MEDIA Group Visits the NEWEST rice research Field in Badeggi

By Modesta Abugu

cross section of the trial site
cross section of the trial site

In order to aid capacity building, communication and understanding of the Potentials of genetically modified crops and as well monitor the progress of the NEWEST Rice Project in Nigeria, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter organised a seeing is believing tour for the Members of the media

The media at the NEWEST Rice trial site
The media at the NEWEST Rice trial site

Nitrogen deficiency is one of the main challenges faced by rice farmers in Nigeria and is mostly acute in the highly weathered upland areas where an average yield of only one tonne per hectare, which is about 25 percent of yield potential, has been recorded. Also, nitrogen is difficult to retain when applied in lowland areas due to floods and flowing water that characterise such areas.

The access to fertilizer by farmers (in terms of affordability to purchase and availability of the fertilizer) is one major concern which the Nitrogen Use Efficient rice seeks to address. Also, drought and high salinity affects rice productivity in the upland and lowland regions where rice is cultivated. These constraints are what the Salt Tolerant and Water Efficient rice seeks to address.

On the overall, the Nitrogen use Efficient, Water Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice Project, aims at overcoming the above mentioned challenges and improving rice productivity to its maximum. The trial site for the project was commissioned in November 2015 at the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) Baddeggi, Niger State and since then has made significant progress.

NUE Rice plant growing well with no fertilizer application
NUE Rice plant growing well with no fertilizer application

So far the research has clearly indicated success and breakthrough in the growth rate of the Nitrogen Use Efficient (NUE) rice planted at Zero fertilizer application. Yield of this NUE rice variety is also expected to be the same with the 30%, 60 % and 90% fertilizer application. Going forward, trials for Water Efficiency and Salt Tolerance will be carried out subsequently after which the modified seed will be introgressed into the local rice variety.

Regulatory officers from the National Biosafety Management Agency at the Trial Site.
Regulatory officers from the National Biosafety Management Agency at the Trial Site.
The NEWEST Rice Project Principal Investigator, Bashir Mohammed addressing some members of the Media.
The NEWEST Rice Project Principal Investigator, Bashir Mohammed addressing some members of the Media.
The NEWEST Rice Project Principal Investigator, Bashir Mohammed addressing some members of the Media.
The NEWEST Rice Project Principal Investigator, Bashir Mohammed addressing some members of the Media.
OFAB Nigeria Coordinator, Dr.Rose Gidado responding to the media
OFAB Nigeria Coordinator, Dr.Rose Gidado responding to the media

GM products perceptions: Myths Vs Scientific Reality

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With several evidence based information from scientific research on the safety of GM products and the affirmation by several regulatory bodies, they still exist enormous contentions, myths about the safety and general acceptability of this technology and its products. This is however due to the controversial nature of reality as many individuals believe reality is a function of individual opinions, perception and way of thinking, thus shaping reality to what is appealing to their knowledge and conscience. This is not the method with reality in science and should not be applicable. In science reality is reached through laid down principles (Scientific method) which include; observation, formulation of hypothesis, testing hypothesis, arriving at results, drawing conclusions, communicating findings and carrying out field trials as in this case. With this laid down principle in science, results reached are valid, can be replicated at anytime and anywhere using same principles, this ascertains scientific reality as opposed to assumptions which are based on perceptions or bad scientific enquiry to reality.
GM products are derived from carefully controlled scientific processes which are evidence based, and can be replicated anytime and anywhere, thus giving them a realistic scientific identity. This processes are same for products of physical, medical and other sciences. with the foregoing, safety and acceptability of GM products should be rooted in scientific evidence than myths and perceptions.
On the 15th of June 2003, a group of anti-GMO activists known as the ” Independent science panel” issued a report formulated by bad scientific process titled ” the case for a GM free sustainable world” they made series of claims better described as “Myths” which are not supported by the depth and breadth of extensive scientific and economic data collected in laboratory tests, field trials and commercial cultivation. The following are some of the results from their bad scientific enquiry, myths and perceptions, with strong refutation based on valid scientific findings.

1. Activists say Transgenic DNA results in Cancer
Reality: There is no reported case of a correlation between transgenic plants and cancer except a report from one laboratory, that of Gilles Eric Seralini in France, his report have since been debunked due to lack of scientific merit, as it could not be replicated using laid down scientific procedures by other researchers. The study was forcibly retracted by the journal that published it and was criticized by the six major French scientific academies and by neutral scientists and science journalists not affiliated with biotech companies (Ramez 2013)


2.Activists say GM crops are not safe for both human and animal consumption.

Reality: Genetically improved crops have undergone several safety and environmental testing than any other crop. According to the US National academy of science, the most premier scientific body in the U.S, after billions of served meals from GM crops, no adverse health effects attributed to GM foods have been documented, they also reported that GM products are kinder to the environment than non-GM crops. other reputable bodies that have affirm the safety of GM products include; the European commission, Royal society of medicine, America medical association. e.t.c.

3. Activists say dangerous gene products are incorporated into crops

Reality: Genes are incorporated into crops because of their advantages e.g Bt proteins are used because of their specificity for narrow groups of insect pests as well as their safe use by organic and non-organic farmers. Activists claim inconsistently they are safety issues when engineered to crops, but they make no such representations when they are used indiscriminately without regulatory oversight by them.

4. Activists say GM seeds are sterile

Reality: like traditional plants, GM seeds will grow and form germ lines. This misconception that GM seeds are sterile is likely tied to the “terminator gene” a controversial technology that can allegedly make a plant produce sterile seeds.
Monsato, the worlds leading producers of GM seeds owns patent to the terminator gene but have promised regulatory bodies never to use it.

In conclusion, activists say GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and posing escalating problems.
These myths, perceptions have been shown to be false in the light of scientific reality in all its wordings. The facts are that crops produced through Genetic modification have, in advance of their use, been subjected to excess rigorous scrutiny than any other in history. Wherever farmers have been allowed access to this crops, they have adopted them at encouraging rates, the fact that most scientific organizations and majority of scientists that have critically evaluated the safety of biotech crops find them to be as safe or safer than conventional crops, provides enough evidence that health and environmental issues have been adequately addressed. stop the hate, start loving GM products

GMOs: POTS OF GOLD FOR NIGERIA

By Rose Gidado, PhD

During the Twenty Third Ordinary Session of the Africa Union Assembly in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the heads of States and Governments of Africa undertook to eliminate hunger on the African continent by the year 2025. Put in simple terms, the Malabo Declaration states that by 2025, no African should go to bed hungry.

Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration but as at date, 10 percent of the nation’s population is still unable to meet their daily calorific needs due to affordability, effective mass food production, storage and distribution. Nigeria tops the list of eleven ECOWAS countries that have over one million people affected by hunger and undernourishment while 63 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line of less than one dollar per day. The challenges are bare. There is no solution in sight other than a very pervasive agricultural practice that will make food abundant and available to the generality of the masses.

Countries of the world faced with similar challenges have attempted to address them using new technologies especially biotechnology. Countries under pressure to produce more food for their growing population have started growing genetically modified (GM) crops.

In 2014, a record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally, an increase of more than six million hectares from 2013, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). With the addition of Bangladesh, a total of 28 countries grew biotech crops during the year. The 20 developing and eight industrial countries where biotech crops are produced represent more than 60 percent of the world’s population.

“The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China,” said Clive James, ISAAA Founder and report author. “Global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops.”

The US continued to be the lead producer of biotech crops globally with 70.1 million hectares (40% of global), with an average adoption rate of ~90% across its principal biotech crops. Brazil ranks second only to the USA in biotech crop hectarage in the world with 40.3 million hectares (up from 36.6 million in 2012) and is emerging as a strong global leader in biotech crops. Canada grew 10.8 million hectares of biotech crops in 2013.

In Europe, insect-resistant biotech maize is grown since 1998. In 2008, 107,719 ha of land were dedicated to insect resistant maize in seven EU countries with Spain having the largest cultivation area of GM maize (approximately 20% of its total maize area), followed by Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

It is therefore a mis-representation to aver that European countries are rejecting GM crops. Applications for GM field trials in the EU in 2013 alone (European Commission Joint Research Centre 2013) have come from Spain, Poland, UK, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Slovakia, Romania, France. These applications have come for trials in maize, wheat, poplar, sugar beet, cotton, and cucumber.

Significantly, the entire 11.57 MH GM crop area in India in 2014 consisted of Bt cotton. Nearly 96 per cent of the country’s cotton area is now covered by Bt hybrids. Bt technology has helped India to increase its cotton output from 13 million bales in 2002 (when it was introduced) to 40 million bales in 2014. Dr. C. D Mayee, a former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, said India achieved a historical milestone, overtaking China as the world’s No. 1 producer of cotton in 2004. The India’s success story from Bt cotton calls for proper interrogation of the Burkina Faso’s situation as bandied in some quarters.

South Africa was the continent’s sole cultivator of GM maize, cotton and soya beans in Africa but at date more African countries are adopting the Bt technology. The five leading developing countries in biotech crops in the three continents of the South are China and India in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, and South Africa on the continent of Africa.

In Nigeria, the adoption GM products is a step in the right direction. Nigeria must promote and support this technology that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no Nigerian goes to sleep hungry by 2025. This is in line the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari administration who has declared that:
“Agriculture must cease from being treated as development Programme; Agriculture must be treated as business.”

“We will intervene in mining and agriculture, and we will upgrade the country’s physical and social infrastructure, which will broaden our revenue base and significantly improve the level of employment, especially among the youth.’’…………President M. Buhari.

Obviously, the high adoption rate of GM all over the world is testimony to the trust and confidence of millions of small and large farmers in crop biotechnology in both industrial and developing countries, despite pockets of opposition at very insignificant local level. There is the need to avoid ideological arguments and stick to strategies to benefit from GM products potential to increase food security in Nigeria.

Many public-private partnerships in Africa, where companies donate their technologies for free, disprove the anti-GM lobby’s arguments that poor African farmers are being exploited by the big multinationals. The arguments about the safety and health concerns around GM products are unfounded. For instance only healthy dosages of chemicals and pesticides are used in genetic modification. This technology reduces the use of chemicals and pesticides. For example, in Bt cotton the number of chemical spray reduces from 9 to 2.
The fears around glyphosate being carcinogenic have been allayed by the European Food Security Authority (EFSA) when in November, 2015 it published the EU’s peer review of the active substance, glyphosate.
“The report concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose carcinogenic hazard to humans. This is a direct contradiction to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as ‘probably’ carcinogenic. The IARC classification has caused widespread media attention…” EFSA. It is known that there are many kinds of foods, cosmetics, etc that can cause cancer or kidney diseases. In fact any food taken in excess can cause cancer. For example cyanide in cassava, aflaxtoxin in groundnut, mould growth in dry fish among others cause cancer.

Nigerian government has laid solid foundation for application of modern biotechnology in the country. First Nigeria signed the United Nations Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) in 2000, which was ratified 2003 and came into force on 11th September 2003. Secondly, the Nigerian government signed the National Biosafety bill into law in 2015 after the bill had scaled through the two chambers of the National Assembly since the anti GM groups had no solid arguments to convince the Senators and the House of Representative members to discard the bill during the public hearings. The National Biosafety Act provides for the establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). NBMA is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity taking into account risks to human health, animals, plants and environment. The Federal Government appointed a seasoned scientist, Mr. Rufus Ebegba, a professionally qualified Agriculturist and Environmental Biologist/Biosafety specialist to head the agency. He has garnered over 25 years working experience in various areas of Biosafety Management, Biodiversity Conservation and sustainable utilization of renewable natural recourses. True to expectations, Mr. Ebegba had in January 2016 called on all owners of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) suspects that are already in Nigeria to formalize them as the six months moratorium given them has expired. He announced that the enforcement of NBMA will commence in 2016 and has left no stone unturned in achieving this. The stakeholders have been fully sensitized and the security agencies have pledged their support and cooperation to the NBMA s enforcement drive. Nigerians are assured of safety of their health and environment with NBMA in place. Nigeria should join the league of nations of the world that are transforming the lives and fortunes of their people using this technology. It is heart warning to hear the Nigerian Textile Manufacturer’s association express their readiness to adopt Bt cotton to revive the ailing textile sector. The Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA) has expressed its support for ‎the environmental release and commercialization of genetically modified Bt Cotton, which is known to be resistant against pests for Nigerian farmers.

A position paper signed by the Acting Director General of the Association, Alhaji Hamman Kwajaffa noted that while the Nigerian textile industry was a strategic non-oil sector and the largest after oil and agriculture, it was also the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is estimated that about 30,000 Nigerians are employed in the textile industry and an additional one million small farmers and labourers are both in direct cotton production and within the value chain, probably supporting five million more people. This is a sharp contrast from over 400,000 people employed across over 250 textile mills in the country in the 80s”.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu who recently said the government has interest in utilizing the potentials of Bt Cotton to revive the industry. Globally, markets for GMOs are swelling. Nigerian GM products can be exported US, Canada, Japan, Brazil, India, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico among others. With GM technology already in place, there is no doubt that Nigeria will indeed find a pot of gold at the end of the transgenic rainbow.

Dr. Rose Gidado is the Coordinator of the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigerian Chapter.

GMOs: YES WE ALL HAVE A STAKE!!!

Why should the Government want to Plot such an Evil on us? So asked Timothy, a farmer I met some days ago in a farm behind Asokoro district Abuja after he has heard so much negative stories from the critics of GMOs.

Timothy, like so many other farmers and consumers in Nigeria having heard so much myth about GMOs wants to reconcile the fact that the Government of Nigerian could plot an evil against its citizens as he was made to understand by critics of this technology, though this sounds hard for him to believe. It is obvious Nigerians are begging for the truth and if the truth is kept from us, we may make decisions that will either make or mar our growth in this Country.

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This subject of GMOs and biotechnology recently has made headline discussions in various media houses, social media and among concerned individuals. As Nigeria now make plans towards the commercialisation of biotech products, It is important that the facts about such a controversial and heated subject be available at the door steps of every Nigerian to enable us make informed decisions on the technology. Here are 10 facts i realised from this ongoing-debate around GMOs.

1. GM crops are developed by inserting genes from related or unrelated plant species into another to enable them resist certain factors such as drought, pest and disease. Yes, All Plants have genes! And those genes are exchanged where normal agricultural techniques like layering, budding, grafting is Practiced.

2. Bt (Bacillius thuringenesis) is a non-harmful bacteria found in every soil. It grows with every plant and confers some amount of resistance to insect in such plants. Bt crops are developed when genes from these Bacteria are inserted into such crops to confer additional insect resistance to them. Eg Bt maize, Bt cotton, Bt. Cowpea.

3. Crops are enhanced to improve their nutritional value, thus meeting our nutritional needs. E.g in vitamin A enhanced golden rice; genes from carrot are used to enhance the Vitamin A content.

4. Crops are also enhanced to be resistant to harsh climatic Conditions like drought and flood example is the Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Resistant and Salt Tolerant Rice (NEWEST) Rice that can thrive in Nitrogen deficient and low weather environment.

5. GMOs do not necessarily cause cancer as reported by critics as several regulating authorities including WHO, U.S FDA, FAO and OECD, e.t.c have approved of the safety of GMOs to humans and the environment.

6. All most all conventional foods are not 100% risk free, potatoes contains some amount of solanine that can cause neurological disorders, groundnuts contain aflatoxin, which can cause liver cancer, cassava contains cyanide which kills at raw consumption. This does not mean that conventional potatoes and groundnuts are dangerous to your health but the concentrations are so small to cause any negative health effect (the dose causes the poison) all this factors are taken into consideration.

7. Monsanto is a biotech corporation like Syngenta, Dow agro Sciences, and not the technology, as critics have made Monsanto synonymous with biotechnology, thus judging from a microscopic standpoint of Monsanto rather than the technology itself. Anyone with the capacity can own a biotech corporation and the benefits of biotechnology go far beyond Monsanto.

8. All pro GMO activist are not fans feeding from the pocket of Monsanto as claimed by many, how can all the plant breeders, world acclaimed bodies like WHO, U.S FDA, be paid by Monsanto to support evil in disguise of truth, without an individual of the millions of them having a right conscience?

9. Our Farmers will still have the right over the choice of their seeds, they can decide to grow conventional seeds, but if a farmer requires the added advantage of growing GM varieties, then the farmer has to purchase it from the seed companies and keep to the terms of contract of the company of purchase. It is really an issue of choice that is why the truth is paramount.

10. There are no commercially available GM crops developed yet in Nigeria. All that is available are seeds developed using hybrid technology and imported crops which have not been reported to be unsafe in anyway.

It is therefore obvious that this technology has huge potentials which our nation is interested in exploiting especially in agriculture, as the demand for food is on the increase due to escalating population of its citizens and the current challenges posed to agriculture such as climate change. It should be known that Agricultural biotechnology is not a scientific “be all end all” tool, it will not replace traditional breeding, organic farming, etc but will supplement all this other practices to put enough food on our tables.
It is also not a “saint science” without its negative aspects but the National Biosafety Management Agency was established to regulate this sector, so we can exploit the advantages while ensuring that it is safely practiced and deployed.

Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering is an “Intervention tool” to address problems that ordinary breeding could not address and the choice of its deployment in Nigeria is due to its numerous advantages which outweigh its perceived risks and having a mechanism in place to Carter for this risks. Having this in place and moving towards the commercialisation of the technology, the public require facts rather than falsehood, evidence rather than myths, the technology and not a corporation that will enable all make the right choice which will shape our future. It is however sad that awareness around this technology has really been shaped in a way that shields the facts, we should as citizens be open minded to information on this technology, channel our concerns to relevant authorities and be able to speak out when we find the facts. We have to know the truth, we all have a stake.
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Opuah Abiekwen is a graduate of Genetics and Biotechnology, University of Calabar.

NBMA trains employees on GMOs detection, advocates biotechnology development to diversify economy

Etta Micheal Bisong, Journalist, Blue print Newspapers.
Etta Micheal Bisong, Journalist, Blue print Newspapers.
By Etta Michael Bisong

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has called for the rapid development and use of biotechnology particularly in agriculture as alternative source to diversify the economic and generate revenue for Nigeria’s national growth.

Sir Rufus Ebegba, director-general and chief executive officer of the agency who made the call during a capacity workshop held in Abuja, hinted that biotechnology if properly deployed has the potentials to turn-around the nations over reliance on oil for revenue and foster her aspiration of economic diversification.

The NBMA briefly after its establishment issued a moratorium of six months which expired December 2015 to all operators involved in GM practices to formalise their dealings with the agency for proper regulation or face punishment as stipulated by the biosafety Act.

The DG/CEO disclosed that the similarities in both GM and non-GM products have made training and retraining of workers inevitable to enable them meet current challenges of GM detection and analysis so as to effectively carry out the agency’s mandate.

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So, the workshop according to him is a conscious and positive attempt to empower staffs with the required knowledge to detect and analyse all forms of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before their release for consumption across the country. The agency has also collaborated with relevant security operatives such as the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to efficiently implement her enforcement responsibility.

“This training is very important to the life and responsibilities bestowed on the agency,” Sir Ebegba said. “It will strengthen staffs in the application of the knowledge they have acquired over the years to meet the current dynamics of biosafety.”

The NBMA boss emphasised the need to consider biotechnology as crucial tool especially in food production and raw material for industrial growth since the present administration pride its national economic development goals around agriculture.

He said there is need for partnership between media, research institutes, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) as well as other relevant stakeholders in the sector to successfully realise this noble goal.

“The era of research for paperwork and academic accolade is over,” the NBMA helmsman said. “Products must be delivered for the development of our country.”

Sir Ebegba assured that the NBMA under his reign will continue to work with related sister agencies and institutions to ensure adequate and necessary environment to realize the nation’s economic agenda and entrench global best standards in the enforcement of biosafety regulations.

Professor Oyekanmi Nash, director of Genomics & Bioinformatics under NABDA and lead facilitator at the event referred to the exercise as fundamental requirement for the proper enforcement of biosafety regulation in the country.

Prof. Nash while analyzing the origin of life revealed that gene manipulation is a phenomenon that is driven by natural processes which must be understood to enhance the appropriate application of the science.

He debunked all the allegations raised against the safety of GMOs and attributed most of such claims to political cum economic reasons rather than science which is the base for gene analysis.

According to him, the overwhelming public perception about the safety of GMOs is “because it is not God, but man made.”

“God said we should improve on what He has done,” Prof. Nash said. “And to improve on that you must first understand the mind of God, the blueprint of life”

Burkina Faso Sticks With GMO Cotton

By Joan Conrow

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Mark Twain, the 19th century American author, famously quipped: “This report of my death was an exaggeration.” Much the same could be said of Burkina Faso’s genetically modified cotton crop.

Activists opposed to GMOs recently claimed that Burkina Faso had “abandoned” insect-resistant GM cotton, a move that supposedly spelled doom for biotechnology in Africa. But reports of GM cotton’s death are also an exaggeration.

GM cotton in Burkina Faso has in reality been a runaway success for local farmers, and with new improvements in the pipeline to fix an issue with fibre length, the crop will continue to provide much needed extra income for smallholders keen to emerge from poverty.

GM cotton was commercialized in Burkina Faso in 2008. As has happened elsewhere in the world, it rapidly gained popularity with farmers because of its ability to resist the devastating bollworm pest without the use of expensive and environmentally damaging pesticide sprays. That meant the farmers who adopted GM cotton used less insecticide, while earning more profit from reduced costs and higher yields.

Currently, some 200,000 Burkinabe smallholders grow GM cotton. Last year, the country produced a record 707,000 tons of cotton, two-thirds of which was the GM variety.

Many of these farmers have experienced a 50 per cent increase in income over recent years, allowing them to improve their quality of life. “I bought a tractor,” said M. Zongo Faroukou, a GM cotton farmer in Ouarkoye. “I bought motorcycles for my kids. I built shops for my kids.”

M. Tamini Mave, who also grows GM cotton in Ouarkoye, said the insect-resistant variety has allowed him to reduce pesticide use by 60-80 per cent, resulting in cost savings and health benefits for farmers like him who are no longer exposed to potentially toxic insecticides during application.

For nearly a decade, Burkina Faso has been the only West African nation that permits its farmers to grow genetically modified cotton, and the country has profited handsomely from its embrace of the technology.

While yields — and profits — have been impressive, an issue recently erupted when cotton companies rejected some of the GM crop due to its fiber length — something the anti-GMO activists latched onto and tried to inflate.

Cotton companies prefer long cotton fibers that are around 27-29mm in length. But the GM cotton grown in Burkina Faso tended to produce shorter fibers, around 25-27 mm long. Did this perhaps indicate a failure of genetic engineering technology, as the NGO activists endeavoured to suggest?

Actually the issue is basic crop breeding, unrelated to the genetically engineered traits. When the insect-resistant traits were bred into the regional cotton varieties that Burkinabe farmers prefer, genes conveying a shorter cotton fiber length were retained from the local varieties. Over time, the proportion of short fibers outpaced the longer fibers that cotton mills desire.

Burkinabe researchers are now working with agricultural firm Monsanto to fully “convert” local long-fibre cotton varieties to carrying the insect-resistant trait. It’s a relatively straightforward, though time-consuming, plant breeding process. In the interim, farmers and cotton companies agreed to temporarily limit the cultivation of GM cotton to prevent the short-fiber trait from becoming more prevalent.

Meanwhile, the Inter-professional Cotton Association of Burkina (AICB) has sued Monsanto for 48.3 billion CFA francs ($83.91 million) to recover losses from the short-fiber cotton. The two parties are currently in negotiations.

Total biotech cotton acreage in Burkina Faso is now estimated at about 50 per cent down from the previous high of 73 per cent, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – hardly an indication that the country has ‘abandoned’ GM cotton or biotechnology generally. Indeed, Burkina Faso is currently conducting field trials on the next generation of GM cotton, as well as insect-resistant maize (corn) and cowpea.

These biotech crops will also provide protection from destructive insect pests, without repeated applications of expensive and potentially hazardous pesticides. And that translates into economic and environmental benefits that can be enjoyed by Burkinabe and other farmers across West Africa.

This fiber-length episode underscores the importance of ensuring that plant breeders incorporate the traits and qualities that both farmers and millers prefer. It also reminds us that biotechnology is enhanced when it is followed up with conventional breeding that is informed by local stakeholders, and accompanied by outreach programs to educate farmers on proper use of the technology.

Though GMO critics are eager to spin events to support their opposition to biotechnology, the reality in Burkina Faso is quite different than what has been presented online.

In the real world, all plant breeding tools are needed to ensure that farmers, especially small shareholders, have access to seeds that allow them to succeed.

What You need to Know About Biotech and GMOs.

By. Dr. Rose Gidado, Coordinator, OFAB Nigeria Chapter

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Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years through selective cross-breeding and domestication. Prior to the 1970s, it was primarily conducted by selecting the seeds of the best crops to sow each year, which eventually created relatively uniform strains of crop plants.
Through hybridization, farmers were also able to create offspring that share the most beneficial traits of both parent lineages, including plants that grew taller, larger beef cattle, or longer blooming flowers. These methods are still used today.
Genetic modification or engineering is simply the removing, modifying, or adding genes to a DNA molecule [of an organism] in order to change the information it contains. By changing this information, genetic modification changes the type or amount of proteins an organism is capable of producing, thus enabling it to make new substances or perform new functions.
Genes are the pieces of DNA code, which regulate all biological processes in living organisms. The entire set of genetic information of an organism is present in every cell and is called the genome.

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In conventional breeding, half of an individual’s genes come from each parent, whereas in genetic modification one or several specially selected genes are added to the genetic material. Moreover, conventional plant breeding can only combine closely related plants.
Genetic modification permits the transfer of genes between organisms that are not normally able to cross breed.
For example a gene from a bacterium can be inserted into a plant cell to provide resistance to insects. Such a transfer produces organisms referred to as genetically modified (GM) or transgenic. In more than 30 per cent of all arable land, primarily in developing countries, aluminium can be present in the soil in a form that limits plant growth. To prevent these harmful effects, the usual approach is to add lime to the soil to reduce its acidity. However, this measure is costly and its benefits are temporary, because the aluminium remains in the soil. A new approach consists of developing new varieties of plants that are more tolerant to aluminium. For example, rye is four times more resistant to aluminium than wheat. A gene controlling aluminium tolerance in rye was identified and its position on the genome determined. Knowing the location of this gene in rye can help locate it in other crops such as wheat. Thus within a crop species individual plants which are more resistant than others to aluminium could be identified and selected for further breeding. Alternatively, the gene could also be transferred from rye to other closely related species such as wheat.

One of the most widespread uses of genetic modification is the development of crops resistant to common insect pests; others include herbicide resistance, drought tolerance, and foods with enhanced nutritional values. In 1994, the first food products from this technology began reaching the market, including the FlavrSavr tomato and a breed of potatoes genetically modified to produce an insect-killing protein. For commercial reasons, neither is available today.

Today more than 20 different crops, including soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola, contain genetically modified varieties. Over the past decades, the land area dedicated to GM crops has increased more than 100-fold.
According to ISAAA Global Update, 2014, Biotech crop hectares were planted in 28 countries in 2014 and hectarage has increased more than 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 181.5 million hectares in 2014 – a 6.3 million hectare increase compared to 5.0 million hectares in 2013 at an annual growth rate of between 3 to 4%.

A 100-fold increase makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times – the reason – they deliver benefits. Number of biotech countries has more than quadrupled from 6 in 1996 to 28 in 2014, up one from 2013.
There are many benefits to genetic modification, including a reduction in the need for some pesticides and increases in yield and nutrient production. Social and economic benefits addressing health problems, such as Vitamin A deficiencies, are possible through the creation of nutritionally-enhanced crops (not yet available). Even more revolutionary, is the recent development of a salt-tolerant tomato. The breakthrough could ultimately transform barren, salt-laden soils into arable land.

A new 2014 global meta-analysis confirmed significant multiple benefits, during the last 20 years. A global meta-analysis of 147 studies in the last 20 years, confirmed that “on average GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.” These findings corroborate earlier and consistent results from other annual global studies.

The latest provisional data for 1996 to 2013, showed that biotech crops contributed to Food Security, Sustainability and Environment/Climate Change by: increasing crop production valued at US$133 billion; providing a better environment, by saving Rs 500 million kg a.i. of pesticides from 1996 to 2012; in 2013 alone reducing CO2 emissions by 28 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12.4 million cars off the road for one year; conserving biodiversity by saving 132 million hectares of land from 1996-2013; and helped alleviate poverty for >16.5 million small farmers and their families totaling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world.

Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea – adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.
However, there are also potential risks; the most serious being the possibility of passing genes from genetically modified crops into their wild relatives and imparting properties that affect their spread and survival (also a risk for conventional plants). Other risks include the ability of pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by genetic modification and the concern over whether such modification would increase or decrease the potential for allergic reactions.
All the risks to date are speculative, but scientific studies are ongoing to assess potential risk. Insect and weed resistance are occasionally reported for engineered plants; these types of resistance are not unexpected and are common for conventional insecticides and herbicides. Relative to conventional plants, genetically modified crops often undergo extensive laboratory and field-testing to be approved for use.

In Nigeria, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) under the Federal Ministry of Environment is the National Competent Authority for the regulation to ensure safe practice of genetic modification and safe use of genetically modified crops/foods. Biotechnology has also become an important trade issue, because the U.S. exports more than 50 percent of the wheat and rice that it produces, and more than 25 percent of its corn, soybean, and cotton crops. Although there is no credible evidence of health risks to date, there continues to be considerable consumer and government resistance to GM foods across the globe.

…to be continued

WHAT CAN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY DO FOR A DEVELOPING ECONOMY?

By Opuah Aniekwen, A graduate of Biotechnology and Genetics, University of Calabar

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As a graduate of biotechnology and genetics I am poised to write to authorities in the agriculture sector, policy makers, sister and supporting Ministries departments and Agencies, opinion leaders, well spirited individuals, private sector and students to describe the usefulness and applications of this novel field of agricultural biotechnology and show how it can contribute to the agriculture sector as well as the economy of a developing country like Nigeria. I think these authorities will be interested to know the achievements of this field, the potential estimated market volume, the demand from agriculture and the role of Agricultural biotechnology in meeting this demand, and its impact on National development. Although some in-depth studies have been performed on this topic and literature documented, it is pertinent that I bring some salient features to light. Using information available from other findings, this write up is aimed at bringing the science of Agricultural biotechnology to the attention of busy stakeholders in the agriculture sector and other related sectors in the country and encourage them to understand the potentials that lie fallow in this novel science.

Briefly, agricultural biotechnology is the manipulation of Crops and Animals or their parts for the production of value added goods and services for man use.
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A few of its applications and achievements are discussed below;

Insect resistant crops: These crops have been engineered to express a self-defense for insect pest so as to enhance productivity and reduce crop losses for e.g. Bt cotton (Bacillus thuringienesis). This cotton has DNA (genetic material) from the soil microbe Bacillus thuringienesis incorporated into its genome (Entire genetic make up) which enables it to express resistance for insect pest. This cotton was adopted by Indian farmers and it increased their average yield by 70% between 2001 and 2008 and half of this increase is attributed to the Bt cotton adopted by Indian farmers (James 2009), this also suggest why India is presently the highest exporter of cotton. A decrease in cotton boll insecticide use by 56% between 1998 and 2006, which is cost saving for 6million Indian farmers who grew Bt cotton in 2009 (James 2009). In 2009, 7million Chinese farmers also grew Bt cotton and yield was increased by 10% and insecticide use decreased by 60% (James 2009) other engineered insect resistant crops include Bt corn, rice, etc.

Herbicide tolerant crops: These are crops that have been engineered so that their growth and development is not significantly affected by herbicides used on the weeds growing around them. This will enhance crop yield, reduce wastage, reduce cost and as well help in maintaining biodiversity. Crops such as maize, wheat, sugar cane, rice, onions etc. have been genetically modified to express this trait.

Protein enhanced sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes is known for its carbohydrate rich content, recently scientist have developed a protein rich sweet potatoes by isolating a gene AmA1 rich in lysine from the amaranth plant and incorporating it into the genome of sweet potatoes and it is well expressed. This protein AmA1 is not known to be an allergen.

Vitamin A enhanced Sorghum, golden rice and Cassava: These are crops genetically engineered to have improved levels of macro nutrient like Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. These crops being staples are modified to serve malnourished women and children especially those in the rural areas.

Cheese Making: Because of the insufficiency in rennet production from animals, and other natural sources, rennet which is an enzyme which produces chymosin which curdles milk in cheese production is now been mass produced by isolating the gene for rennet production from animal stomach and insert them into certain bacteria, fungi to make them produce chymosin during fermentation. The genetically modified microorganism is killed after fermentation and chymosin is removed from the fermentation broth so that the fermentation produced chymosin does not contain any GM component or ingredient.

ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY IN DEVELOPING ECONOMIES

According to Wikipedia (2006) a developing society is one with relatively low standard of living, undeveloped industrial base and moderate to low human development index (HDI)

Chassy (2003) reported that 800 – 850 million people are malnourished, more than 200 million of these are children, many of whom will never reach their full intellectual and physical potential, another 1-1.5 billion humans have only marginally better access to food and often do not consume balanced diet containing sufficient quantities of all required nutrients and majority of this nutritionally at risk population live in developing countries and this number will grow as human population growth is ever on the increase. The question now is how will Agriculture carter for this pending problem of food shortage and the expected increase in nutritionally at risk people while maintaining a healthy environment and biodiversity? Will it be by expanding cultivated land area? Or by increasing the use of inputs? How friendly are these practices to the environment? It can only be achieved through crop and livestock improvements (Biotechnology).

Biotechnology has prospects to remedy the problem of food shortage as research in this field aims to develop plant varieties that provide reliable high yield, at the same or lower costs by breeding in qualities such as resistance to diseases, pest and stress factors which will contribute gainfully to food production while maintaining a healthy environment by reducing the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides used in farming. These shows clearly that biotechnology seeks to improve Agricultural practices by making it cost effective, increase productivity and bridging other gaps which pose serious challenges to Agriculture. These gains will lead to capacity building, create numerous jobs, and reduce poverty as well as ending malnutrition. Annon (2002) reported that the United Nations Economic and Social commission for western Asia Cooperation with International Labour Organization (ILO) sought to identify the best approach for regional capacity building in new technology to improve employment rate, sustainable development and poverty alleviation in developing Arab Nations came to a conclusion that identifying new technologies, adopting, regulating and implementing them will serve the purpose for national economic and social development. In the report, it was emphasized that countries that adopt a better approach to the four novel technologies of biotechnology, genetic engineering, bio materials and bioinformatics will develop a better capacity for economic and social development than their counterparts.

It becomes very pertinent in this era of dwindling oil prices and mass unemployment that Nigeria incorporates biotechnology into its agricultural programme as the Present administration seeks to savor the economy by diversifying it to Agriculture which promises to be the best substitute. It should however be noted that for Agriculture to be worthwhile, appropriate technologies (Biotechnology) must be employed rather than relying on the very crude techniques that will not carter for the present day challenges posed to Agriculture e.g. Climate change, erosion and leaching of farm lands, arid and infertile lands etc.

LIMITATIONS/PUBLIC PERCEPTION

It is obvious that to meet the food demand in a developing economy like ours using a novel technology like biotechnology requires meeting a number of social, political, economic and technical challenges.

We are thankful to the Nigerian Government for passing the biosafety bill into law, establishing the National Biosafety Management Agency; however we still experience a major problem of social acceptability, which I know is a misconception a majority of the Nigerian populace holds about biotechnology and GM products. In a survey carried out in my 4th year in 2012, it showed that 85% of Nigerians don’t know what biotechnology entails but have their own personal philosophies in the best ways it appeals to their knowledge, and their knowledge is only associated with the negatives of biotechnology . It should however be stressed that biotechnology is a household name for everything that has to do with manipulation of living things ranging from the very simple process of alcohol fermentation to cloning of plants and animals. It should also be known that genetic engineering; transgenic organisms are quite different from cloning and cloned organisms. It should also be known that they is no innovation that lacks disadvantages, just like cars, airplanes, electricity had their advantages and disadvantages so also is biotechnology. Owing to the fact that the advantages of this innovations outweighs the disadvantages, policies, regulatory bodies are constituted to regulate this innovation within the confines of its advantages while on the other hand greatly reducing the disadvantages, this is no exception with biotechnology as the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was constituted to regulate the activities of biotechnology, and they will deliver on this core objective. In criticizing biotechnology and its products, we should offer a hard-look rather than our personal philosophies as the problem of social acceptance is a major setback to the proliferation of this technology in Nigeria.

CONCLUSION
Agricultural biotechnology will be a major part of the solution to the problem of increasing food demand while at the same time conserving biodiversity. It has been shown to improve yield around the world especially in developing countries and this increased yield will spare land for natural ecosystems to co-exist with agro ecosystems, improve GDP, generate income, create employments and consequently greatly reduce poverty and malnutrition which is the bane of developing countries. We implore Nigeria to join other developing and developed nations who have resorted to biotechnology on the basis of their needs and empirical based reports on biotechnology products by open minded, well-meaning scientist rather than taking queues behind developed countries who don’t have the need we have, who don’t suffer what we suffer, who have adopted the technology with respect to their own needs and claim the entire technology is not safe. We therefore call on everyone to partner with the National Biotechnology development agency to achieve its objectives of promoting and implementing evidence based science and technology of which agricultural biotechnology is cardinal.

OPEN LETTER TO THE EU PARLIAMENT FROM A GROUP OF NIGERIAN FARMERS: LET US MAKE THIS CHOICE FOR OURSELVES

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We (a group of Nigerian farmers) are so much concerned about this demand that the G8 should not support GM crops in Africa and want to state how important it is that agricultural biotechnology be applied to achieve a sustainable development of agriculture in Nigeria.

As Africans and Nigerians, we appreciate the efforts of the EU to make a decision on our food system but then, we can do this for ourselves. We need the opportunity to make our own choices; also we need to have variety of options to choose from.

Our farmers have heard and seen testimonies from other African farmers in Burkina Faso, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa. We know that Spain, one of the European Union countries as of 2014 has been the largest producer of GM crops in Europe with 137,000 hectares (340,000 acres) of GM maize planted in 2013 equalling 20% of Spain’s maize production. We also Know that over 70% of the crops grown in the United States is genetically modified and Nigeria Imports majority of its food from these countries.

If the EU Members really want to take a good decision for us, they should know Nigeria is tired of importing so much and exporting less. You need to also consider what we stand to gain from commercializing these products.

The adoption of Genetically Engineered crops is very critical for us because we can no longer afford to depend so much on oil or neglect what agriculture can do for our economy. Our Population is on the increase and is expected to be the 3rd largest population in the world by 2020. Conventional agricultural practices are strictly inadequate to feed us. Our crop yield is majorly affected by insects, at the same time climate change issues are making our land less fertile due to drought, flooding and other harsh condition. We do not have luxury of debating so much on genetically engineered crops because we have limited options to solving our food crisis.

Our cowpea (which the EU has stopped us from exporting because of Pesticide residue) is the next staple crop after rice in Nigeria and Maruca insect reduces its yield by 60%. We spray a lot to enable us get enough yield and are tired of spraying. If we commercialize Bt. Cowpea, it can reduce spraying for us and also pesticides residues to enable us to export cowpea. Our Cotton industry has been in comatose because of lack of improved seeds resistant to pests. We know commercializing Bt. Cotton can increase our yield thereby generating more income for us. Our hungry and malnourished women can get more nutrients from consuming bio fortified Sorghum enriched with extra vitamin A, Iron and Zinc.
We hereby want to state categorically that we do not want another form of colonialism from this decision you are about to make for us. Let us have options to the seeds we can grow. Even though we know Agricultural Biotechnology is not the only solution to the challenges we face in the farm, we need to embrace it as an efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly technology to help us produce more food in order to ensure that no Nigerian goes to sleep hungry by 2025.

We hope you make the right decision at the Session.

Abdallah Yaya is a Member of Cowpea Association of Nigeria, Abuja chapter.