NAS: Conventional ag won’t feed Nigeria

By Nkechi Isaac

March 20, 2018

Nigerian scientists are drumming up support for modern agricultural biotechnology, saying the country cannot feed its growing population with the current conventional method of farming.

In an exclusive interview with the Alliance, Nigeria Academy of Science  President Mosto Onuoha said the current method of farming would not sustain the nation and its people in years to come. He was participating in an Abuja workshop organized by the NAS and the International Council for Science (ICS) around the theme “Shaping the future of researchers in developing countries.”

Prof. Onuoha argued that modern agricultural biotechnology holds the key to the nation’s future food security, saying it has the ability to help the nation grow better seeds that are resistant to pests and diseases, and able to combat the harmful effects of climate change while reducing the use of pesticides.

According to him, genetically engineered seeds will help farmers get good yield, which can guarantee food security for the nation in the future.

“Feeding our people in the next generation cannot be done the way we’re doing now,” he said. “Science has the ability, the right seeds even, to combat the bad effects of climate change — the adaptation is science that will be used. If the rivers are drying up it is science that will provide the solution in the types of crops that will help fight the seasonal changes and so on. We have to prepare for that and the population is increasing and we have to be thinking ahead. That’s the area that we’re lacking.”

He urged government at all levels to invest in the future by looking at long-term plans that would guarantee the nation’s food security.

Similarly, the past president of NAS, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, noted that Nigeria is not growing enough to feed her population currently and also said that biotechnology has the potential to help the nation grow enough food to feed its population today and in the future.

“Of course, you see right now what we have in our food baskets may be enough if the lands are properly harnessed but as the population grows this is going to get inadequate,” he pointed out. “So we need biotechnology to produce more safe foods for our people.”

Leiv Sydnes, chairman of the ICS committee on freedom and responsibility in the conduct of science, noted in his presentation — entitled “Responsibility in science everywhere” — that science has tremendous value in its own right and that the importance of research for  society is undisputable.

Sydnes, a professor of chemistry at the University of Bergen, Norway, said ICS would act as the global voice of science to speak for the value of science and the need for informed understanding and decision-making. The organization also will stimulate and support international scientific research on major issues of global concern, pointing out that the objective of their mission is to improve the environment for research where needed; enable the use of science-based solutions to societal problems; advocate for freedom of movement for scientists all over the world; and increase awareness of hidden threats to research integrity.

Speaking on the principle of universality of science, Sydnes said: “The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognizing its benefits and possible harms.”

He said that despite the global controversy surrounding biotechnology, Nigeria would derive a lot of benefits from biotechnology in areas such as improved seeds and yields.

“Nigeria, as well as most other countries, will benefit from progress in research in that regard. I don’t know if you’ll be able to be self-sufficient because I don’t know enough about your country to tell that, but there are definitely challenges that are going to be solved regarding both improved crops and quality of the crops, and preventing crops from being destroyed,” he stated. “This is, of course, in some aspects a delicate issue because you have genetically modified crops that are sort of controversial in many countries.”

Sydnes underscored the role of scientists in bridging the information divide by educating the public on the immense potential available for the nation in biotechnology, stressing there could be no major breakthrough until the public was carried along.

“So what we’re saying is that it is possible to make progress, but the public is reluctant and that’s why I am emphasizing very much the importance of communicating very well with the public,” he added. “Scientists can’t be far ahead of the public because we are going to serve the public and the main task for us is really to get scientific competence so we can solve urgent and future problems and also avoid future problems while doing the best we can.”