Biotechnology Can Play Big Role in Great Green Wall Initiative – Environment Minister

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         Environment Minister, Amina     Mohammed with the Programme Committee of OFAB

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed has assured that Nigeria was ready to deploy biotechnology to boost the economy of the country.

She said this while answering questions by Journalists shortly the members of the Programme Committee of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa paid her courtesy visit to her office on Tuesday.

The Minister explained that while Nigeria was blessed with experts in biotechnology, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was also there to ensure the safety application of the technology.

“Biotechnology has a big role to play in the ‘Great Green Wall’, which has started and has an agency that is at the forefront to ensure that it is in line with the African Union (AU) initiative. We have 1500 kilometers across and 15 kilometers deep, what we need to do is to make that corridor, an economic one, not just trees but economic trees, jobs for people, how we can deal with energy solutions, connecting services within agriculture, not just stopping the desert but reclaiming the desert,” she stressed.

She continued: “NABDA can come in the area of economic trees. The gestation period for trees used to last for three, four years but today we are looking at eighteen months or less, that is biotechnology, this is where we need collaboration to ensure that we are able to do things quicker than usual,” she said adding that there was  the need to ensure safety and transparency in the process.

Observing that there were advantages as well as disadvantages, the disadvantages must be taken care of.

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Speaking on safety issues,  Mohammed said that there was the need for more research as well as listen to the people when they express concerns. “We need more research and we need to listen to people where they have concerns, we have to answer those frequently asked questions because without responding to people’s concerns, we are leaving perception of not caring or not doing our home work. We have to be more open to people and transparent to everyone, also hear every ones concern and address them, with Biosafety Agency in place; we can begin to do that.”

She cautioned the Biosafety Agency on the need for education, adding that “education is key; ignorance brings fear, opposition and pushes back things that are good for us but with education, it is taken off.”

The Minister observed that those involved in carrying people forward in the world of science forget and leave many behind, which becomes a challenge. “I am grateful you are all here, helping us understand GMO’s better. The Administration under Buhari is clear on diversification. NABDA is key, and has a role to play in the agricultural sector that is why the agency needs to educate the public. We all need to collaborate to make every Nigerian feel comfortable about the technology. Many people need to be carried along. At the moment, there is drought in Ethiopia, which could also affect any other African Country and that’s why the technology is being considered for use to overcome this drought challenge. Nigeria needs to prepare ahead. Nigeria needs to button up but safety must be ensured”, she enthused,” the Minister said.

In her remarks, the Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, (NABDA) Professor Lucy Ogbadu highlighted the challenges facing the country in the area of agricultural food production, which was characterized by low productivity due to pest and insects infestation; desertification, gully erosion, flood, micronutrient deficiency, and coupled with population increase for which Nigeria needed to adopt and embrace biotechnology.

While enumerating the secondary benefits of biotechnology to include: reduction of carbon emission, soil degradation reduction, water conservation, nitrogen fertilizer usage, enhanced bio-fuel production, reduced use of pesticides etc, the DG said that transgenic varieties of crops were more productive, precise in gene transfer -overcomes the limitations of traditional breeding; allows scientists to use new traits from many kinds of plants and other living things.

In his own remarks, the DG/CEO of NBMA, Mr. Rufus Ebegba reaffirmed his commitment to ensure the safety of modern biotechnology practice in Nigeria and its contribution to the economic growth. “Nigerians should be re-assured that NBMA will do her best in making sure that any GMO released for commercialization is safe for consumption and posses no treat to human or environment”, he concluded.

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