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Nigeria leads charge in GMO adoption

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By Abraham Adekunle

FG has already approved certain GM crops for commercialization.

According to the World Health Organization, a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a plant, animal and microbe whose genetic material have been changed using genetic engineering techniques. Experts have revealed that to produce a GM plant, a new DNA is transferred into plant cells, and then the cells are grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds that these plants produce will inherit the new DNA. This variant of plants have become attractive to African countries, especially as they need to solve hunger issues. One of the potential advantages of these lab-grown crops is its increased attractiveness to consumers such as in apples and potatoes that are less likely to bruise or turn brown.

Others include enhanced flavor, longer shelf life (hence, less waste), increased nutritional value (as in golden rice which can boost the health of people with limited access to foods), and the ability to grow in salty soil. However, people are concerned over the safety of consuming these crops to human health and the environment. As far as it is known, GM crops are still relatively new and experts are still researching them. So, there is the risk of long-term environmental damage such as infertile soil, biodiversity loss and new GMO – resistant pests.

Evidence of the demerits of these organisms abound.

Experts have even revealed that there is evidence that these plants can cause cancer and allergies. They are plants, so they cannot be controlled easily. Contamination from them could have serious ecological, economic and social impacts. For example, their pollen, which can travel long distances through wind and insects, can pose a threat to wild and weedy crops, non-GM crops and organic farming. The result could be devastating. Livestock such as sheep, cattle, goats, and others that depend on feeding on weedy crops will be affected.

Therefore, they can never coexist with non-GM crops of the same species without the risk of contaminating them, especially in Africa where tight controls over seeds and farming is unrealistic. The use of some lab-grown crops can even have negative effects on non-target organisms, soil and water ecosystems. According to experts, two of the Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURT) are A-Terminator and A-traitor. The former grow into plants with sterile seeds, while the latter are plants that need to be sprayed with certain chemicals to grow properly. While the technologies are aimed at solving the problem of hunger, they offer the farmer no incentive. Instead, they make the farmer depend on seed companies for supply and expensive chemicals.

Nigeria is at risk of becoming a testing ground for these crops.

As the push to introduce these technologies to African agriculture intensifies in equal measure globally, Nigeria could be in danger of becoming the dumping ground for the struggling GM industry and the laboratory for greedy scientists. It is possible that the supply of altered agricultural products to Africa could lead to dependence on foreign seed companies. This will not only affect the country’s agro-industrial sector but also require significant foreign exchange to successfully run. As well, it will discourage those who are interested in organic farming, diminishing our crop diversity and local agricultural products. At this point, the market would be saturated with products from lab-grown seeds such that organic farming becomes unprofitable.

Many African countries export a large number of organic agricultural goods to European nations. The natural disposition of these countries is to avoid GMO. So, many African countries have a ban in place for it, which affected the choice of their trading partners. The hesitation to adopt these products is rooted in the concern for food safety, ethics, environmental risks, loss of biodiversity and lack of regulations. It seems the tide is about to gradually change. The United States loses millions of dollars in revenue because of trade partners who restrict the import of GM crops.

A number of crops have been approved for adoption.

To counter these losses, stakeholders with close ties to the industry are lobbying for its global adoption through the dissemination of positive information about their benefits. Recently, the director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that it was imperative for the agency to collaborate with medical practitioners in Nigeria to desensitize the people about the safety of GMOs. This is to disabuse their minds from wrong information. It seems that these lobbyists have captured Nigeria and some African countries. Already, GMO maize, beans, cotton and soybean have been officially approved for commercialization by the Federal Government. Nigeria is also listed among the African countries leading in biotech crop adoption on the continent.

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