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.