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June 11, 2019

Nigeria: Gene Modified Crops Debate Rages

... many African countries are reluctant to approve the use of GMOs.

Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the league of nations that are already using genetic engineering (GE), also called genetic modification (GM), to boost food production. Since then, there has been a protracted debate over the application of genetically modified crops into the food system in Nigeria. These protracted debates over their use and possible dangers have birthed two groups- Pro-GMO and Anti-GMO.

Despite the clear link between agricultural productivity and technology, there are, however, uncertainties and confusion in government responses to a wide range of agricultural, health, social, economic and environmental issues associated with the application and regulation of modern biotechnology in agricultural practice.

[..there is..] growing opposition by a coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) against the introduction of GMOs in the country.

Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Mr. Nnimo Bassey, argued that use of gene drive organisms has the potential of wiping off whole species of organisms. He argued that doors will be open for all sorts of synthetic organisms to be released or experimented on in Nigeria.

President of the Nigeria Institute of Food, Science and Technology (NIFST), Dahiru Adamu, said,

“genetically modified seeds would make it impossible for our local seedlings to be productive for farmers and the nation. Once we allow genetically modified seeds to come into Nigeria to be planted by our farmers, which may mark the end of Nigeria. This is because by the time these seedlings are planted, one, two to five years, it will compare with our local seedlings and will not allow them to germinate. This will lead us to buying seeds from them and therefore, hold us to ransom, and become the determinant factor whether the country gets food or not and in turn become a big problem for the country.” .

...the Managing Director of Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), a leading health, legal and environmental organisation, Prof. Philip C. Njemanze, said, “In an environment like Nigeria where corruption prevails, the biotechnology companies could bribe officials to look the other way on crucial information on the health hazards of GMO crops.”

Njemanze said, “The rising rate of cancers, infertility, mental diseases, and autistic spectrum disorders in children in Nigeria is related to the increasing use of Monsanto Roundup pesticide – Glysophate. The pesticide when used kills weeds but spares GMO crops.”

However, pro-GMO civil society groups led by the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (NBBC) has said the development of the Pod-Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR-Cowpea), a GMO product is a confirmation of our expertise in Nigeria to be able to provide a home grown solution to our pest and diseases problems in agriculture.

President of NBBC Celestine Aguoru argued that the modification of beans, just one crop, has brought so many benefits to the country. He said: “The benefits include reduction in the use of dangerous chemicals, protection of Nigeria’s position as the largest producer of beans.

“Reduction in the spending of Nigeria’s foreign exchange in the purchase of over 500,000 tons of beans annually from other countries. Farmers can now heave a sigh of relief from chemicals which they have to spray about 10 times for each beans season and that Nigeria is going to save a lot of foreign exchange used in the importation of chemicals,” said Aguoru.

He further said: “We are also using this platform to call on the federal government to ignore the call by the non-scientific activists to ban the GM beans because it is safe and poses no proven harm to human or animals. We urge the Federal Government to increase budgetary allocations to universities and research institutes to enable them undertake research that meets national aspirations as we have seen in this case of PBR Cowpea.

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