, while harnessing the potentials of agricultural biotechnology and its derivatives, for the benefit of Nigeria.

This article is an extract from a submission made  Abuja, Nigeria,  May 2017, by Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu ,  Executive Director,Every Woman Hope Centre . The Every Woman Hope Centre (EWHC) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Abuja, Nigeria, and the publishers of “LifeCare Journal”, a magazine that promotes issues on health, governance and development. It was registered with the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) in Nigeria on November 21, 2013 under the companies and allied matters Act cap C20LFN 2004. It is an incorporated trustee with registration number: CAC/IT/NO 65608.

The EWHC’s focus is on advocacy on women and children rights, agriculture and sustainable development, policy engagement and good governance. Its mission is to give a voice to women and assist them to give life to their dreams that fall in line with EWHC’s focus. The purpose for EWHC is to serve by sustaining innovations that compliments government efforts in adding value to the society.

EWHC has been active in the raging debate over the application of safe modern biotechnology in agriculture for global food security and nutrition, especially in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. Our articles on the debate on GMO adoption in Nigeria have been widely published in Nigerian media and online platforms. We have made appearances on televisions and radio programs promoting inclusive agricultural policies and practices. EWHC has equally written on many issues that support, strengthen and at times act as check on public institutions whose function is to serve citizen’s interest towards effective governance and accountability.

 

Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu,

Executive Director Every Woman Hope Centre, a Nigeria- Based NGO and Publishers Of Lifecare Magazine

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