Participants at the just concluded 3rd South-West Agro-ecological Biosafety Workshop, have endorsed the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the agriculture sector to boost food security in the country.
Participants at the workshop held at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, were drawn from universities and research institutes.
Dr Rose Gidado, an Assistant Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA), via a statement issued on Monday in Abuja, noted that the Nigeria Academy of Science, had earlier endorsed GMOs.
“The endorsement came a year after the country’s topmost scientific body, the Nigeria Academy of Science equally urged government to roll out the technology in all areas to ensure Nigeria benefit maximally from it.’’
Gidado, who is also the Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB), said scientists were of the view that although government action was belated, it was better now than never.
Gidado stressed that technology remains one of the most viable options for the country to enhance its food security strategies as well as provide healthy food for its growing population.
“Professors in various aspects of biosciences were of the view that government in its wisdom has set in motion all the necessary machinery needed to enable the technology take effective root in the country.
“This it did by establishing the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) as the promoter of the technology over 15 years ago, and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) as the regulatory in the last three years,” Gidado said.
Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, the Vice Chancellor of OAU, who spoke, said that government economic diversification plan to reposition agriculture as the main stay of the economy would be achieved if conventional agriculture give way to modern tools such as biotechnology.
“Conventional agriculture has led to food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the country.
“As the debate on the use of biotechnology for food production continues in the country, opportunity must be given to scientists and scientific evidence to prove that GM foods are safe as any other food from conventional sources.’’
Ogunbodede added that with the National Biosafety Policy in place, the legal framework had been established for the safe and responsible application of modern biotechnology in the country.
Prof. Bamidele Solomon of the Chemical Engineering Department, OAU, and Chairman, Ife Biotechnology Group, listed some of the challenges of food security.
“The challenges include climate change, persisting pest infestations, declining soil nutritional quality, gradual reduction in arable land use due to the pressures of urbanisation.
“But modern biotechnology has been identified as an important tool that can help countries like Nigeria achieve food security and food sufficiency, industrial growth, health improvement and environmental sustainability.
According to Solomon, “modern biotechnology is a technique used for genetic improvements that is more efficient and precise compared to conventional breeding,” he said.
Prof. Durotoluwa Oyedele, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, OAU, said that biotechnology has the potential to increase agricultural productivity, enhance food security, move agriculture away from dependence on chemical inputs and reduce environmental problems.
“It is important we come to the realisation that food security and agricultural productivity depend largely on domestication of biotechnology,” he added.
Dr Babatunde Ogundare, the Deputy Dean, Faculty of Science, OAU, said Nigeria must step out of the political campaign involving GMOs and focus more on scientific information backed by evidence.
“We are currently faced with issues of hunger and food insecurity, therefore all hands must be on deck to think of the most appropriate strategy that will make safe and healthy food available to all Nigerians.
“Food is the only thing left for the common man, it must not be contaminated, and it must be free,’’ he added.