GMO corn for illustration

The GMOs debate and task ahead of Nigerian scientists

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By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

The discourse on safety of genetically engineered crops categorised as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is heating up globally, including Nigeria.

Just recently, the Federal Government approved the commercial release and open cultivation of a new maize variety, Tela Maize, a genetically modified maize.

The development of Tela maize was led by researchers at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who say it resists armyworm, stem borers and tolerates moderate drought.

At the commercial release of Tela Maize, Uche Nnaji, Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology, said the crop was a remarkable step at enhancing agricultural productivity to ensure food sufficiency in Nigeria.

“It exemplifies our commitment to harnessing the power of biotechnology in addressing pressing agricultural challenges, enhancing crop resilience, and improving the livelihood of our farmers and citizens.

“It also strengthens our position in the global agricultural landscape, fostering economic stability and opening new avenues for trade and export,” he said.

Still from a government’s standpoint, Dr Agnes Asagbra, the Director-General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), recently said the pursuit of effective biosafety management and inclusive engagement was paramount.

According to her, the agency recognises the importance of diverse perspectives and expertise in shaping comprehensive solutions to biosafety challenges.

“We have established robust frameworks and enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence to national and international biosafety regulations and standards,” she said.

Worthy of note here is that Mexico, the birth place of maize, has banned genetically modified corn which it says is not safe for human consumption and threatens the biodiversity.

Some other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas have also banned the importation and cultivation of GMOs over safety concerns.

The skeptics of GMOs in Nigeria posit that the science and technology backing transgenic crops is not clear enough.

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They express worries on the inherent hazards GMOs pose to biodiversity, food safety, and the health of Nigerians.

More so, they argue that GM crops contain chemicals that could predispose humans to deadly ailments, damage soil health and phase out traditional seeds as both cannot co-exist.

At the forefront of the kick against GMOs, is the Centre for Food Safety and Agricultural Research (CEFSAR), a Non-Governmental Organisation.

CEFSAR has consistently urged the Federal Government to be mindful of the acceptance and deployment of genetically engineered crops, categorised as GMOs due to safety concerns.

Prof. Qristtuberg Amua, CEFSAR’s Executive Director, said that Nigeria did not have the requisite laboratory infrastructure to test and verify the safety of the GMOs products in the food industry.

He argued that the regulatory framework had no provision for labeling GMOs which invariably would deny consumers of the right to make knowledgeable decision of what to eat to and what not to eat.

The professor contented that GMOs were laced with chemicals which could lead to extinction of indigenous crops and a dependency on chemical-intensive farming methods.

He said the primary objectives of CEFSAR were to preserve native seed varieties, research sustainable agriculture practices and promote agro-ecological farming systems.

“Others are to support local and indigenous farming communities, and educate farmers and stakeholders in the immediate society.

“We first of all begin with all those who consume GMOs in the form of modern crops that are being promoted in this country.

“And also, if you look at the venue of this engagement, it is the Federal Ministry of Justice, and a lot of the intrusion that is coming through GMOs is coming through policies and laws.

“And a lot of these policies pass through clearance from this ministry.

“So, we believe that by initiating this conversation, we are attracting attention into the concerns of GMOs,” he said.

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Amua said he was hopeful that the advocacy would gain momentum because important stakeholders would begin to talk about it and draw the attention of the government and consumers to the dangers inherent in pushing for GMOs.

According to the academic, food security has an intricate nexus with national security as a hungry man is angry man.

“We have observed that parts of issues of national security are born out of aggression between individuals or groups.

“But beyond that, a crime is fueled when the larger population is hungry; they don’t get food to eat and that translates to poverty.”

The don said that in the present context, today, it was being said that food was scare in Nigeria and it was because certain food production areas in the country had been attacked consistently for over a decade.

He said the attacks on food production had displaced people and initiated food scarcity.

“Because they cannot farm, we have food scarcity; so you can see, on one hand, national insecurity produces food insecurity.

“Now, take a reverse of it; because there is national food insecurity now, it is going to perpetrate further our national insecurity, in the sense that you have people taken away from their farms.

“A lot of farmers have been chased into camps.”

He said that CEFSAR’s observations indicated that there had been a lot of misinformation or deception targeted at some people in government—those who were at critical point of driving policy.

According to him, the essence of the campaign is to attract attention and partner with government and in its capacity on education of the citizens on issues concerning GMOs.

“I am a professor, a scientist. I have conducted some of these researches myself.

“So, I believe that with me involved in this conversation, the people in government who genuinely have been misinformed or deceived, will pick interest and begin to ask the relevant questions,” he said.

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Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said there was need to stick to agro-ecological methods of food production.

Bassey said that available data showed that 70 per cent of small scale farmers fed the world through agro-ecological principles and techniques.

“So why do one want to jump into something that produces your food in a system with so many uncertainties?–a system that laces your food with pesticides, chemicals and insecticides.

“We need to ban them; we don’t need GMOs. Nigeria and indeed, Africa, has all it takes to grow food, to produce food that can feed our people and also export to other countries,” he said.

Deserving no less attention, Dr Segun Adebayo, Director, Operations, CEFSAR, argued that GM crops could cause increased pesticide runoff into water sources; thereby posing a huge dangers to the soil, human health and the environment.

Adebayo said there was a correspondence between the consumption of GMOs and the surge in health issues such as cancer and organ failure, particularly among young persons.

According to him, everybody who eats is a stakeholder in the business of food.

“You are what you eat; you have to be concerned about what you eat; that is the reason we are having this engagement.

“The first step to being healthy is your food,” he said.

Adebayo urged Nigerians to be wary of GMOs and promote the natural food and stressing the imperative of creating a balance of knowledge to equip the public with the opportunity with consumption choices.

As the GMOs controversy rages, critical stakeholders hold that Nigerian scientists should intensify research on transgenic crops rather than depending on foreign research outcomes for what we consume. (NANFesatures)

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