BIOTECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY

Nigeria’s dream of achieving food sufficiency will be a mirage, unless the country adopts biotechnology in the agricultural sector.

Nearly 40,000 people – half of them children -die every day due to hunger related causes. And by 2020, the number of undernourished could well surpass 1 billion. This is a very sad news. Worldwide, one in three children is underweight, and one in five is stunted due to undernourishment.

Hunger is the greatest of all violence says Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace.

In addition to lack of food, Malnutrition plays a significant role in half of the nearly 12 million deaths each year of children under five in developing countries.

In many developing countries, the loss of a crucial crop to pests, diseases or weather can mean the difference between life or death, threatening the well-being of entire communities.

Agricultural biotechnology is the application of technology to agriculture to make, modify or improve on a product for the benefit of mankind.

Biotechnology can help farmers produce more nutritious crops, while sustaining the land’s ability to support continued farming.

The technology is often called gene technology and allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between related species.

It is this method that is used to create genetically modified plants, which are used to grow genetically modified food crops.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which the genetic material, DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.

Introduction of GM foods processing system in Nigeria would multiply food production that would ensure food security, improve nutritive value of food, improve agricultural practices by minimizing use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.

One of their key projects in Nigeria is the development of nitrogen-use, water efficient and salt tolerant rice. This is key because Nigeria is the second largest importer of rice in the world, about two million metric tons of rice from countries like Thailand and China.

It is therefore appropriate for the country in order to boost the production of maize, cotton, rice, beans, wheat, cassava, etc to, not only meet up with our consumption needs but also for the purpose of commercialization.

Biotechnology is an innovation has done well for Nigeria’s cassava production. Presently, we have more than twenty genetically modified improved cassava varieties with an average yield of 25-45 tonnes per hectare.

By developing crops that more efficiently absorb nutrients from the soil, biotechnology can help farmers produce more on land already under cultivation, and may reduce the need for costly inputs such as fertilizer and non-renewable resources, such as oil and natural gas.

Biotechnology has made possible what was impossible for the traditional methods to make by use of the new techniques.

Biotechnology has been used to transfer the genes to farmer-specified varieties adapted to different ecology in these West African countries.

Biotechnology has shortened the time of developing and releasing a variety. Biotechnology will boost our agricultural productivity in no small measure. Ronald Cantrell of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines says: “To still have hunger in our world of abundance is not only unacceptable, it is unforgivable.”

World hunger is a complex issue, one for which there is no one answer. Yet while biotechnology may not be the only solution, it can be a valuable tool in the struggle to feed a hungry world.

Even the leading scientists around the world are attesting to the health and environmental safety of agricultural biotechnology.

Biotechnology is no longer viewed through the lens of suspicion and uncertainty, but that is seen as a panacea for food security, economic growth and stability.

Iyanuoluwa Olamide Aliu

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