Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nigeria need regulatory framework on GMOs to protect biodiversity - Akinbo Dr Olalekan Akinbo

Akinbo Dr Olalekan Akinbo Geneticist and a Breeder
In an this interview with, Etta Michael Bisong Nigeria Country Co-ordinator for AU NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), Akinbo Dr. Olalekan Akinbo geneticist and a Breeder, urged the government of Nigeria on the need to fast track the accent to the bill to address the challenges and superintend over the adoption of biotechnology in Nigeria. 

Follow our question and answer… What is Biotechnology? Ans: Biotechnology in simple term is applied biology. Applied biology is using what you know to improve what you do not know. Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible until it is done”. Biotechnology is a tool used in plant (in this content) to insert gene that is not heritable from the wild relatives into preferred cultivated crop for crop improvement. 

Que: In what area can Biotechnology be applied in Nigeria?
Ans: Globally, biotechnology is applied in every sphere of lives. The insulin in medicine is as a result of biotechnology. In the area of crop improvement there is the marriage between female and male plants to get children which in genetic term is called progeny. When you start making the marriages between the two they will produce offsprings (progenies) and selection for the best progenies are done. The selection of the superior progenies across different environments is done through conventional breeding. This breeding procedure is costly and time consuming because of the unwanted characters that will be shared from both parents to the progenies. Biotechnology can be helpful in the area of crop improvement to improve the livelihood of the farmers and also to increase food productivities both for food and export. Crops like Cassava, Maize, Cotton, Rice, Cowpea and so on are potential crops for this technology.

Que: What are the risks in Biotechnology (GMO)?
Ans: I want you to understand that because this technology is new and are highly regulated, a lot of information are available which are science based for the proof of the safety of the technology and the crop(s). This technology is about incorporating useful gene from other sources apart from plants. Genetic materials are encoded for information. For instance, if a gene from human being that is encoded for a particular function is put into plant or bacterial, it will express itself alike. When you are talking about safety, because of the way the technology came and is coming from trangene a source that is different from what is known and the regulation have been put in place that make sure that biodiversity is not affected. That is why the Cartagena Protocol brought in leverage for this technology in which Nigeria is a signatory party. If you are talking of food safety is it allergic or can it cause any disease. When you talk about safety even with scientific data it will give it 99.9 percent that is real life situation, you cannot say something is absolutely safe, but the pre-cautionary measure to confirm has been established and till date by data, literature and information around the World there have not been any critical case or factor to say that this material has result in this disease or sickness. But the information about this technology has been around for over 20 years now, and if over 20 years you haven’t seen anything significant the risk level is absolutely still low.

Que:  What are the necessary regulations actions needed to ensure the proper adoption of biotechnology in Nigeria?
Ans:  For regulatory activities in Nigeria, there must be a law in place that is executable and internationally friendly and workable. In the biosafety bill for this country, the stakeholder’s and the lawyers have interpreted that bill to work within the context of Cartagena protocol. Where there is no law there is no sin, if the bill is there it’s like a working tool that will empower the regulator to do their job well, but now we don’t have the law. So, until the law is signed and the body formed, then there is no punishment. So, the stage that Nigeria is now is that the bill should be signed into law, when it is assented to anyone that defaulted in following the strike regulations by the international body then the police officers for this technology will hammer them.

Que: What are the benefits of this technology to Nigerian?
Ans: The benefits of this technology are enormous to the environment and the farmer. For instance BT cotton, there is no resistant source of gene to the destructive insect (caterpillar) of cotton that can reduce the yield of cotton except by using chemicals to spray at flowering before the onset of the infestation. Chemical must be sprayed three or four times before any record yield on the field can be harvested during any planting season. The side effect of the pesticide residual both to the environment and human is enormous according to the medical records that are available. But with BT cotton instead of spraying for four times you only spray ones and still get abundant yield which will translate to more income, efficient use of land, equipment and zero tillage which conserve the ecosystem. When you are talking about the economic benefits, (cowpea) that we eat if you don’t spray it you will not get any yield during harvest because of the Maruca infestation. But with BT cowpea you spray less and get more yield and when you get more yield it translates to better live instead of getting 10 tons you can harvest higher tons per acreage which translate into more income and safety of the environment.

Que: What are the mechanisms adopted by ABNE to assist Nigeria competent authority?
Ans: We are joining hands with competent authorities in Nigeria to build their capacity, training of relevant stakeholders, networking with International community on up to date Science base information. Workability of any law depends on the country and Nigeria cannot stand in isolation as regards to regulatory frame work to allow for the same level playing ground. The translation of this into enforcement is the responsibility of competent authority. And the competent authority for Nigeria is the biosafety unit of federal ministry of environment.

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