Story by Steve Agbota
As affordability and availability of food has come under unprecedented pressures around the world due to population explosion; countries have began looking for new ways to meet citizens’ food demands.
In the face scramble for survival some people consider genetically modified crops known as Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) as the logical way to feed and medicate an overpopulated world.
By 2050, the global population is expected to rise above 9 billion, and the existing amount of arable land is expected to decrease significantly due to anthropogenic climate change and urbanisation, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO-UN). This also means that every country had to look for alternative ways to feed its citizens since the conventional agriculture could not be enough to cater for the population increasing at alarming rate and people viewed GMO as the only way to complement organic farming.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, for example, through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.
There are three categories of GM traits, which can be distinguished: first-generation GM crops involve improvements in agronomic traits, with better resistance to pests and diseases while the second-generation GM crops involve enhanced quality traits, such as higher nutrient contents of food products and the third-generation crops are plants designed to produce special substances for pharmaceutical or industrial purposes.
Following the approval of National Biosafety Management Act 2015, controversy broken out among stakeholders over the move to introduce Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) into the country. Some group of people totally kicked against it while some supported the introduction of GM crops. As against Monsanto’s attempts to introduce GMO cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems, Nigerians urged government to reject it. One hundred organisations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.
On the other hand, the Association of Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (AMLSCN) at the end of the annual scientific conference in Abuja recently, cautioned the Federal Government against accepting the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods in the country as the consequences may affect the nation in the long run, saying that the effects of GMO could be severe on the nation’s health care system.
They said: “GMO has its merits, but caution needs to be applied in its acceptability in a society like Nigeria considering our weak institutions and inadequate diagnostic infrastructure for detection of GMO related products, controlling and detecting the consequences of GMO in our society.”
“However, the long term adverse effects without research, is a source of major concern to the Association, since there has been very little testing and research done on Genetically Modified foods and drugs in Nigeria. This makes many people feel uneasy at the high use of the foods and drugs containing GMO.”
The Federal Government vowed to protect the public against any harmful effects of Genetically Modified Foods (GMO), the Director General of the National Bio-safety Management Agency, Mr Rufus Ebegba, said that though the technology had its pitfalls if not properly supervised, it remains the sure way to improve food production for Nigeria’s growing population.
Meanwhile, some experts in support of GMO, said genetic engineering has led to the development of improved crops such as cotton, soybean, cowpea, cassava, tomato, coffee, banana and several products derived from them. They say the technique has also been used to generate crops with improved protein content, higher oil yield, and plants that serve as biofactories for hormones, vitamins and growth factors that could improve health care.
They blamed the on going criticism and debate against GMO foods on ignorance of some professionals, who they said need more education rather than feeding people with misinformation about GMO crops and creating unnecessary tensions and fears across the board.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the Chief Executive Officer of AgroNigeria, Mr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, said the Academy of Science in the United States has taken time over a stretch of 10 years to analyse the argument related to genetic modification and they have come out to say that GMO is not harmful and there is no evidence that genetically modified foods is harmful to health.
He added: “Basically I am of the school of thought that believes in the positive impact that is going to bear on human life, in which a GMO formed the critical aspect of biotechnology. If you look at humanity in general and you look at the fact that by 2050, we will be looking to feed nine billion people, we really need to have a higher level of production and sophisticated scientific way of producing food thatn what is obtainable presently.
Remember, first and foremost that land is becoming scarce, all human being are coming into the world and we are highly profound in term of poverty, the world over. So solution that will be required to ensure food security and such solution will have to be fend for everyday run on the meal kind of solution we have. That is what science and this biotechnology will provide. It is when you have food you will be talking whether it is GMO or not. You ensure that there is food security in the country, which is when you will be looking at how did this food come about.”
Some advanced countries adopted GMO foods over the years, which include United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Germany, Philippines, India Colombia and host of others. African countries that have also adopted GMO, include; South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso. Reports have it that, for the first time, there is a lead country commercializing biotechnology crops in each of the three regions of the continent. But of recent, Burkina Faso had issues with GMO cotton and the country placed embargo on the commodity. UN officials indicated that agricultural biotechnology is a complementary tool to traditional farming methods that can help poor farmers and consumers, and improve food security. Biotechnology can contribute to meeting the challenges faced by poor farmers and developing countries.
The global organizations recognized that biotechnology can play an important role in fighting food insecurity by expanding and enhancing the global food supply by increasing productivity per hectare; decreasing cost of production by decreasing the amounts of certain inputs.
On improving the economics of poor rural communities and food access, 50 per cent of the world’s poorest people are small and resource-poor farmers, and another
20 per cent are the rural landless completely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, according to the World Health Organization’s Food Safety Department and he United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization.
Thus, increasing income of small and resource-poor farmers contributes directly to the poverty alleviation of a large majority (70%) of the world’s poorest people. Biotech cotton in India, China and South Africa and biotech maize in the Philippines and South
Africa have already made a significant contribution to the income of over 12 million poor farmers.