A leading West African GMO advocate has pointed to South Africa to show the technology is safe and anti-GMO propaganda is baseless.
“The lesson we learned is that South Africa is a model for the rest of Africa,” Dr. Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, West Africa regional representative of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), told journalists during a recent tour of the nation by Nigerian delegates. The tour was spearheaded by AATF in collaboration with South Africa-based AfricaBio.
Since adopting GM crops 15 years ago, South Africa has enhanced its food security, improved the lot of farmers and significantly contributed to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — without any negative effect, he noted. About 80 percent of the nation’s maize is now GM.
“So the main lesson for us is that we really need to look at their experience to teach our own biosafety people,” he said. “And secondly, it also showed that all the anti GM propaganda is baseless because in South Africa, people have been eating GM maize and GM soybeans for 15 years and nobody got sick or died. That’s living proof that all the anti GMO propaganda has no basis. So, that’s the lesson I take.”
Prof. Mohammed Faguji Ishiyaku, Nigeria’s principal investigator of the pod-borer resistant (PBR) cowpea project at the Institute for Agriculture Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, said the tour showed delegates that agriculture could only thrive as a business by using modern biotechnology to enhance productivity, lower the cost of production and heighten the value of the crops.
“So what we need to do, those of us who are scientists and policy makers especially, is that we need to recognize that if we really want to lift our people out of poverty, the answer is the deployment of technology like biotechnology,” he said. “The current agricultural crops that are developed using biotechnology should be quickly hastened to go through the official processes of release so that our farmers can benefit from them.
“Indecision is very bad,” he continued. “Sitting without taking any decision simply because you’re not sure, but you don’t have any tangible reasons apart from emotion, is not good for national development.”
Nigeria is currently concluding research on its leading biotechnology products: cowpea (beans) and cotton that have been genetically modified to include a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene that provides inherent resistance to pod borer and bollworm infestations, respectively. The crops are due to be commercialized this year.
The plant breeder emphasized that leveraging modern technology in agriculture is the panacea to low farmer incomes, saying the South African government is futuristic.
“They have looked into the future,” he noted. “They realize that technology is the answer and they use it. So, in the same vein, those of us in the entourage, especially from the government policy making machinery, should realize that this is the answer. If we want to develop our economy, we must leverage technologies like biotechnology and other technologies. The current federal government program on recovery and growth should have the deployment of appropriate technologies, including biotechnology, as one of its main cardinal principles for growing our economy.”
Similarly, IAR Executive Director Prof. Umar Ibrahim Abubakar stated that one of the most important impacts of agricultural biotechnology is enhancement of food and nutritional security.
“Globally, one of the problems facing the world today is food insecurity,” he said. “Many children, families, go hungry and so on. So with the release of these varieties production will be increased and inevitably there’ll be cheaper, affordable, accessible food on the table of every Nigerian. And apart from that, because of the obvious advantage of the Bt you spray less (pesticides). That means you have less cost of production and your profitability will increase and definitely that will increase the income of the farmers and that would create employment for the farmers and inevitably improve the economy of the country.”
Another delegate, Dr. Rose Gidado, assistant director of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and country coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, emphasized that biotechnology holds the solution to feeding the nation’s rapidly growing population. The all-around gain the nation could reap from the adoption and application of biotechnology cannot not be overemphasized, she said.