For any country to advance its economic growth, Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), analysts say, it must be at the forefront of its key sectors such as environment, health, industry and agriculture.
They are also of the opinion that, the concept of food production (agriculture) has evolved over the centuries with application of what can be referred to as contemporary technology of the time.
According to them, food crops are in fact, very different from original wild plants from where they was derived the name Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and become become inevitable part of food landscape.
Scientists say GMOs are biological entities that are genetically modified, using modern biotechnology techniques including living and dead biological entities while LMOs are primarily living GMOs.
To provide further understanding on GMOs and LMOs, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) recently organised a five-day workshop for stakeholders attended by no fewer than 20 countries in Africa.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, at the workshop, emphasised the importance of Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in achieving food security in the country.
Onu said that GMOs had important roles to play in the nation’s search for food security.
“It is important that we can feed our citizens and start the process of producing locally, many things that we import with GMOs.’’
According to him, GMOs have in recent years remained at the centre stage in national and intentional discourse.
“This is because we are facing new global challenges in agriculture, raw materials production and drugs for man and animals.
“In all these, modern biotechnology and genetic engineering holds the most potential in guaranteeing the success of human race.’’
Contributing, Prof. Alex Akpa, Director- General, NABDA, noted that for many years, Nigeria grappled with daunting challenges of matching food and agro-raw materials production and environmental integrity with population growth.
Akpa said in the recent years, with increased deployment of biotechnology as a tool of science, technology and innovation, such challenges have been transformed into national opportunities for national development.
The director-general further said that the agency had been supporting initiatives that enhanced credibility and public trust in biotechnology research and deployment.
“Our interventions are very strategic and have led to resounding successes in Bt Cotton commercialisation, approval for release of Bt Cowpea and even more recently, massive production of yam seedlings for the Nigerian yam value chain.
“Perhaps, more pertinent today is the enactment of the Bio-Safety Bill and establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), both of which received strong support from NABDA.
“The Bio-safety Bill has stimulated more activities in the deployment of biotechnology.
“These heightened interests have increased the need for NBMA regulation and approval of GM crops and related activities in Nigeria.
“Given these developments, NABDA considered it apt to embark on capacity building on detection and identification of LMOs in products of biotechnology modification,’’ Akpa said.
He said that it was heart-warming that Nigeria had adopted genetic engineering as viable technology for crop and animal improvement.
“In recent years, in collaboration with national and international partners, we have made significant investment in modern biotechnology to assist in deepening awareness of the technology and its impact on national growth and development.
According to him, the workshop was supported by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Italy and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), Canada and the NBMA.
Mr Austein Mcloughlin, a representative of the Secretariat of the SCBD, Canada said the secretariat had been building capacity of developing countries as part of efforts aimed at implementing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty governing the movement of LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology from one country to another.
It was adopted on Jan.29 2000 as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity and entered into force on Sept. 11, 2003.
Mcloughlin said he had beencvcvcc capacity of the developing countries in relation to protection and identification of LMOs and other biosafety related discipline.
Dr Rufus Ebegba of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), however, assured Nigerians of safe application of modern biotechnology to boost the economy and enhance environmental sustainability.
Ebegba said Nigeria believed in the application of safety modern biotechnology for the enhancement of economy, industrial development, growing of medical field, agriculture and other spheres of human endeavours.
According to him, Nigeria has signed and domesticated the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety by providing legal and administrative instrument for its implementation.
At the closing of the workshop, the course coordinator, Dr Toyin Solebo, said LMOs and GMOs were technologies that had come to stay but stressed the need for Nigeria to be equipped on its identification and detection.
Solebo, Deputy Director, Agriculture Biotechnology Department, NABDA said the workshop was also an avenue to grow the African network of GM labs to get more activities within the network.
“Like the European Union, they have become so organised in the regulation and analytical issues with GM crops.
“We really need to develop this relationship among ourselves as African countries and this training has provided a good opportunity for that,’’ she said.
Meanwhile, Mrs Maimuna Abdulmalik, a participant from the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said the workshop had helped to enhance her capacity in the area of LMOs/GMOs identification and detection.
“I have learnt that you can identify and detect GMOs/LMOs by PCR, which is Polymerase Chain Reaction, a technique used to detect the GMO at the DNA level.
“I can also detect the GMO and LMO at the protein level,’’ she said.
Abdulmalik said she would take what she had learnt to the classroom, to enlighten her students on ways of identifying and detecting GMOs in either food or crop plant, as well as utilise the knowledge to boost her research work.
Mr Mukwaba Erisa, a Biosafety Regulator from the Ministry Of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Uganda, said he would help build the capacity of regulators in his country through training, from what learnt.
“The practical knowledge has been a big opportunity first for all, I have learnt the data base and what to access internationally, I have learnt how to test for these LMOs.
He said the knowledge had been very practical, adding that it would help to change the regulators’ knowledge and all players in the system of biotechnology
For Mrs Julia Njagi, Principal Biosafety Officer, National Biosafety Authority, Kenya she learnt a lot from the event and from Nigeria, on how to apply biotechnology in food production.
“Nigeria is ahead of Kenya, Nigeria has approved the drought resistant cowpea and cotton but what have is Bt maize and Bt cotton in Kenya.
“What we are doing is performance trial and Nigeria has already gone ahead of us with likelihood of commercialised them before Kenya,’’ she said.
In all, the participants expressed optimism that with knowledge gained and with harmonisation of various regulations and biosafety protocols, GMOs and LMOs will enhance food security in the country as well as the continent. (NAN)