Nigeria’s progress in biotech gets accolades at New York event

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By Harrison Arubu

Speakers at a science communication forum in New York have lauded Nigeria’s steady but significant progress in agricultural biotechnology especially the development of BT cowpea.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event was hosted by the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), an advocacy group championing genetically engineered crops or GMOs around the world.

The speakers, including award-winning American actor/movie director, Alan Alda, and the Director of CAS, Ms Sarah Evanega, said that the progress being recorded was timely, coming at a time the country’s population had been projected to be the third largest in the world by the year 2050.

In January, the Federal Government approved the release of the country’s first genetically engineered cowpea, which is expected to be commercialised by the year 2020.

This came barely a year after the country commercialised its first pest-resistant BT cotton as part of efforts to revamp its textile industry and boost economic development.

In a presentation, Evanega emphasised that GM foods would greatly help to address the “enormous challenge of feeding the 10 billion people who will inhabit this earth in 2050’’.

She cited instances including Bangladesh where, according to her, GM eggplant is transforming the lives of rural farmers by increasing their incomes in six fold.

The CAS director, however, said that in spite of the “life-changing success stories of GM food’’, it was facing resistance led by activist groups.

She solicited the support of stakeholders for CAS in its campaign for a world where farmers would have access to the inputs they need to lift millions of people out of hunger.

On his part, Alda called for effective communication to drive understanding and acceptance of genetically modified crops especially in developing countries.

He said in a world where “science is advancing faster than our ability to communicate’’ is products, scientists should devise interesting ways to market their innovations to the public and policy makers.

NAN reports that two Nigerians, Patience Koku and Modesta Abugu, shared their experiences as a farmer and biotechnology communicator, respectively, with the audience.

Koku, the Chief Executive of Replenish Farms and CAS Farmer of the Year 2018, spoke on the challenges she was facing as a farmer in a developing country where modern farming inputs are lacking.

GMOs, according to her, are the solution to many of the challenges especially those associated with disease and pest control as well as impact of climate change on agriculture.

“So much has to be done with science communication.

“In Nigeria, the policies are in place, but the next step is how best to communicate to the people to make them receive the new technologies,’’ she said.

On her part, Abugu a fellow of CAS, told the audience how her mother quit cowpea farming due to Maruca insect attack.

Abugu, who is the programme assistant for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), said that GMOs, although not “silver bullets, can improve our food systems and help millions of people all over the world.

“A vocal minority of people – people living in developed nations – try to advise other people living in developing countries against this life-changing technology.

“These people have never wielded a hoe; these people have never had to weed under the scorching sun as a child in their families’ farmers.

“These people have never lost a farm as my mother did. These people have never had to put their children to bed hungry.

“Yet, they try to make choices and decisions for us without having any knowledge of what we experience.’’ (NAN)

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