Nigeria marked a number of biotechnology milestones in 2016, and the coming year promises even more advancements.
The country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) approved the general release and marketing of Bt cotton in 2016, as well as confined field trials of Bt maize.
The year also witnessed massive enlightenment and awareness workshops that engaged Nigerians on a personal and corporate level. These engagements also saw the highest attendance to date of policy makers at an expert roundtable organized by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). The ministers of agriculture; science and technology; defense, and environment attended this roundtable, as well as the minister of state for environment.
The highpoint of the year was the endorsement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by Nigeria’s reputable, science-based professional body, the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS). The institution declared that GMOs are beneficial for crop improvement, as well as for improving the overall agricultural sector.
Going forward in 2017, the biotechnology sector is poised to explore the wealth of opportunities available in Nigeria. The emphasis will be on concluding research and field trials of the Maruca-resistant Bt cowpea and insect-resistant Bt cotton. The goal is to facilitate the commercialization of these crops, which is likely to happen simultaneously in 2018.
Bt cotton is already approved for general release. The Bt cowpea has undergone confined and multi-locational field trials. It is currently going through the on-station trial; the next trial will be held on the farmers’ fields. This will be followed by cultivation of the foundation/certification seed before the variety release, all of which would be concluded in 2017 before its expected commercialization in 2018.
Other crops currently at various stages of confined field trials (CFTs) in Nigeria include the Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice and the African Bio-fortified Sorghum (ABS).
There are also plans to begin CFTs for Bt maize, herbicide-tolerant soybeans and virus-resistant cassava bio-fortified with iron and zinc. These projects will be carried out by the mandate institutions for the crops in collaboration with NABDA, the biotechnology development agency.
The CFT for cassava would be conducted in collaboration with the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike in Abia State, while the maize CFT will be handled by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State, will manage the soybean trials.
Stakeholders in the biotechnology sector are also committed to continue their efforts to engage policy makers, government institutions, councils, professional bodies, religious organizations, individuals and academia in the quest to improve public understanding of the science behind GM crops and ways that agricultural biotechnology can profitably contribute to the economic development of the country.
Nkechi Isaac is a journalist with Leadership Newspaper, a national newspaper headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria, and a 2016 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow.