The Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, has called the Nigerian government to enlarge its capacity to deploy science for the agricultural sector. Akinbamijo made the observation on Tuesday during a virtual conference organised by the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).
The conference, which was themed Technological Interventions in Mitigating the Impacts of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s Food Security, hosted various industry leaders.
The director described Nigeria as an “emerging leader in biotechnology”, added that the country will be Africa’s “litmus test for the success or failure” of biotechnology policies. Biotechnology is a broad area of biology that uses living systems and organisms to develop or make technology-enhanced products to solve human problems. Akinbamijo explained, “Nigeria as a country has all the wherewithal when it comes to deploying technology and all it would take for Nigeria to confront the situation without Nigerians having to go to bed hungry
“Nigeria cannot afford to have a weak NABDA, a weak biotechnology [system] that will undermine the face of the field.
“COVID-19 is creating job losses in the agriculture sector. We need to empower them [actors in agriculture] technologically in a way that one plus one is not two.
“We need one plus one to be greater than three. And you can only do that when you have biotech behind you. With the people here today, we are on the right path.”
On his part, Dr Abdularazak Ibrahim, a Research Consultant at FARA, pointed out that statistics from the World Bank predict that Africa’s agricultural production will decline by 2.6 -7% in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Ibrahim added that while Nigeria is an emerging continent leader, it is lagging behind on a global scale with just 38 scientists per million people.
He also noted that technologies could be to mitigate food shortages, extend the storage capacity of food produce, strengthen the food supply system, trade and labour market, among others.
“To use technology, you need to plan to use it. COVID-19 will be around for a long time. This means we need to create ways to work with the pandemic as the new normal. Technology will help ensure that safety nets that are inclusive are created,” he added.
The don also called on the FG to review the country’s National Agricultural Investment Plans (NAIPS) for proper implementation with COVID-19 taken into consideration. Also speaking during the conference, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Sabo Nanono, underscored the importance of biotechnology in securing Nigeria’s food system.
According to him, biotechnology plays an important role in solving agricultural problems such as low yield, pest and insect infestation and post-harvest losses.
He explained, “Technology is critical in today’s world, and its relevance in agriculture is all the more crucial in preventing farmer crop losses, diseases and hence, market excess, and the achievement of appropriate pricing for farms inputs, services and produce.
“This is particularly important for smallholder farmers as they bear the brunt of unavoidable movement restrictions imposed by the government in the on-set of the pandemic that serves to distract agricultural stability across the world.
“However, biotechnology, in particular, is set to play an even bigger more intense role in improving the food security situation in Nigeria.
“It is important to state for the preliminary point that for thousands of years, farmers have been using breeding techniques to modify the genetic states of crops and animals in order to improve quality and yield.
“Modern biotechnology is, therefore, a crucial tool in the drive to produce plants and animals that produce traits capable of enhancing human capacity to secure food systems.
“Similarly, with the aid of biotechnology, we can extend the shelf life of produce. Without the galvanising power of biotechnology, processing and value-addition which are critical for agro-industrialisation will be discarded.
“With COVID-19, however, biotechnology has proven to be a critical part of the resource.”