Biotechnology, Panacea For Bio-economy

Experts in the science and technology sector have underlined the significance of biotechnology in the national development of a country. They have continually stressed that biotechnology has the potential to increase agricultural productivity, thereby enhancing food security and farmers’ income as well as developing better health care delivery system, boosting efficient industrial development processes for transforming raw materials, detoxifying hazardous wastes, reducing mortality rates and other environmental problems.

In his keynote address at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agric-biotech Applications (ISAAA) global biotech update report for 2014 in Abuja, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Abdu Bulama, lamented that Nigeria had been unable to key into the opportunities provided by modern biotechnology or harness the benefits of the application because of the absence of a regulatory framework, the bio-safety law, in the nation.

Speaking on the necessity of a regulatory framework, the minister said Nigeria needed biotechnology in its quest to feed and provide livelihoods for our teaming population, pointing out that the enactment of a biosafety law would provide the key to unlock the second gene revolution in Nigeria.

Giving the status of agricultural biotechnology and biosafety in Nigeria, the minister who said community mobilization was key to success of biotech industry in the country added that Nigeria already had a formidable team of biotech champions and highlighted the need for synergy among relevant stakeholders.

He said the lack of a biosafety law, inadequate Intellectual Property Right (IPR) structure, awareness by key stakeholders on potential benefits/public acceptance, inadequate funds to promote research activities and activities of the anti-GM group militated against the commercialization of the GM crops/products.

The minister said no GM crop had been commercialized in Nigeria, adding sporadic reports of GM food suspects existed though.

According to him, three GM crops including cassava developed for Vit A iron and Zinc enrichment (Biocassava plus) and mosaic disease, brown streak disease resistance are currently undergoing CFT and they include BioCassava Plus, Maruca Resistant Bt cowpea (beans) and Africa Biofortified Sorghum. He said commercialization of GM crops could not commence until the Biosafety Law was enacted.

Earlier in his remarks, the chairman of the occasion and former head of state, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, represented by the acting director-general of National Agricultural Seed Counci (NASC), Dr Olusegun Ojo, said advances in plant sciences provided extraordinary opportunity for Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, being the largest economy in the continent, to open up the promise of a second Green Revolution, one that could feed well, the 9 to 10 billion people that would inhabit our planet by 2050. He described it as a revolution powered by cutting-edge science that could drive economic development from the bottom up.

Presenting a Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014, the director-general of NABDA, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, listed the global impact of biotech crops for 19 years, from 1996 – 2014, saying a rigorous 2014 meta-analysis by European group of 147 data sets confirmed that on average, the benefits included 22 percent increase in yield; 37 percent decrease in pesticide use; 68 percent increase in net profits for farmers; yield gains and pesticide reductions larger for IR crops than HT crops and yield and profit gains higher in developing countries than in industrial countries.

Highlighting opportunities for developing biotechnology research in Africa, Ogbadu said they included persistent low yield of cereals around 1 mt/ha; existence of biotic and abiotic stresses; pests, diseases, weeds, environmental degradation, soil nutrient depletion, low fertilizer inputs, inadequate food processing amenities, poor roads to markets, and general lack of information to make science-based decisions that underlie farming methodologies and systems.

Others, according to her, are collaboration between various sub-regional institutions that address capacity building in biotechnology and biosafety and positive pronouncement on biotechnology development.

The NABDA boss listed four important trends for biotechnology development in Nigeria to include the expansion and improvement of current biotech crops, saying major opportunity for maize exists in Asia (60 M ha), rice and more for small and poor countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam & Indonesia – all Asian countries and Africa.

Ogbadu further highlighted the existence of more food products with direct consumer benefits; progress with drought tolerance and success of public-private partnerships with synergy in sharing resources and expertise.

She listed key lessons to be learnt for the swift passage of the biosafety bill into law, harping on the need for strong political will by the government and an efficient cost-effective regulatory process as well as sustained communication with society.

Nkechi Isaac – Extracted from http://leadership.ng/news/418052/biotechnology-panacea-for-bio-economy.

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