A new technological development to curtail for food crisis is under siege, Samuel Oyejola writes on what to expect in 2017

No doubt 2016 was an attention-grabbing year for Nigeria in the advancement of biotechnology application in food security in the country. Despite the campaign against the National Biosafety Development Agency and its sister agency, the National Biotechnology Development Agency, as development and regulatory agencies Nigerians are well informed on the activities and mandate of the agencies and not surrogates of multinationals interested in GM development in the country.

Conceivably, NBMA and NABDA did not envisaged, perhaps minutely the strength and the limit anti-GM campaigners could reach yet, the NBMA was able to cash on the level of public interest aroused by this wolf-cry in the GM product of those against its development in the country to create needed awareness.

The likes of Aniedi Okure, the Executive Director of Africa Faith and Justice Network categorically called for the proscription of the Biosafety Act, although, his concern basically was “a single company coming to Nigeria and monopolising what you plant and deciding what you take, that is dangerous.”

Aniedi Okure fears the technology may be monopolised by multinationals at the detriment of local farmers
Nnimon Bassey, the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation raised the fear that GM crops destroy soil nutrients and change the way crops are grown in Nigeria.

However a critical look at the whole debate revealed that the campaign against GM development in the country is more of proxy battle between the agro-allied industry and the biotechnology industry. GM crops need little or no fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides which are what the traditional means apply.

Despite this, Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited was able to get the approval of NBMA for on-farm demonstration of the product in the country for production of GM maize and cotton. The agency has also directed all super stores in the Federal Capital Territory to clear their shelves of all GM foods as none have been approved for commercial and local consumption.

In the last quarter of 2016, a research conducted by Francesco Cilibenti revealed that farmers in the United States of America who planted GM soy beans and maize spend little on herbicides in the first few years of demonstration however in the long run weeds around the GM soy develop immunity and farmers end up using large amount of herbicides in order to keep the situation under control.

While the economic implication of this and other grey issues would be the challenge the agency and NABDA in 2017, GM products’ “nay” campaigners would dwell more on health and environmental impact. Interestingly, the proxy war between biotechnologists and agro-allied industrialist would deepen.

There is no better time for Nigeria to make meaningful impact in the global development of biotechnology, focus on research and development of weed resistance reduction long term economic gain and also keep the balance. Technologist must also not forget to ensure that the impact of GM on host environment demand greater consideration than the development of GM.

This article was first published by TIME NIGERIA MAGAZINE