Press Statement Issued By The Director General of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Mr. Rufus Ebegba on Biosafety Issues

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         NBMA DG, Rufus Ebegba

The journey leading to the establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) started a long time ago.
The quest for Nigeria’s biotechnology advancement dates back to 2001 when Nigeria adopted a National Biotechnology Policy and subsequent establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency in the same year.

It should also be noted that other research institutes and Universities are also players in the biotechnology sector. Nigeria as a major world player is not in isolation of global biotechnological growth and Biosafety matters.

It is a well-known fact that advancements in technologies are usually characterized by some potential adverse impacts and modern biotechnology is not an exception. It is in this context that Biosafety has become a means of addressing potential adverse impacts of modern technology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health.

Government thinking was to create an avenue for the Nigerian Scientists to make breakthroughs in the areas of human health, environmental sustainability and food security in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For Government to be able to benefit from modern biotechnology it has to put in place a legal framework that will effectively ensure the safety of its application and use, hence the establishment of the NBMA.

Permit me to briefly take you through the genesis of the actualization of the National Biosafety law in Nigeria. It is worthy to note that Nigeria is signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is supplementary to the CBD. The development of National Biosafety Regulations dates back to 1994 when the first National Biosafety Guidelines were developed leading to the subsequent finalization of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act.

The process of the development of the Act followed a systematic involvement of major stakeholders and the public from 2002 to 2015.

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 is as a result of the commitment of Nigeria to international obligations, particularly to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), which the country signed in 2000 and ratified in 2003. 

The Protocol’s major plank is to contribute to the global effort towards ensuring adequate level of protection in the transboundary movement, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology, focusing on protection of human health and environmental sustainability. Nigeria also signed the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress in 2012. The objective of this Supplementary Protocol is to contribute to the conservation of and sustainable use of biological diversity by providing international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress relating to living modified organisms.

In the same vein, actualization of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act followed a systematic process. In 2002, a National Biosafety Committee was constituted under the Federal Ministry of Environment to develop a National Biosafety Framework for Nigeria. The Committee was made up of the Federal Ministries of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, Foreign Affairs, Education, Industry, Trade and Investment, Science and Technology, Justice, Health (National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control).

Other members were Veterinary Research Institute of Nigeria, Nigeria Customs Service, University of Agriculture Abeokuta, an NGO (Service for the improvement of Rural People) and experts in Biodiversity Conservation. 

In 2006, the National Biosafety Policy and the First edition of draft National Biosafety Bill were the outcomes of the National Biosafety Committee. However, the Biosafety Bill went through further review processes with consultations of wider stakeholders in the six (6) geopolitical zones of Nigeria.  The Bill went to the National Assembly in 2009 and initially passed in 2011 by the 6th NASS but could not be assented to before it elapsed.  It went back to the National assembly in 2013 for further legislative process, passed by the NASS in 2015 and assented to in April 2015.

The Act established the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in the same year. The Act has penalty, liability clauses and labeling.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Act empowers the NBMA which is an Agency under the Federal Ministry of Environment to formulate overall policy guidance on issues concerning biosafety in Nigeria. It is also to implement the Act as a whole. The Agency reconciles the need for safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in international and national trade as well as biodiversity conservation. Essentially, the Agency is charged with responsibility for proving regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanisms for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria to ensure safety of the practice of modern biotechnology, and use and handling of GMOs to avert adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risk to human health.

With the acquisition of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015, Nigeria has joined the league of countries in Africa with Biosafety laws and Agencies, which include South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Sudan, Ghana, and Cameroun amongst others.

I want to assure you that the National Biosafety Management Agency is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of the members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs. It should be clear that no one would be forced to use or consume GMOs in Nigeria. GMOS would be labeled. The Agency bases its decision on science, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment.

The NBMA has capable personnel (scientists), who are well trained within and outside the country to effectively carry out its regulatory functions and also has well equipped laboratory to detect any smallest genes in GMOs. The Agency also carries out risk assessment on GMOs before approving their release for use. Nigerians should trust the Federal Government in its quest to diversify the Nigerian economy for the present and future generations.

Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the National Biosafety Management Agency on matters concerning GMOs.

Presently there are no genetically modified organisms officially ready for consumption. What we have are for field trials. However the only one, cotton for commercialization, will not be ready for planting until the next two years.

With the Act in place, Nigeria as the giant of Africa has taken laudable strides in order to adopt the necessary legal framework and policy to direct development and use of modern biotechnology bearing in mind that if Nigeria gets it right, it will guide other African countries.

With the Regulatory Framework put into effect, the NBMA has the onerous task to ensure that potential impacts of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on human or animal health, on the environment and the socio-economic impact are carefully weighed and the risk assessment fully carried out or estimated before ever they are released.

The Act which established the NBMA has sufficiently set up guidelines and regulations to govern the practices of the modern biotechnology in such a manner that will ensure that potential risks are eliminated.  The law equally addresses other aspects such as the handling and packaging, transportation, labeling and off course the liability clause.

Therefore, it is safe to say that the Biosafety Act is very comprehensive ad well balanced and it went through different Legislative Houses to achieve holistic status. Some people have expressed or entertained concerns on GM foods and feeds claiming that the risks outweigh the benefits. Such views are expected especially as it relates to a new technology but it is however paradoxical that these set of people accept the advances that GM has recorded in healthcare hook, line and sinker.

There is no doubt that people’s level of knowledge or lack of it will obviously lead them to point to cases or data that seem to confirm their position while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

The National Biosafety Management Agency has the mandate to provide regulatory framework and institutional administrative mechanisms for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria.

No individual or groups can protect Nigerians more than the government. The National Biosafety Management Agency Act is the only safety valve for the adoption of safe modern biotechnology and the deployment as well as the use of GMOs in Nigeria. The NBMA will NOT compromise on its mandate to ensure holistic biosafety in Nigeria. 

The Agency Act is in full force and any breach will attract appropriate consequences. Institutions, individuals and companies that are involved in GMOs activities have been advised to formalize their dealings with the Agency to avoid being sanctioned. 

The public should therefore trust the Agencys decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic. In the event of any doubt on matters concerning biosafety, the NBMA is available to clarify such. The Agency will partner with all relevant stakeholders in the discharge of its functions in the interest of the Nation.

Between the 3rd and 4th May, 2016, the Agency called a meeting of stakeholders to some the existing draft Biosafety regulations that would govern the application of GMOs in the country with a view to strengthening them.

There are several issues to be considered with regards to modern biotechnology. Most importantly are the issues of safe food and feeds, environmental consideration and the socio-economic impacts.
The controversy surrounding the food and feeds are quite germane. However, it will suffice to say that till date there is no reliable evidence that GM crops pose any health risk whatsoever. Recent FAO, WHO and other credible authorities attest to this.

The review conducted by the National Biosafety Committee made up of notable scientists and stakeholders on the Biosafety applications for maize and Bt cotton indicated that there were no evidence of harm, including allergic reactions.

Gentlemen of the Press, I can boldly assure you that before any GM crop is turned into food, the NBMA would have been sufficiently satisfied of its safety for human and animal consumption.

The application dossier before the National Biosafety Committee contains data that indicates that it is substantially equivalent to the conventionally bred counterpart and does not pose any new health risk.

Another area of interest is the environmental concern. The products of modern biotechnology are often living organisms which have the capacity to spread and multiply and infuse into our environment.

GM crops are planted in the fields much like the traditional crops. The main concern here is the possibility of interactions and effects of the transgenes and GMOs on the biodiversity and the functions of the ecosystems including the target and non target effects and ecological interaction. The pollen from the plants is distributed in the environment like that of any other plant.

It is refreshing to note that our Agency is presently carrying out a confined field trials of some GM products to assess the potential for transgenic plants to affect the non-target organisms before approving their commercial release.

Then there is the issue of control and socio-economic aspect. Like I earlier said, Government thinking for adopting modern biotechnology is to broaden its scientific and economic scope. This is exactly where the NBMA comes into play. The NBMA as a regulatory Agency is expected to create the enabling environment by providing the expert advice, knowledge and strategy. Biosafety is a very complex and specialized field of relevance to modern biotechnology because it covers aspects of science, law and commerce. It touches on broad areas of international law, trans-boundary agreement, treaties and protocols such as the Cartagena Protocol to mention but a few. What this means is that we at the Agency have both national and international responsibilities.

The NBMA is well positioned to face these responsibilities. We are not working alone, we are partnering with critical stakeholders such as the Nigerian Customs, the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Ministry of Justice, Science based institutions, the New Partnership for Africa Developments (NEPAD), African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) etc.

Gentlemen of the press, I urge you to use your various medium to reassure Nigerians that the NBMA is poised to ensure safety of human health, animal health and the ecosystem in the use of modern biotechnology. Nigerians should feel free to join hands with the Agency to attain great height. We will continue to review the Act until we reach the desired goal.

We solicit the collaboration of the Press to do more, we are not unaware that without your active support our successes will be limited.

Thank you for your attention.

IPP: TNC Promises Electricity Supply in Three Months

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    The 11/33KV IPP Transformer

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has promised that the 38 megawatts Sokoto Independent Power Project (IPP) would be ready to supply electricity for the people of the state in three months time.

Briefing newsmen during an inspection of the project, which has reached 95 percent completion level, the General Manager, Connection of TCN, Dr. Inugonom Thomas said that the Company was in Sokoto to ascertain the load and generation capacity of the plant.

“TCN is here to look at the plant; to evaluate the capacity of the 11/33KV, which is to generate 38 megawatts of power. We are here also to authenticate that a study was done and that every is in order,” Thomas said.

He added that from test running the plant through to other processes, the plant would be ready to provide electricity for the people of Sokoto state in three months. “All processes, including metering, would take three months after which the plant will be ready to supply electricity.”

A Director of Vulcan Elvaton, which is the contracting firm, Engr. Theo Ubani said that the plant had reached 95 percent completion. “The plant has reached 95 percent completion and TNC is here to check its readiness in terms of evacuation of power, load and generation capacity.”

African Policy, Decision Makers To Be Trained on Biosafety

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By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), an Agency of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and Nigeria’s Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu have organised a short training course for African policy and decision-makers on Biosafety, in collaboration with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA.

According to the Concept Note developed by the organisers, the training is in recognition of the “opportunities and challenges that modern biotechnology offers for enhancing agricultural productivity in Africa.”

Similar short courses, ABNE states, had been held in partnership with African universities including, “the Polytechnic University of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso (2013); the Makarere University in Uganda (2014 & 2015) and the University of Ghana in Ghana (2015),” adding that “the courses aim at empowering policy and decision makers and other important stakeholders with current information on biosafety and biotechnology to enable them effectively support regulatory processes.”

The Concept Note further stated that the choice of Nigeria as a host country and Godfrey Okoye as the host University was informed by Nigeria’s participation in the inaugural short course in Ghana and noting its relevance in garnering stakeholders support for biosafety processes.

“The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) requested ABNE’s support for the hosting of the Short Biosafety Course in Nigeria as well as Godfrey Okoye, a private and one of the fastest growing universities in Nigeria with strong competencies in biotechnology as hosting University. GO also offered to share the cost of the training.

“With the Biosafety Act being passed in 2015 and the subsequent establishment of the NBMA, it is necessary to build a critical mass of stakeholders that will offer support at both institutional and national levels to the biosafety regulatory system,” the Note further stated.

The objectives of the short course are: “To introduce policy and decision makers with evidence-based information on biosafety and biotechnology to help demystify the science and regulation of the technology; to increase awareness among key actors on their role, and the significance of having functional regulatory systems for biotechnology; to provide a platform for networking among key actors and to foster inter-agency collaborations and to promote biosafety awareness amongst key stakeholder and actors to facilitate their participation in biosafety decision making.”

The course program comprises:
“Environmental issues associated with agricultural production
Overview of environmental biosafety, and crop biology
Environmental and food safety issues associated with GM crops;
functional Biosafety Administration during the GM crop development (laboratory, greenhouse testing and field testing); Biosafety of GM crops considerations beyond confined field trial (CFT); post release consideration of GM crops and visit to biotech laboratories and confined field trial (CFT) of GM crop at National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Nigeria,” among many others.

At the end of the course, capacity would be built in regulators for science-based risk evaluation and justified decision making process as well as development of regional biosafety experts and establishment of a network.

Those expected to attend the three-day training include policy makers, technocrats, regulators and legal practitioners in government ministries, departments and agencies who may be directly or indirectly involved in regulating biotechnology, news editors in selected government and private media organizations, leaders of farmers’ groups and other interested stakeholders.

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Group Faults EIA Report on Ikom-Katsina Ala Superhighway

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          A Typical Superhighway

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

A Cross River-based Environmental non-governmental organisation, the Rainforestest Resources and Development Centre (RRDC) has questioned the credibility of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) draft report prepared by PMG Nigeria Limited on the proposed Ikom-Katsina Ala Superhighway for Cross River state government.

A strement signed by the Executive Director of RRDC, Prince Odey Oyama faulted the report, saying that it only seeks to misinform the Federal Ministry of Environment about the potential impacts of the project.

According to the Centre, “The Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC) have read through the 443 pages
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) draft report of the proposed Ikom – Katsina Ala Superhighway
project prepared by PMG Nigeria Limited (the EIA Consultant) for the Cross River State Government,
submitted to the Federal Ministry of Environment in March 2016. Having carefully analysed the said
report, we have come to the conclusion that the said draft report is a deliberate attempt to misinform the Federal Ministry of Environment about the true potential impacts of the proposed superhighway project.”

RRDC observed that critical elements of the project, which included the buffer zones that covers a land mass of 20 kilometres throughout the length of the project had been omitted.

Citing a part of the report, RRDC alleged that the superhighway maps for the proposed project that are displayed in the EIA were doctored versions of the authentic map of the proposed project.

It further observed that while “all the maps displayed in the EIA only show the center-line of the superhighway, the Notice of Acquisition the Cross River
State Government published in the Weekend Chronicle of 22nd January, 2016 refers to 5,200Km of land that the government intends to acquire for the project. This includes 200m span for the right-of-way on either side of the center line of the road and a massive land mass designated as Buffer Zone,
spanning 10km on either side of the center-line of the super highway.”

Describing the absence of the buffer zones from the maps contained in the report as lack of transparency, the Centre also stated that since the EIA report was concerned only with the pathway of the center-line of the superhighway, “then the EIA is invalid by reason of the fact that it has not captured the whole territory that will be impacted by the project.”

It further stated that if the report intended to capture the entire territory that would be impacted by the project, “the deliberate omission of the contentious buffer zones from the maps shown in the EIA report point in the direction of lack of transparency. It is our considered opinion that the omission of the buffer zones from the maps displayed in the EIA (currently placed before the Federal Ministry of Environment for scrutiny) makes the EIA invalid.”

The Centre viewed the omission as “a deliberate effort at misguiding the Federal Ministry of Environment and all other stakeholders in respect of the review of EIA report,” further alleging that it was aimed at trucking the government of Cross River state “to use deceptive documents to obtain EIA approval and thereafter stand on such approvals to grab indigenous community lands.”

The Group drew the attention of this Federal Ministry of Environment that, although the road project is traversing through some parts of the gazzetted territory of the Oban Hill Division of the Cross River National Park, “the EIA report has deliberately omitted to comment on the potential impact of the project on the Park.”

It alleged that the omission of the potential impacts of the superhighway project on the Oban Hill Division of the Cross River National Park was a deliberate contravention of the demands of the National Park Service Act, CAP N65.

RRDC added that the EIA report also failed to account for the potential impact of the superhighway project on Afi Wildlife Sanctuary. “This encroachment is highly objectionable on account of the fact that Afi Wildlife Sanctuary is a highly acclaimed biodiversity hotspot which has been receiving
favourable responses from International donors towards the purpose of sustaining its ecological integrity,” it stated.

The Group appealed to the Federal Ministry of Environment to demand for the complete disclosure of all the territories intended to be affected by the project before considering the EIA report. “This disclosure must in particular include the over 180 indigenous communities that are in danger of losing their ancestral lands,
cultural and natural heritages if this project should receive an EIA approval based on the false premises of the EIA report and its craftily doctored maps and information,” the statement concluded.

NACCIMA Applauds NAAJ’s Peaceful Elections

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 By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA),
has commended the Nigerian Association of Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) for the peaceful election of new Executive Council (EXCO) members of the association.

Speaking at venue of the election, which took place on Thursday in Lagos, the Director of Corporate Affairs of the leading business group in the country, Mrs. Rosemary Orubor described the election as not only peaceful but also transparent.

She called on the new EXCO and members of NAAJ to ensure effective coverage of agricultural and agro-allied sectors of the economy in order to create the needed awareness of the potentials of the sectors.

Those elected as new executives include Stanley Ihedigbo of New Telegraph, National Chairman; Femi Orioye of OGBC FM, Vice Chairman; Onyeka Udoka of National Mirror, Financial Secretary and Barnabas Esiet of the Superscreen TV, Treasurer.

Ihedigbo, in his acceptance speech, described NAAJ elections as victory not only for agriculture but also farmers and other stakeholders in the sector.

Stressing that the doors of NAAJ were open to accommodate all true Agriculture Journalists, the Chairman explained that the association’s cardinal programme was “to build members’ reportorial capacity, enhance professional imagery, build strong bridges of industry relationship that is aimed at elevating the capacity of members without compromising ethics and universal principles of the practice of journalism.”

Highlights of Media Chat With Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Part of Activities to Marking His First Year in Office

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Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto     State

Views on democracy from 1999 and assessment of President Buhari administration

We have to be grateful to God for the return of democracy to the country in 1999. However, we have to be frank to ourselves to say that the level of development in the country is not commensurate with the amount of funds the country received within the same period. We made huge profit from crude oil sales but the impact was not felt by the people as much as it should. From 2015 to now, this administration has made genuine efforts to change things but that effort has been hampered by lack of enough resources. The good thing is that there is sincerity of purpose from those in authority to right the wrongs of the past.
President Muhammadu Buhari has remained his honest self and to me, he has done well since his election. During the campaign period, his emphases were on three things security, tackling corruption and revamping the economy. Before he came on board, the corruption going on was mind-boggling. The economy was in terrible shape and I recalled when some of us in the House of Representatives raised alarm over what was going on, we were called names and branded enemies of the former regime. The recent removal of subsidy shows that the President is on top of things as far as the economy is concerned. If not for the trust and confidence the people have on President Buhari, the removal of the subsidy would have led to protests and breakdown of law and order. Now let us answer ourselves in objective manner, has the President not succeeded in addressing those things he emphasized during his campaign? Personally, I don’t think one year is enough time to judge the President but the effect of what he is doing is being felt across the land. Public officers are now more cautious in the manner they handle public funds.

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Differences between Speakership and Governorship

Even though the two positions are important leadership positions, they are distinct of each other and demands are different. The adjustment has been gradual and the experience worthwhile. However, as I said, the demands of the two offices are not similar largely because in the National Assembly, I was representing a constituency from far away in Abuja. But in the executive arm, as the number one citizen of the state, I am presiding over the affairs of the state from the state capital. I am now working from within the midst of the people at all times. This gives me the opportunity to feel the pulse of their demands and work together with them to find lasting solutions to issues. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, you are first among equals and you do not have guarantee of tenure. You may go into the Chamber for sitting and come out of it as ordinary member of the House. The decision to remain on that seat is at the discretion of 359 members who may decide to remove you from office at any given time without much fuse and at a very short notice. The demands of the two offices are enormous even though not many would want to return to their positions after their tenure in the House of Representatives. Just ask former Speakers Etteh (Patricia), Dimeji Bankole, Ghali Na’Abba and the rest. The same cannot be said of Governors.

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Continuity of projects

This administration is a continuation of the last administration and we feel it is of paramount importance to complete ongoing projects. However, due to the precarious financial situation we find ourselves in the country, it became imperative to reassess our priorities. We’ve looked into all the projects and decided on priority ones to complete. Our pledge is that there will be no abandoned projects and we will start new ones at the appropriate time. We are working to improve our internally generated revenue and already, wide consultations are going on with experts on different areas of interest. Even though we are determined to improve revenue, we have to be conscious of the hard times. The economy is not in good shape and we are working round the clock to improve the situation. 

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Education sector revival

We declared a state of emergency in the sector because we felt extreme measures was required to tackle the problems there. In the last one year, we made set up a technical committee under the leadership of Professor Riskuwa Arabu Shehu to analyse all the problems and proffer solution. Few weeks back, we received an interim report and the committee has continued its work. We are determined to turn around the fortunes of the sector for the benefit of our people. In the meantime, we have intervened in various areas including recruitment of teachers, repairs and expansion of schools and provision of critical infrastructure where necessary. The technical committee recommended the employment of almost 10,000 teachers to fill the gap especially in primary schools. That is a huge number and from our estimation, we cannot source for the huge number from Sokoto alone, so we will employ from other states to fill the gap. We will do anything possible in moving our standard of education forward, to maintain better and productive citizens in the state. So state of emergency declared in the education sector will remain in place until all negative statistics are reversed. Let me add that for the desired progress to be made, the people should complement the efforts of government in funding and protection of facilities within their domains. Someone asked me the difference between the committees set up and headed by Riskuwa and that of Professor Attahiru Jega. While the Risqua-led committee is concerned with the revamping of education in Sokoto alone, that of Jega is basically concerned with revamping tertiary institutions in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi. We hope to pull resources together and help each other move the sector forward. We thank the two eminent scholars for agreeing to serve.

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Agriculture

You know we have a competitive advantage when it comes to some selected crops like rice, wheat, tomato and onions. In the next harvesting season, we hope to be the number one state in the production of garlic, sesame seed and ginger. Generally, our farmers will testify to the fact that this administration has impacted positively in the sector in the last one year. We have purchased about 20,000 metric tonnes of assorted fertilizers worth over N1.2 billion for this year’s cropping season. We did same last year. The State Government has also intervened in the provision of water pumps, seedlings, drilling tube wells and machineries. Similarly, we have procured 1000 units of Tiller Machines for distribution to farmers. We recently visited China to particularly explore areas of cooperation for agricultural development of our dear state. Accordingly, an MOU was signed on Distance Aid Training to essentially train students on Grains Food Security with Henan University Technology via Polytechnic of Sokoto State. Similar agreement is on the construction of Agricultural Science and Technology Park in collaboration with Henan Province. The State Government has also signed an MOU with Camaco China – Africa Machinery Co-op that provide access for State to concessionary Chinese funding on the platform of the China-Africa Development Fund (CADF). Currently, Data Base Census is being conducted for all farmers in the State with a view to identifying real farmers and their categories to enable the State Government empower them correctly, and put in place proper budgeting for long-term planning.

Issue of power supply in Sokoto

We have suffered massive fall in the volume of power allocation to our state. Rather than wholeheartedly blame the power distribution companies, we looked inward and decided to complete the Independent Power Project embarked upon by the previous administration. It has reached 85 percent completion rate and we are determined to complete it to boost power supply in Sokoto. We’ve also attracted investment worth N3.3 billion from the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) to Sokoto and it has resulted in the building of three power substations with a capacity to carry 1500 KVA transformers. The transformer will in turn serve approximately 200 households in Gagi, Tambuwal and Farfaru. This will improve the capacity to receive more allocation distributed to our state. I want the people to be patient with us. They should know that the government has not abandoned them. We are working round the clock to fix the problem and very soon, the result of our effort will begin to be felt.

In addition, we are exploring avenue of tapping from renewable energy at our disposal. We have received submissions from various companies and we are doing due diligence to ensure we are not shortchanged. As soon as that process is completed, we will roll out our policy in that regard and work to realize set objectives.
Mind-boggling corruption at the local government level

It is true we have carried out series of verifications to sanitise the payroll and instill financial discipline in both the local government councils and the state civil service. The verification exercise is ongoing and I await the submission of their reports. Many have sent me messages saying we have dismissed them from their jobs. The idea is not to make things difficult for anyone but things cannot continue the way they are. The corruption in the third tier is simply mind-boggling. We have recovered N300 million within the first month of the verification from the LGAs. We have also found out in only one local government in the state, an official has sold 200 appointment letters to a contractor in Zamfara State. This fraud was blown open when the contractor sent an SMS to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) complaining that his money had not been sent by the local government council. It is unfortunate because all the local governments had their payrolls padded with ghost workers. In the same vein, most of the workers in the local councils were idle and fraudulent. We found out that one staff was collecting salaries in four local governments.  Basically, we did not swore-in the newly-elected local government chairmen because we needed to sanitize the payroll before handing over to them. If we had sworn them in earlier, they would not have saved enough to pay their workers and carry out any project. As things are at the moment, we augmented their income in the last few months to enable them pay staff salaries. As things stand now, we will likely swear them in the next one week.

Trips and meetings outside Sokoto

I am happy this issue has come up because I need to make it clear that the trips I embarked upon were absolutely necessary. Many have questioned my regular meetings in Abuja but to be honest with you, that situation is not peculiar to Sokoto State alone. Left to me, I should be left to remain in Sokoto among my family and friends without going anywhere, but the demands of the office require me to do otherwise. I am aware that some people call me names, but to me, these are constructive criticisms. They have the right to question what their leaders do. So you have done nothing wrong if you criticise me. Citizens have the right to air their opinions on the activities of their leaders.  Another thing to be understood is that we came into office when there was the need to establish a certain level of political stability in the polity of the nation. Due to my previous position as the Number Four citizen of the country, I was involved in many of the consultations held to build a foundation for the success of the present administration. This is a national calling and it is not by my own design or making that I am being involved in seeking solutions to our national challenges. So in the spirit of national stability and cohesion, I accepted the offer to serve in such national engagements while at the same time governing the state. What I emphasized to my colleagues in government is that we must ensure governance at the state does not suffer in any way because of our national engagements. We are in a modern world where governance may not necessarily require physical presence. What is mostly required is my consent and sometimes my signature, and such trips had not negatively impacted on governance in my state.

Plans for 2019

In my view, it is wrong to bring up the issue of 2019 when we are just a year old in office. This is 2016 so the discussion about 2019 is absolutely unnecessary at this time. My philosophy is simple: during political season, discuss politics, during the time of governance; topic of discussion should be governance. 

Tambuwal Warns New LG Council Chairmen Against Corruption

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LG Council Chairmen Being Sworn in

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State has warned the 22 new local government council chairmen and a Sole Administrator, who were sworn in on Wednesday in Sokoto, against corrupt tendencies.

The governor instructed that the new chairmen should pay priority attention to education, agriculture, healthcare delivery, enhancement of law and order and women, youth development, revenue generation and infrastructural development.

“To ensure good governance, you have to be open and approachable to all. You must also endeavour to carry your Councilors, Traditional Rulers and all public servants along if you are to succeed. Above all, you must shun corrupt tendencies,” he said.

According to Tambuwal, in spite of the prevailing economic challenges being experienced in the country, the elected chairmen should endeavour to propel sustainable development in all possible ways.

Those sworn-in were Alhaji Ibrahim Aminu, Sokoto North LGA; Aminu Sani Liman, Sokoto South; Ahmad Kalambaina, Wamakko; Alhaji Jabbi Shagari, Shagari and Abubakar Chika, Silame.

Others are Mande Dantasalla, Dange Shuni LGA; Umar Dan Habi, Binji LGA; Abubakar Aliyu Tsara,  Bodinga; Abdullahi Ahmad, Gada local council; Faruk Rimawa, Goronyo LGA; Abdullahi Haruna, Illela; Garba Moyi, Isa LGA; Abubakar Zamau, Kware and Awalu Marafa, Kebbe LGA.

The rest are Abdulkadir Jelani, Wurno; Muhammad Sani, Yabo LGA; Salisu Gandi, Rabah LGA; Idris Muhammad, Sabon Birni; Abubakar Zaki, Tambuwal; Nura Shehu, Tangaza and Abubakar Aliyu, Tureta LGA.

Engr. Ahmed Maidamma Tangaza, who was sworn in as Sole Administrator of Gudu local government council is to hold fort pending when the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) would conduct election of officials into the council.

It could be recalled that local government election, which held in March 2016 was not held in Gudu because of the omission of a logo of one of the political parties.

Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, traditional, religious and political leaders attended the event.

Project Develops First Ever Rice Hybrids for Farmers in Africa

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              Rice farm

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Rice farmers in Africa are set to dramatically increase their productivity with the new hybrid varieties that are capable of yielding up to 7 tonnes per hectare, courtesy of a public private partnership, Breeding by Design Project.

According to a release issued by the head of Communications and Partnerships unit of the project, Nancy Muchri, the Hybrid Rice: Breeding by Design Project, which developed the first indigenous hybrid rice varieties in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). using the 2-line rice hybrid technology have the potential to produce 7 tonnes per hectare.

It further stated that among countries that would benefit from the hybrid as early as next year, is Kenya considering that two hybrids are already undergoing national performance trials. This will include farmers in Tanzania who are likely to get access to the hybrids in 2018.

The statement quoted the Project Manager, Dr. Kayode Sanni as disclosing that the project was further “evaluating the performance of 127 rice hybrids for advancement to national performance trials,” adding that “hybrid rice seeds currently being planted in Africa are either imported from Asia or America. Egypt, is the only country in Africa that has developed its own rice hybrids. With this breakthrough, Africa will realise its own high yielding hybrid seeds, consequently boosting production and moving closer to self-sufficiency in rice production.”

This is indeed good news to farmers, seed companies and rice consumers in Sub Saharan Africa, because “while global production of rice has risen steadily from 132 million tonnes in 1960 to 491.5 million tonnes in 2015, Africa has not contributed much to the increase, producing only 3 per cent, with Asia accounting for 90 per cent of the global production,” it stressed.

Statistics have it that rice demand on the continent exceeds production and Africa has been forced to rely heavily on importing large quantities of rice to meet demand at a very huge cost. “In 2014, for instance, Africa imported 13 million tonnes costing over US $5billion,” the statement disclosed.

Dr. Sani warns that with demand increasing at between 6-12 percent over the last 10 years, the cost was likely to increase unless there was drastic increase in local production.

“SSA produces 14.8 million of milled rice per year, but consumes nearly double that amount at 26.4 million tonnes of milled rice per year. Except for a few countries that have attained self-sufficiency in rice production, as many as 21 of the 39 rice-producing countries in Africa import between 50 and 99 per cent of their rice requirements.

“Kenya is one of the countries that have had to heavily rely on imports. The country’s annual demand of milled rice is 550,000 tonnes. With an annual production of 102,000 tonnes, the imported 420,000 tonnes in 2015 were not enough to cater for demand, leaving the country with a deficit of 15,000 tonnes. Uganda on her part imported 53.8 percent of her rice requirements of 223,000 tonnes. Uganda produces 143,000 tonnes of milled rice per year,” it further stated.

With an annual production of 1,700,000 tonnes and an annual consumption of 1,770,000 tonnes, Tanzania is the only country in East Africa that appears to be heading towards self-sufficiency in rice with annual imports accounting for only 5.6 percent.

Hybrid rice technology revolutionized rice production in Asia dramatically increasing productivity from an average of 1.89 tonnes per hectare in 1949 to 6.71 in 2012, and it will do the same for Africa, states Dr. Denis Kyetere, Executive Director African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), that coordinates the Hybrid Rice project. Now that we have also acquired the 2-line hybrid rice technology, Africa should be self-sufficient in rice production and even compete globally for exports, and not imports, added Dr Kyetere.

Africa’s inability to reach self-sufficiency in rice is the result of a combination of several factors in the rice industry. The continent suffers low rice productivity averaging 2.2 t/ha against the global average of 3.4 t/ha. This is largely caused by lack of high performing varieties, poor seed systems making it difficult for farmers to access certified and high quality seeds, and vagaries of weather brought about by climate change. Farmers are further discouraged from investing in rice due to high production costs that make their products more costly and hence less competitive in the market.

Unlike maize, there is insufficient private sector investment in rice production in Africa, an issue Dr Sanni attributes to lack of hybrid rice technologies. Historically, hybrid crop model has been used to leverage private sector involvement in agriculture. Besides offering significant yield gains to farmers, hybrid technologies also offer viable agri-businesses to seed companies through sustained seed sales. Investment in rice production by seed companies can only be encouraged by using hybrid rice technology. The huge African rice deficits are indeed a great business opportunity for seed companies,” states Sanni

For hybrid rice technology to take root in Africa, both the public and the private sectors will need to appreciate the big business opportunities and increase their investment in rice production. The increased investments could be channeled to addressing the challenges facing adoption of hybrid rice technology such as unavailability of parental lines, lack of capacity on hybrid rice technology, and inadequate awareness on hybrid rice benefits to farmers.

Climate: The Change Is Here

Health

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         Effect of Climate Change

By Dele Oni

The first quarter of the year in Nigeria has always been noted as usually the hottest period with regards to weather variability and default seasonal pattern. This period is characterized with high solar intensity and consequently high temperature build-up, which in a lot of ways, causes a great deal of discomfort to people.

The hot period is often short termed because the raining season breaks the hot cycle with the usually long wet months, which invariably ushers in the period of plenty (Food production).

However, the first quarter of 2016 has recorded the hottest so far in this part of the world. The temperature was unusually higher than favorably normal while the accompanied heat wave broke every precedented record. Just as if the physiological discomfort is not enough, some food items have taken on the side of becoming out of reach for the common man. For instance, the common and once affordable tomato fruit, which has now become so scarce and expensive, is now temporarily classified as food for the rich. An unlikely year as it all seems, it is just reasonable to realize that the problem at hand is an interconnected one, with a pointer in the direction of the changing climate.

Inferences and insights on the prevailing agro-weather situation in the country have shown many links with direct impact of climate change on the weather condition and food production. In a lot of ways, this period seems to have presented a perfect platform to show the vivid picture of what climate change is. Of course, it has related impacts to the hard-to-crack or rather ignorant Nigerians, who overtime have found it difficult to reason with the phenomenon of the changing climate.

While the country is currently facing a steep downturn financially, climate change has further added to the hardship being faced by the teeming population. This is with the essential agro-dependent consumable provisions that are becoming rather out of easy reach.

Agricultural outputs have largely dwindled as a result of weather variability and in turn, impaired food production and availability. Another probable climate-linked impact is the prevalent invasion of the Fulani herdsmen in the south. The aridity status of the northern part of the country, from where these people hail has led to their southward’s migration in search of edible vegetation for their cattle. As a result, a number of farmlands have been destroyed and leveled aground. This has invariably led to a number of mortal clashes with farm owners. The herdsmen in turn, have recorded loss of lives and property.

The variability in weather condition on its own, has a rather constant attribute – heat build-up. This heat build-up arises from the ever-rising temperature through the greenhouse effect. The escalating temperature, in a way, has been linked to some disease outbreak and spread among the human population as well as the incidental rise of pathogenic attack on plants and livestock. Such could be the case with the current problem of the availability of tomatoes in Nigeria. The challenge has been linked to a disease outbreak (Tomato leaf miner disease) that has led to the destruction of about 40% of anticipated harvest. The disease has been noted to be spreading at an alarming rate and this has even called for the declaration of a state of emergency in some parts of northern states.

The leaf miner disease has been on a migratory trend with its point of origin in South America and now spreading fast through Europe and Africa. In the manner of considering the shift in the trend of the global ecosystem as a result of climate change, some localized latent disease have found possible conditions to assuming the status of full-blown epidemics and an above average spread rate potential. The leaf miner disease is on rampage in Nigeria and to a great extent, the possibility of the link with the impact of climate change, is quite on the high side of certainty.

So, in the manner of the unfolding events in the country as of today, climate change seem to bare itself in its absolute nakedness and the clarity of its impacts is altogether becoming more obvious after all. Now seems the time when government should work out a way of facilitating extensive awareness programs. This will accommodate the necessary awareness to effect practices that would ensure adequate adaptation to the changing climate. Also, it’s just the right time to speed up the passing of necessary bills that would facilitate the activation of the template of adaptation and mitigation contained in the country’s intended nationally determined contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Oni is CEO of Green Impact International and can be reached @ bamideleoni.greenimpact@gmail.com

Press Release: Agribusiness: Technological Innovation Will Act as Catalyst in Boosting Productivity and Growth in Africa – PwC Report

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 31, 2016/ — Agriculture is currently standing on the edge of a second green revolution. This revolution will entail fundamental shifts in how the agricultural sector utilises and implements innovative technology to improve output in a sustainable manner and address the need for greater food security globally. These are some of the highlights of PwC’s latest Africa Agribusinesses Insights Survey 2016  (www.PwC.com). “Currently, there is a second green revolution underway. There is a desperate need for food security and therefore higher agricultural output without compromising resources in the process,” says Frans Weilbach, Agribusiness Industry Leader for PwC Africa.

“Advances in technology and innovation are the key to the future of agriculture as agribusinesses strive to feed an increasing population against a background of climate change, scarcity of water and a host of environmental concerns.

“Innovative technology and advancements in productivity are becoming increasingly important as pressure mounts on food systems,” says Weilbach. “The global population is growing rapidly and the climate is ever-changing.

“Agribusinesses are making changes to go high-tech. From data-gathering drones to artificial intelligence farming, technology is making the agricultural sector more precise and efficient as agribusinesses push for increased profits.”

The agricultural sector is regarded as one of the most critical industries for the African continent due to economic potential and is projected to become a US$1trillion industry in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030. More than half (58.8%) of survey respondents consider investment in Africa as an opportunity for their businesses to expand. The top four countries they are planning to invest in are Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa.

PwC’s Agribusinesses Insights Survey 2016was carried out among a group of African agribusinesses that are mainly focused on delivering agricultural and related services to primary producers. The survey focuses on the strategic challenges that agribusiness leaders face in their businesses, while on the other hand it highlights areas where technological innovation is already taking place and where it can make a difference in the future. In addition, the survey provides viewpoints on the agricultural sector in Nigeria and Kenya.

Survey respondents, however are less optimistic about revenue growth over the next 12 months compared with their expectations a year ago. The majority of agribusinesses (46.2%) are expecting revenue growth of between 0-5%, and 26.9% of businesses expect it to be between 6-10%.

The biggest challenges to business growth cited by business leaders were access to technology, the scarcity of natural resources and supply-side uncertainties. African agribusinesses also feel that there is a long way to go toward better support from government in the sector. For example, businesses are of the view that government does not offer sufficient tax incentives to ensure international competitiveness. Furthermore, they say government is not doing enough to develop skilled workers in the sector.

Edward Kerich, PwC Director in Kenya, says: “Kenya relies heavily on the agricultural sector as the mainstay of its economy, with agriculture contributing 29% of GDP. Kenya is SSA’s leading tea exporter and one of the world’s largest black tea producers. A significant development in the agricultural sector is growth in the number of privately owned tea factories outside of those owned by the KTDA and the large multinationals in the country. The contribution of the tea industry to the Kenyan economy is expected to continue growing, and the benefits realised will be enhanced as some factories move to cheaper renewable energy such as hydropower production.”

Rasheed Rahji, PwC Partner in Nigeria, says: “Agriculture contributed 24.18% to real GDP in Nigeria in Q4 2015. This is mainly due to mechanised farming and to other activities in the agribusiness value chain. It is being fuelled by the Government owing to its focus on agribusiness as a driver for poverty alleviation, and in part by continued investment by commercial farmers. Given the fall in the international price of crude oil over the past 18 months, the Government has encouraged agricultural exports as an alternative foreign exchange earner. A number of challenges in the agricultural sector remain to be addressed. These include inadequate infrastructure, access to credit, and the training and education of smallholder farmers in modern farming techniques. Adequate focus on these matters would certainly assist in improving Nigeria’s food security, grow its GDP and increase its foreign earnings.”

African agribusinesses also indicated they have maintained focus on risk management, with the majority of survey respondents (95.2%) periodically conducting a formal risk assessment. It is also positive to note that 53.8% of respondents prepare an integrated report.

Human resources (HR) models and processes are beginning to evolve, with more emphasis being placed on technology to improve networks and data. Agribusinesses are looking to their HR teams to provide not only basic services and transactional activities but also strategic insights and workforce intelligence. Businesses indicated internal HR capacity, labour unrest, employee turnover, and communication between employees and management as the most challenging human resources matters.

Although there is widespread consensus on the reality of global climate change, much uncertainty still exists when it comes to the exact measurable impact of changes in climatic conditions on agriculture and food security. The majority of agribusinesses are of the view that climate change will have a significant impact on SSA agriculture in the future – 41.2% indicated that there will be a significant impact in the short term and 35.3% that there will be an impact over the next 20 years. In addition, 35.3% of agribusiness leaders indicated that they are considering investment in renewable energy, while 29.4% have already done so. The main forms of renewable energy that agribusinesses have invested in are solar energy and biogas.

Increased pressure on the profitability of farming and agricultural business activities is forcing the agricultural sector to be an early adopter of new technologies in order that it may improve the productivity and profitability of the sector. Survey respondents noted the availability of real-time data as the biggest opportunity for technological innovation. In addition drones are fast becoming a real green-tech tool. Global research also shows that artificial intelligence (AI) farming will be the main enabling factor in increasing the world’s agricultural production capacity to meet the demands of the growing population. This goes hand in hand with precision farming and other technology trends. The majority of survey respondents (76.5%) agree that AI farming will make a major contribution to increasing capacity in Africa over the next ten years. Only 47% of businesses had already invested or plan to invest in the development of AI farming capabilities for primary production. This could be due to the cost of implementation, which was noted as the biggest restriction to the use of AI farming capabilities (64.7%).

All agribusinesses indicated that they felt a responsibility towards food security. Food quality and safety is the one pillar of food security that respondents indicated they can contribute towards the most followed by availability and affordability.  It is also positive to note that all businesses indicated their agribusinesses contribute towards corporate social investment (CSI). The top three areas of investment are: healthcare, education and personal upliftment.

“It is predicted that technological innovation will act as a catalyst in lifting agribusiness to the next level in Africa. The winners will be those agribusinesses that seize the opportunity to create new opportunities through technology – they will be able to reach their strategic goals faster and more efficiently,” concludes Weilbach.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC).