NIGERIA is one of six African countries that have significantly stepped up the production of genetically modified (GM) crops over the last year as part of a masterplan to dramatically boost food production across the continent.
According to a recent report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Nigeria, Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa, Sudan and Swaziland, are leading the way with African GM crop production. ISAAA’s Global Status of Commercialised Biotech crops report, revealed that Africa doubled the number of countries planting biotech crops from three in 2018 to six in 2019.
It pointed out that the six countries grew GM maize, soybeans and cotton on approximately 3m hectares by the end of 2019. In addition, the report revealed that a seventh country, Kenya, granted approval for the cultivation of Bt cotton and may soon join the league of adopter nations on the continent.
“Nigeria approved the commercial planting of pod borer-resistant GM cowpea, adding a new biotech crop to the global biotech basket,” the report added. Some experts say Nigerian farmers are yet to fully understand the efficacy of planting GM seeds, while some believe that biotech seeds might contribute to the soil toxicity already being observed in their farms alongside other complications.
In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Food crops for example can be genetically engineered to be resistant to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage and chemical treatments or just to improve the nutrient profile of the crop.
Genetic modification can also be applied to non-food crops for the production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels and other industrially useful goods, as well as for bioremediation. According to the ISAA report, Africa also recorded significant progress in biotech crop research, regulation and acceptance, as evident in Mozambique, Niger Republic, Ghana, Rwanda, and Zambia.
According to the report, Niger Republic became the latest country to pass a biosafety law, as Rwanda joined Kenya and Uganda in undertaking research into GM cassava, while Zambia approved the importation of GM produce. It also noted that Mozambique has completed an application for environmental release of biotech maize, as Ghana passed a legislative instrument that would facilitate biosafety review of GM crops for commercialisation.
Worldwide, the top five countries with the widest area of biotech crops were the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India. With high adoption rates of principal biotech crops in these countries, approximately 1.95bn people or 26% of the world reaped the benefits of biotechnology in 2019, the report added.
However, Nnimo Bassey, the director of Nigeria’s Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said this is very shameful for Nigeria. He added that unfortunately Nigeria has a biotechnology agency whose job appears to be just to permit GMOs rather than regulating the entry of GMOs into Nigeria.
“Instead of leading Africa to protect our biodiversity and natural varieties, it is now seen as leading in destroying what nature has given us,” Mr Bassey said.