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Grassroots training in Nigeria creates GMO science advocates

By Modesta Nnedinso Abugu

Some 105 Nigerians gained a newfound appreciation and enthusiasm for agricultural biotechnology after attending an Aug. 17-18 grassroots training session in that nation.

Participants said the training — sponsored by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, and Nigeria Alliance for Science — gave them a better understanding of GMOs so they can respond accurately to questions about the technology and its applications. The session also educated them on how to speak to others about the technology.

During the training, OFAB Coordinator Dr. Rose Gidado noted that agricultural biotechnology is a tool that is applied in the improvement of crop varieties, and not a product itself. She urged participants to see the tool as one with potential to solve the challenges of drought and insect pests, as well as enhance  the nutritional value of crops. Improved agricultural technologies are needed with the Nigerian population on the increase, she said.

While speaking on the principles of effective science communication, Gidado said the discussion around GMOs is distorted because of misinformation and propaganda spread by anti-GMO groups to create fear, outrage, anxiety and mistrust. She introduced three guidelines to facilitate public understanding of GMOs, and advised avoiding non-scientific jargon and fear-inducing terms when stating facts and  communicating to the public. 

An effective communication strategy must be based on scientific facts, not hear-say, Gidado said. 

While encouraging participants to be champions of agri-biotech, Prof. Lucy Jumeyi Ogbadu, director general/chief executive officer of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), said communicating science is not about any institution or organization. 

“It is about creating access to innovations for farmers to help solve the problems of hunger, malnutrition and poverty,” Ogbadu said. “Evidence-based communication on this subject is a social justice issue. Consumers and end users of agri-biotech products have a right to information on its benefits and concerns.”

Similarly, Rufus Ebegba, director general/ chief executive officer of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), said biosafety practices ensure that genetic modification is safely practiced. The agency was created to regulate the activities of scientist to ensure that any GM crop released into the market is safe for human consumption and will have no negative effect on the environment.

Sarah Iweajunwa, scientific officer in the OFAB Unit of NABDA, introduced the use of message maps for efficient science communication. She explained that message maps serve as guidelines that can be used to speak to different stakeholders and tailored to different audience. She engaged with the participants to develop sample responses to GM concerns using available scientific facts.

At the close of the first day, enthusiastic participants suggested organizing additional training sessions for individuals in different localities to help them appreciate the potentials of biotechnology in agriculture, especially for the growing population.

Discussions and breakout sessions that took place helped participants to develop strategies and tactics that can serve as a guide to create awareness and increase public understanding of agricultural biotechnology in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.

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