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.

Status of GMO adoption in Nigeria- AN Interview with DG NBMA

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Sir Rufus Ebegba, the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Management (NBMA) at a meeting held in Abuja to review two applications submitted for the release of genetically modified Cotton and Maize, said Nigerians should prepare to see more GM products in the market to serve as alternative to consumers choice. In this interview with ETTA MICHAEL BISONG, the agriculturist and environmental biologist spoke on the benefits of adopting safe biotechnology practice to Nigeria’s national development goal.

What are the two GMOs applications about?

We have two biosafety applications which we are reviewing to ensure that the products are safe for human consumption and to environment. These applications are submitted by Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first one is to register the gene of cotton that has been genetically modified to resist against a pest, while the other is maize that is encoded with two genes for confined field trail – herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant.

So, the essence of this meeting is to inaugurate the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) in addition to the existing National Biosafety Technical Committee (NBTC) to check the hereditary materials that have been put into the maize and cotton to ensure that they do not cause any allergy to man or animal as well as negative environmental impact. The committees are working and expected to conclude soon.

Already, there are publications in three national dailies informing members of the public of these applications in accordance with the Act establishing the agency. We have done these publications and expect comments or responses within 21 working days either by writing or visit to the agency. We have also deposited these applications and necessary documents at two other locations in addition to our office (NBMA). We have one at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria and the other at the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). The essence is for those within the areas of means to be able to access and review these applications.

How is Nigeria expected to benefit from this?

What this means is that now that we have a law and an agency to implement this law, “it means Nigerians should be expecting new products in addition to others we already have in the market for consumers choice.” Nigerians should be expecting biotechnology products that definitely will be certified safe before any release. And the farmers should also be expecting better harvests, healthy seeds, more income for their labour and inputs into agricultural activities. Apart from that the farmers can also produce enough for export and through these processes jobs are created, as well as revenue generated through payment of permit fees to enhance economic growth.

Aside maize and cotton, what other crop is Nigeria expecting to release soon?

There is another crop that may likely come up very soon and that is the Bt cowpea modified to resist a pest known as maruca which has being on experimental field trail since 2009. The institution that was given the permit is doing multi locational trail across various regions of the country to ascertain the performance of the product.

What is your position on media’s role and various campaigns in Europe against GMOs?

The media is the voice of the nation; it is a means to ensure social equity and ensure that our nation is brought to the public so that everyone is aware.

I want the public to know that there are attempts by some individuals to cause unnecessary panic over matters surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are not synthetic or manufactured materials; it’s the swap of gene to achieve particular aim.

Europe should not be use as model for the adoption of biotechnology or GMOs. Europe is a self satisfied continent; we shall adopt technologies that are safe for Africa and our nation. Nigeria as a country has planned its programmes and will not be panicked, dissuaded or misled to abandon a safe technology like modern biotechnology. The establishment of the NBMA is not in error, it’s an attempt for Nigeria to diversify the economy and broaden the scope of our national development under a safe technology practice. The agency has come to give Nigerians hope that the adoption of modern biotechnology will be done in safe manner.

And I want to urge the media that it is not everything that is sensational that should be printed or reported. Journalists should not make themselves available for information that is not good for the nation because if misinformation is not published, it will not circulate. “Your conscience is where God lays and you will be an accomplice if you join those that don’t want to make Nigerians prosper.” Nigeria will adopt modern biotechnology that is safe for our national development.

I have said it severally that a safe biotechnology practice under a legal framework has ability to generate minimum of 25, 000 jobs annually. Nigeria is a country with diverse activities and if oil is failing us we must move to other sectors that can help our nation grow. Posterity will not forgive journalists if they connive with those who carry out misinformation, distortion of facts that are not scientific base and dissuade Nigerians from benefiting maximally from this technology. America, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Burkina Faso are among countries that have prospered from this technology. We will take what is good about the technology and abandon what is not good.

You must take note that GMOs are not meant to be imported into the country alone; Nigeria scientists have the competence and opportunity to develop varieties that are meaningful to our environment. One thing you must know again when we talk about GMOs is that it is not for food alone, it’s also for environmental sustainability and avenue to move the economy round mostly now that the world is on edge. If our conventional methods of doing things are failing us, we must move for advanced methods of doing that.

Europe is not the best model for Nigeria. Nobody should quote Europe in the adoption of genetic engineering. Go to Europe 60 per cent of their products are GMOs and they have the capacity to diversify their economy beyond Nigeria. How many countries in Europe are producing oil? How do they survive? Ask yourself these questions. We will not listen to those countries that have failed to adopt technologies that have moved on and want to continue with obsolete technologies and try to delay others until they meet up.

I want to assure you that the NBMA has what it takes to ensure that any product that is derived from modern biotechnology is safe before any release into the market.

What is your advice to Nigerians regarding the adoption of this technology?

Nigerians should trust the judgement of the NBMA; the Federal Government is doing everything possible to diversify the economy and everybody must support the government to achieve this for better today and future Nigeria.