For Africa’s most populous nation to reduce its food import bill and attain food security, it must integrate and adopt agricultural biotechnology to boost farmers’ productivity, scientists and plant breeders have said.
They noted that the country’s agricultural sector has emerged as a promising solution to diversify the economy, stimulate job creation and earn substantial foreign exchange while driving sustainable economic development.
However, they stated that the country is yet to leverage the opportunities in the sector owing to the slow adoption of new technologies, such as biotechnology, in its agricultural space. They noted that biotech offers new tools to boost food production.
They explained that it was expedient to understand that agricultural biotechnology alone is not an all-sufficient approach but would definitely help in transforming Nigeria’s food system.
The experts, who spoke during a one-day interactive session on Navigating Biotech Frontiers for Accurate Science Communication for Editors held in Lagos, also urged science journalists to be proactive in their reporting about the science of biotechnology in food production.
“Biotechnology offers new tools for increasing agricultural productivity and protecting food crops from climate changes such as heat, floods and drought,” said Rose Gidado, director of the agricultural biotechnology department at the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).
“With the current state of food emergency declared in the food and agricultural sector, the integration of biotechnology tools into Nigeria’s agriculture has become a necessity,” Gidado said.
According to her, no trace of ill health or safety concerns has been recorded for the already commercialised and adopted biotech crops – BT cotton and cowpea in the market.
Speaking on the aim of the one-day sensitization workshop for science editors, Sarah Ogochukwu, head at Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology & Biotech Awareness, said it is to provide accurate and up-to-date information about advances in the country’s biotechnology adoption.
According to her, it is that science editors and senior reporters are fully acquainted with facts about genetically modified organisms to enable them to effectively disseminate the same to the public.
“We need to demystify the concept of agricultural biotech and address the misconception about the safety of modern agricultural biotechnology and it is the journalists that can help in this regard,” she said.
“Another objective of the workshop is to enlighten and keep the participants abreast with the developments in biotechnology and how such changes can improve lives and general well-being of Nigerians.”
Abdullahi Mustapha, director general and CEO of National Biotechnology Development Agency stated that for agricultural biotechnology to reach its full potential, it must be understood, accepted and embraced by the public.
“It is our shared responsibility to ensure that accurate and balanced information about agricultural biotechnology is readily available to all Nigerians,” he said.
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“This will empower them to make informed decisions about its applications and impacts on our society,” he noted.
He stated that the media plays a crucial role in informing the public about these advancements and their implications.
Mustapha added that the media is the bridge that connects complex scientific discoveries with broader society, translating technical jargon into understandable language, and fostering informed discussions.
Science of biotechnology
Biotechnology is a transformative field that has the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation and the world at large.
From agriculture to healthcare for environmental conservation and industrial innovation, biotechnology is at the forefront of driving positive change.
It is a process by which crops are bred in a way that increases their nutritional value, a procedure experts say is much cheaper than adding micronutrients to already processed foods.
It has two key comparative advantages; its long-term cost-effectiveness and its ability to reach underserved and rural populations.
Biotechnology has enabled countries such as China, India and the United States to develop healthier foods for their people.