How Biotech Can Guarantee Improved Yields

Agriculture

How Biotech Can Guarantee Improved Yields
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The introduction of biotechnology in agriculture is globally met with opponents’ criticisms of genetically-modified (GM) crops. They argue that the crops do not increase more yields than non-GM crops.

However, the proponents of such crops see it otherwise. They posit that biotechnology guarantees improved yields. But how?

In agriculture, desirable crop characteristics are known as traits and one of the most important traits in crop characteristics, is yield.

Improving crop yield could be accomplished through biotechnology in addition to plant breeding. When biotechnology is applied on crops, it guarantees higher yields than the conventional plant breeding.

Prof. Muhammadu Ishiyaku of Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria said that “Yield is controlled by many genetic factors in addition to the quality of the environment (soil). Soil nutrients cannot provide any yield beyond the genetic potential of the crop. But the genetic potential of the crop can be enhanced through biotechnology.”

But how can biotech enhance the genetic potential of crops? “Biotechnology will assist in precisely identifying yield genes and that can be put in specific variety. That will set a very high genetic potential for yields. So, when growing in the appropriate environment, then you see the yield becoming five to ten times more than what the conventional variety can provide,” Prof. Ishiyaku says.

Important for biotech application towards improved yields in agriculture, is enabling law that allows for free use and commercialization of biotech crops.

Adequate funding by governments, corporate organisations, and individuals for research and development is one important thing for Biotech. R & D will strengthen biotechnology adaptability because scientists will carry out and apply their research findings with ease.

The application of biotechnology by developed and a few developing nations has resulted in various percentage of yield increases in wheat, banana, soybean, corn, papaya, cotton, etc. Therefore, if the same is applied in Nigeria and other African countries, improved yields would also be assured.

Already, researchers have completed the second of three major steps needed to turbo-charge photosynthesis in wheat and rice in order to boost yields by around 36 to 60 percent for many plants. It means that if African countries encourage the understudy of biotech and also see to its applicability, improved varieties would be a guarantee.

Prof. Calestous Juma says in his book, “New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa” that Biotechnology, which is a technology that is applied to biological systems, “has the promise of leading to increased food security and sustainable forestry practices, as well as improving health in developing countries by enhancing food nutrition.”

The major problems of the African farmer and by implication, African agriculture is soil degradation, which has resulted in soil infertility; drought, weed, pests, etc. Juma says that biotech gets rid of all these.

“Biotech has enabled the genetic alteration of crops, improved soil productivity, and enhanced weed and pest control. Unfortunately, such potential has largely been left untapped by African countries,” he says.

Prof. Ishiyaku says that “Higher yields are found in Biotech crops. This is because without chemicals, which are harmful to our environment, biotechnology provides insects protection technologies in GM crops. They are also resistant to many threats like insects, pests, drought, etc.”

There is a rapid increase in demand of food – no doubts. This is at the time that the farming population is aging while the youths are not interested in the strenuous work. Agric Biotech offers itself to ease the stress and maximise farm output.

Dr. Moses Adebayo of the Department of Agronomy, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso says that “Biotechnology reduces production constraints on farms. It also reduces stress and will attract the youths to engage in farming.”

For improved yield, scientific methods is needed the reason that Prof. Juma suggests that challenges, “In order to achieve the best solutions to the challenges in African agriculture, independent and scientifically sound methods must be used. We must consider all the alternatives for addressing these challenges using independent and scientifically sound methods. These alternatives include genetically modified organisms (GMO) and their potential use.”

Improved yields could be further guaranteed in Africa by relying on the promise of technology itself. This is because the evidence of its contributions to rural development around the globe is inspiring. The region should therefore complement the existing practices with agricultural biotechnology.

If the scientific community is emboldened to work with governments to explore ways of building the needed capacity, especially in agricultural technology, African farm yields would be boosted.

Though joining the biotechnology revolution lately, African governments should create enabling environment for farmers to take advantage of the technological leap-frogging by enacting laws that allow the application of agric biotech. This is required also if improved yields is our aim.

It is pertinent for research institutes to involve farmers in research processes. This could be done in a way of Public Private Peasant Partnership (PPPP). This will be a little diversion from such research undertakings where the peasant is excluded. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) has always excluded the peasant who is the end user of research products.

Modern biotechnology added to conventional breeding techniques and good agricultural practices could guarantee improved planting material. This in turn, gives you a good harvest – a good harvest means more food on the table, and the ability to sell surplus, driving economic development for individuals, families and communities.

Nigeria, two other countries lead in research funding

Agriculture

Nigeria, two other countries lead in research funding
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

A report released on Wednesday by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has that although public research spending across the Sub-Saharan Africa has grown by more than 30 percent in real terms, from $1.2 billion in 2000 to $1.7 billion in 2011, African states should Double agriculture research spending.

It said that of this new growth in research funding, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya had contributed by half.

“Sub-Saharan Africa needs to double its investment in agricultural research to meet the challenges of high population growth, climate change and deteriorating soils,” says the report.

According to IFPRI, of the 38 countries surveyed, 28 fell short of the minimum agricultural investment targeted by the African Union and the United Nations.

Nienke Beintema, one of the authors of the report titled: “Taking Stock of National Agricultural R&D Capacity in Africa South of the Sahara, said: “It is critical that African countries invest more in agricultural research to ensure that they can feed their populations.”
The report further observed that the quality of research in sub-Saharan Africa and the region’s food security “still suffer from underinvestment, inadequate human resource capacity, poor research infrastructure, and a lack of coherent policies.”

Even as the region’s public agricultural research capacity had increased by 50 percent during 2000-2011 to the equivalent of 14,500 full-time researchers, the report further observed that “the new capacity is not always enough to keep pace with increasing challenges.”

IFPRI stated that many of the most experienced researchers were approaching retirement and thereby causing concern for policy makers.

The report called for more training for female researchers in a region where majority of farmers were women. “More women researchers must be trained, and the large number of countries that spend less on research than recommended should note the clear link between new research spending and increased food production.”

If noted that while gender inclusion was improving, 10 of the 27 countries with applicable data, “recorded a decline in the proportion of female agricultural researchers for 2008-2011. The links between new money for research and increased food production are clear.

“From the mid-1990s, regional agricultural output grew at an average rate of 3.5 percent per year, compared with only 1.1 percent per year during 1971-1985, when less money was going to research,” the report further stated.

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe

Acute Malnutrition: 910 children die, 46,687 treated

Health, News

Acute Malnutrition: 910 children die, 46,687 treated
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Acute malnutrition in Sokoto state has claimed lives of a total of 910 children while 46,687 were treated in nine local government areas (LGAs).

The Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme has been in operation in the nine LGAs since 2010.

The CMAM report, presented at a campaign launched by the Sokoto state Nutrition Officer, Alhaji Mohammed Hamza Ali reveals that a total of 141,086 were identified, 82,051 admitted and 11,098 defaulted of Acute Malnutrition in Binji, Gudu, Gada, Goronyo, Illela, Tangaza, Wamakko, Sabon-Birni and Sokoto South local government areas.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health in the state, Dr. Buhari Bello Kware disclosed the success of the programme has made the state government to provide for the procurement of Ready-To-Use-Food (RTUF) in the 2015 appropriation.

He added that RTUF provision would complement supplies from UNICEF, especially because the CMAM programme had been accepted by the people who were now queuing in to participate.

Lamenting that “the people have been suffering in silence because acute malnutrition was given different negative names owing to ignorance,” Dr. Kware expressed appreciation for the contributions of development partners.

Babafunke Fagbemi of the Center for Communication Programs in Nigeria (CCPN) said that the campaign was an attempt “to promote positive action to help our malnourished children to access services that could provide treatment.”

OPHI Report List 10 Northern Nigerian States As Poorest

News

OPHI Report List 10 Northern Nigerian States As Poorest
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The 2014 Report of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has revealed that 10 states in the north of Nigeria are the country’s poorest.

The report further states that 43.3 percent of Nigerians were living in poverty with Bauchi State having the highest percentage of people living in extreme poverty, followed by Kebbi State.

Others that follow in order of Zamfara, Sokoto, Yobe, Jigawa, Katsina, Gombe, Borno and Niger, respectively.
The 2014 OPHD “Nigeria Country Briefing”, which measured multidimensional poverty index (MPI) for Nigeria noted that “19.3 percent of the population remained vulnerable to poverty while 25.3 percent of Nigerians live in severe poverty.

“26.6 percent of Nigeria’s over 170 million people are destitute, while 68.0 percent and 84.5 percent of the Nigerian population lived below $1.25 per day and $2 per day, respectively in 2010,” the report said.

According to the report, a person is identified as multidimensionally poor or ‘MPI poor’ if they are deprived in at least one third of the weighted indicators, including years of schooling; school attendance; child mortality; nutrition, electricity, sanitation, water, floor, cooking fuel and assets. “These 10 indicators are grouped under three dimensions; education, health and standard of living,” it added.

OPHI is an economic research centre within the Oxford Department of International Development at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe

Why Journalists Smoke Cigarette

Features, Health

Why Journalists Smoke Cigarette
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

“Whoever does not smoke or drink will die in good health.” – Russian proverb

People, regardless of class, smoke cigarette against warnings in the media of its harmful effects. Journalists too, who run the same media that send those warning messages against smoking, smoke. Why do they?

As a social behaviour, smoking is influenced by the people around us. My interaction with some Journalists reveals that if everyone else is doing one thing, you start thinking it must be the correct or sociable thing to be doing.

Journalists are major stakeholders in enlightenment, awareness creation, advocacy and propaganda, especially against societal ills.

Although it may not lawfully be wrong for people to smoke, the fact that smoking is associated with certain health hazards, it becomes a social responsibility for Journalists to enlighten the public on the dangers of smoking.

The quick question is how confident a Journalist that smokes would write against cigarette use? In spite of their knowledge of the maladies that smoking causes and in view of their societal standing, just why do Journalists smoke?

My cigarette-smoking colleagues are my motivation for writing this piece. One of them, before he died four months ago of cigarette-related health issue, was a chain-smoker.

When he went to Saudi Arabia some years back on pilgrimage, he came back a born-again. He had quit the habit during the short time of the Hajj exercise but resumed shortly after his return.

Acknowledged truth is that smoking is not an easy habit to do away with. But while a small percentage of journalists are capable of quitting, many eventually pick up the habit again.

At an occasion, he confided in me that he had some uncomfortable pains inside his ribs and in his chest. “I sometimes cough out reddish substance and vomit so often,” he had told me. I advised him not only to quit smoking but immediately see a Doctor.

He consulted a Doctor who told him to stop smoking. He obliged, of course he could not continue because the Doctor painted a “lifeless-living” picture on his person.

The man died and it was common knowledge that he died of cigarette smoking.

Other Journalists engaged in cigarette smoking know the consequences. However, the thinking of many that I spoke with is that they could quit smoking anytime they want. But in truth, the habit have become ingrained; a lifestyle and an addiction that causes physical discomfort if they stop.
Journalists write reports about the dangers of smoking but why do they still smoke without putting their health risks at consideration?

Many of the Journalists I spoke with are chronic smokers. They all appear physically slim and unhealthy.

“I know every risk associated with smoking cigarette. I read the warnings of the dangers in smoking; I know I could have lung cancer; I also know I could die but I cannot easily stop smoking; at least not in the nearest future,” Goronyo Garba told me.

Iliyasu Malami told me that he could stop smoking when God deems it fit for him to. “The fact is that I cannot say what the benefits of smoking are but I still smoke. Sometimes, when I try to stop, I fail and I have given up trying.”

“Any time I see someone smoking, if I do not do same, I feel incomplete. I don’t know when but I know I will stop smoking one day,” Abdulnasir Umar who smokes one and a half packs of cigarette a day, said.

Umar Abdullahi is 62 year old Journalist who started smoking when he was six – 54 years today.

“When I was six years old, we were engaged by local traders to wrap cigarette for sale to the public. That was how I started smoking. I was rather influenced by friends who I also saw smoking,” Abdullahi said.

On why he smokes, “It makes me stable. I don’t enjoy any work if I don’t smoke. Even if one offends me while I am smoking, I don’t feel bad.”

He knows that cigarette smoking harms, “but I have never experienced any such harm,” and to guard against any harm, Abdullahi takes unorthodox concoction. “I eat banana, which makes me pass black excreta. I also take mixture of lime and alum.”

Mukhtar Boyi is a 50 years Journalist. He started smoking at 11 years by picking cigarette butts. He told me, “I smoke because I am addicted to it that if I do not, I feel I am lacking in something. To write stories effectively, I must puff cigar.”

Boyi smoked one and a half (30 sticks) to two packs (40 sticks) of cigarette a day. He now smokes approximately ten sticks a day. He knows about the dangers of smoking but although he sees the effect on others, he has never experienced any harmful effect. He will leave smoking one day.

Umar Ibrahim is a 57 year old Journalist who started smoking in his early twenties. Ibrahim was influenced by a close friend. He found smoking fashionable.

“I feel relaxed when I smoke because of addiction. If I want to get my brain stimulated to write, I smoke,” Ibrahim told me.

Although he is aware of the risk involved in smoking, he takes a packet of cigarette every day. He says he has not personally experienced it until recently when he had malaria and could not smoke for some days. “I think this is the time I will stop smoking. Although I have not smoked for these days I fell sick, I now have the urge.”

This Journalist wouldn’t want his name mentioned. He is 37 year old and started smoking at 27. He was influenced by his friend who would smoke and give him a part.

“I smoke a pack of cigarette in a day. I feel satisfied and comfortable when I smoke. I feel stronger if I don’t smoke, anyway. I know about the risks and hope to stop smoking one day,” he told me.

An Editor who spoke to me and who is also smokes cigarette said the he would not stop Journalists that he supervises from smoking.

“I smoke and I know how cigarette stimulates me to work. I believe it does the same to other Journalists. If it will stimulate them to work hard for my paper, why should I discourage them?” He asked me.

Cigarette smoking therefore is a part of the “occupational myth” of the journalist. But should it be taken in newsrooms, especially where there could be others that do not smoke?

Sociologists argue that every profession needs what academics call an “occupational mythology” to sustain it and, “by which men make their work tolerable, or even make it glorious to themselves and others,” said sociologist Everett Hughes.

If a journalist smokes, he does it to excess because he smokes each day; each hour and each minute that he writes. If you deny the journalist his self-image as a rule-bending individualist, you could encounter a bland and gutless reporter.

Editors know when and how to encourage newsroom smoking, as opposed to squelching it. The belief is in appreciation of Bob Woodward’s aphorism that “All good work is done in defiance of management.”

The reasons for smoking are mostly psychological and therefore, eliminating those psychological reasons is one sure way of getting rid of smoking tobacco products – even among journalists.

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe

UDUTH gets PCR donation from USAID

Health

UDUTH gets PCR donation from USAID
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto (UDUTH) has received a donation of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine from the United States Agency For International
Development. The donation of the PCR worth N50 million was made through the Management Science for Health Project.

It was unveiled in Sokoto on Friday at a ceremony presided over by the Deputy Director, HIV/AIDS and TB of USAID, Dr. Phillip Dayal who said that the gesture was aimed at boosting healthcare delivery of the people of the region and Nigerians in general.

“The machine should be managed well and this partnership will be
sustained to provide additional support to the hospital,” he said.

The Co-ordinator of UDUTH-HIV/AIDS Project, Dr. Hamidu Liman said that the PCR is used to measure the viral load of HIV/AIDS patients.

“Majority of the HIV/AIDS patients always require drugs and one
of the best ways to monitor the efficacy of these drugs is through the use of the PCR machine, which monitors the viral load in the blood of the patients after every three months,” he said.

Liman explained that the monitoring was to know the quantity of the virus inside the blood system of the patients. “If it so high, it means the drugs are not working and if it is low, it means the drugs are working.”

He added that the PCR is also used for testing HIV/AIDS in new born babies because “the conventional ways of doing so for adults does
not work for babies.”

He further disclosed that the machine could be used to test for Hepatitis, A, B and C, Cytomegalovirus,
Ebstein Barr and Herpes viruses, among others.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the Hospital, Dr. Yakubu Ahmed commended
USAID-MSH Project for the gesture. “The machine will be very useful to all the patients who come to the
hospital from the entire,” he said.

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe

Tobacco Control in Nigeria: Can the proposed Smoking Act Work?

Health

Tobacco Control in Nigeria: Can the proposed Smoking Act Work?
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

For the control of any crime or legal but injurious act, there must be a law. That law must have specific elements, including but not limited to:
(a) implementability
(b) enforceability and
(c) serves as deterrent to offenders

Tobacco smoking is a long time habit for many Nigerians in sections of the country. The act attracts people of all shades and ages, with the youths seeing it as a fashionable habit to delve in.

According to TobaccoAtlas, nearly 20 percent of the world’s adult population smokes cigarettes. It is further estimated that in 2009, smokers consumed nearly 5.9 trillion cigarettes. This is the most recent available data.

In the Middle East and Africa, Tobacco consumption between 1990 and 2009 increased
by 57 percent. This is an alarming figure, especially where global health concerns are growing by the day.

On the basis of this, a Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products known as “WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was drawn. Nigeria became one of the 168 signatories to the Protocol on June 28, 2004 and was ratified on October 20, 2005.

In order to domesticate the WHO FCTC, Nigeria has began the process of promulgating the “Nigeria Smoking (Control) Act” as a comprehensive law to regulate the manufacturing, advertising, distribution and consumption of tobacco products in the country.

The Nigerian Senate passed the first reading of the bill to control the use of tobacco only on September 24, 2014.

In the proposed Act, the “Core demand reduction” as well as the “Core supply reduction” provisions in the WHO FCTC are contained in articles 15-17 and 6-14 of the bill, respectively.

While the core demand reduction provisions introduced prohibitive measures to down demand of the product, The core supply reduction provisions try to down the supply chain of the product.

The core demand reduction provisions are geared towards price and tax measures and non-price measures to reduce the demand for tobacco.

These provisions include: Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke; Regulation of the contents of tobacco products; Regulation of tobacco product disclosures; Packaging and labelling of tobacco products; Education, communication, training and public awareness; Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and Demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation.

On the other hand, the core supply reduction provisions are: Illicit trade in tobacco products; Sales to and by minors; and Provision of support for economically viable alternative activities.
 
In spite of the fact that Nigerian economy loses about $591 million annually as cost of medical treatment and low productivity resulting from tobacco smoking, the proposed law provides as punishment for smoking at prohibited places “Any person who smokes tobacco contrary to the provisions of this Act shall be guilty
of an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N200 (less than $2.00) and not exceeding N1,000 (approximately $6.00) or to imprisonment to a term of not less than one month and not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

The penalties as enshrined in the proposed law does not suggest deterrence. The minimal fine of $2.00 or maximal of $6.00 is infinitesimally low and cannot stop smokers from the act or manufacturers from advertising the product.

The proposed law stipulates a fine of a paltry N5,000.00 ($30) for wrongful advertising. “Any person who advertises, sells or offers for sale any tobacco product otherwise than in compliance with the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine of not less than N5,OOO.”

We are talking about a product, which is the only legally available product that kills more than half of its users when consumed as intended by the manufacturer.

“Scientists evidence shows that tobacco is a major threat to public health. It currently kills about six million people a year and if current trend continues that figure will rise to 10 million a year by 2015,” said Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Director of Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth (ERA.

“Real statistics shows that the cost of tobacco smoking to the Nigerian economy in terms of losses to medical treatment and low productivity is at US$591 million annually,” Oluwafemi said.

The proposed Act should have more prohibitive provisions, including those that would protect the rights of non-smokers.

The fines in the proposed Act will not work if we are to achieve the “Core Demand and Supply Reductions.” Prohibitive fines should be introduced in order to discourage smoking among the people.