Photo Michael Uwemedimo/cmapping.net
As the world marked Earth Day, conversations in Nigeria turned to the role that biotechnology can play in helping the country conserve its deteriorating environment.
Nigeria currently is reeling from a range of environmental problems, including erosion in the southeast, oil spills in the south, flooding in the southwest, desert encroachment and increasing sand dunes in the north, wildlife poaching in protected areas, deforestation, unbearable heat and a scarcity of drinking water.
But scientists and government officials, in a series of exclusive interviews with the Alliance for Science, opined that biotechnology is one of the technologies that could help Nigeria solve some of its most pressing environmental problems.
Dr. Yerima Peter Tarfa, director of the Department for Climate Change in the Federal Ministry of Environment, said biotechnology — if rightly applied — holds enormous potentials for environmental conservation. He described it as a platform technology that may significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Tarfa noted that countries in the developed world have been deploying the technology in environmental conservation.
Dr. Rose Gidado, Nigeria Chapter country coordinator for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, offered more specifics, noting that biotech holds enormous potential for tackling the pollution and fossil fuel challenges in the nation’s Niger Delta region.
The country has experienced numerous significant oil spills, which can leave long-lasting environmental, economic and health problems. Citing Nigerian government statistics, the BBC reported that there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, giving Nigeria the dubious distinction of the world’s “oil pollution capital.”
Gidado noted that biotechnology could be effectively deployed for soil restoration in the Delta, as well as aid reforestation efforts throughout the country. As CNN previously reported, Nigeria has one of the world’s fastest rates of deforestation, losing nearly four percent of its rainforests each year.
“It is no news that our forests are gradually disappearing due to the activities of tree harvesters who fell trees every day for their firewood trade,” Gidado said. “Biotechnology presents an alternative for reforesting the forests through mass multiplication of tree seedlings. This will enable the firewood traders to have their own tree gardens, which they can grow and harvest in record time.”
She also highlighted numerous environmental and social gains that the nation stands to make by embracing biotech in revamping its agricultural sector.
“Biotechnology can make a tremendous contribution to combating climate change by reducing the environmental impact of productive agriculture,” Gidado said. “This includes a significant reduction in pesticide use, savings on fossil fuels, decreasing CO2 emissions through no or less plowing, and conserving soil and moisture by optimizing the practice of no till through the use of crops with herbicide tolerant traits.”
Additionally, biotechnology can help the nation farm effectively in drought prone areas through the cultivation of drought tolerant seeds and other climate-resilient varieties. “Modern biotechnology will help our nation to produce a high yield variety of seedlings that are also disease and pest resistant which can also withstand harsh and adverse weather conditions in view of the current climate change which is experienced everywhere,” Gidado said. “By cultivating high yielding seed varieties, farmers will increase their productivity and earn more money for themselves. In this way, biotechnology also will be contributing immensely in the fight against poverty.”
Dr. Mathew Dore, country coordinator of the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), said microbes and their biosynthetic capabilities have been invaluable in finding solutions for several intractable environmental problems.
“They have been used to positive effect in human and animal health, genetic engineering, environmental protection, and municipal and industrial waste treatment,” he noted. “Microorganisms have enabled feasible and cost-effective responses which would have been impossible via straightforward chemical or physical engineering methods. Microbial technologies have of late been applied to a range of environmental problems, with considerable success.”
With climate change and pollution harming ecosystems in Nigeria and throughout the planet, it becomes increasingly urgent to get all hands and new technologies on deck to solve these problems.