The Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency(NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, has restated that all approved Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) or food crops in Nigeria are safe for human consumption. Ebegba stated this in Abuja at the Science Hangout organized by Alliance for Science Nigeria in collaboration with NBMA and Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB), with the theme, “Nigeria’s Biosafety Regime for GMOs.” He explained that the approved genetically modified foods had been subjected to rigorous process and scrutiny before they were released for use.
According to him, before the official release of GMOs, it would take up to 13 years of rigorous process, to do a risk assessment on the issues of culture, environment, and human health, among others. He noted that his Agency has approved the commercial release of Bt.cotton and Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea, as the Agency has also reviewed various applications for confined trials of cassava, maize, and rice. He also revealed that the Agency has developed policies, and guidelines as well as acquired a GMO detector laboratory, which is used to ascertain whether any product is safe or not. He pointed out that following the amendment of the Act establishing NBMA in 2019, the Agency has been given more mandate to regulate gene editing and gene drive.
The essence of modern biotechnology
While stressing the importance of modern biotechnology to the development of the economy, Ebegba contended that the burgeoning population of Nigeria should not be a disadvantage but rather an advantage, if properly managed. He said: “I say this with all authority, biosafety is an economic enabler. The world cannot attain a green economy without applying safe modern biotechnology. “The increase in Nigeria’s population is not a disadvantage. It is an advantage. “Human labor is available. All that we need to do is to harness what we have and feed everybody. “The issue of crime will be reduced. Science and Technology can reduce crime. It can solve the energy crisis we have.” As part of measures to ensure the independence of the Agency in the discharge of its statutory responsibilities, he disclosed that NBMA has not relied on international donor funding. ” We don’t want to depend on donors. It is said that he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. They will direct us to do what they want. “So, on the issue of biosafety, the Federal Government has given us enablement, resources, even though not enough.” Ebegba tasked journalists to be factual in their science reportage to forestall misinforming the public while assuring that the doors of the Agency are wide open to clarify issues on biosafety.
In her remarks, Dr. Rose Gidado, Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, expressed joy at the giant strides made in the application of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria. Gidado noted that a delegation from Ghana was recently in Nigeria to understudy the milestones recorded in the country’s efforts to use agricultural technology to feed her teeming populace. She underscored the need for the deployment of science and technology to mitigate the plethora of challenges confronting the agricultural sector as well as ensure nutritional enhancement. She argued that some people reject genetically modified products due to ignorance while acknowledging that at the inception of GMOs, there was no adequate communication to the public on the benefits of the technology.
In his welcome remarks, Mr. Opuah Abeikwen, Coordinator, Alliance for Science Nigeria(ASN), explained that the group is a body of stakeholders who seek to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life of Nigerians. Abeikwen observed that despite the significant breakthroughs in modern biotechnology, there is still a public misunderstanding of its benefits. According to him, “The concept of biotechnology and biosafety is sophisticated and public enlightenment on its use, benefits, and contributions are crucial to enhance food security and ensure its successful adoption.” He noted that the challenge of food insecurity is a fundamental problem that requires urgent attention, quoting the recent report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO), which predicts that the food crisis will affect 19.4 million Nigerians in 21 States between June and August 2022. Abeikwen pointed out that agricultural biotechnology appears to have provided answers to myriad challenges confronting the agricultural sector. Buttressing the argument, he said, with the simple techniques in biotechnology, crops are developed to resist pests, withstand drought as well as increase productivity. “It is on this basis that the Federal Government established the National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA) in 2001 to lead the country on how to leverage this technology to solve some of the obstacles in the food chain.
“Furthermore, to demonstrate the nation’s commitment to tackling the food crisis that is threatening the citizenry, the Federal Government later in 2015, established the National Biosafety Management Agency as part of the legal requirement to superintend over the deployment and use of this technology in a manner that is in line with global best practice. “Since then, so much has been achieved with regard to their various mandates. NBMA for example, distinguished itself in 2019, when it approved the Pod Borer Resistant cowpea, commonly referred to as beans. “With this action, Nigeria joined other countries like South Africa that have approved genetically modified food crops in Africa,” he explained.