NIMET’s Prediction and The Need For Biotech Crops In Nigeria

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET’s) recent prediction that there would be less rainfall and extreme weather condition across most parts of Nigeria in 2014, has come with its worrisome troubles.

Dr. Anthony Anuforom, Director-General of NIMET predicted that the South-East and South-West parts of the country may experience delayed onset of rainfall while certain other areas would have low comfort index because of high level of humidity and temperature.

According to the NiMets 2014 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) report held in Abuja on March 3, “Cessation of rains from the ENSO (El Nino/Southern Oscillations) signals shows that the level of humidity and temperature will be high in March and April.

“Overall, we may have shorter than normal rainy season. We advise farmers to use early maturing crops species for the short rainy season.”

This is to make sure that within the shorter rainy season, farmers could quickly plant and the crops would reach maturity and harvesting within the short rainy season that is likely to occur.

Herein comes the need for President Jonathan to, as a matter of expediency, sign the biosafety bill, which has been lying on his table for some years now. The bill will allow for the adoption of modified crops species that would withstand short rainfall, draught, etc.

Over the years, many countries have advanced in the trials, adoption, production and even commercialisation of these modified species and thereby boosting the food production indices for their ever-growing population.

The commercialisation status of biotech crops has, especially in the past year, grown to appreciable level. Some governments in Africa are taking advantage of the benefits of these crops against the tidal wave of threats to farmers, and by implication, food security.

A report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), has shown that adoption and commercialisation of biotech crops in countries is on the increase.

Clive James, Founder and Emeritus Chair of ISAAA has said that of the 27 countries that planted biotech crops in 2013, 19 were developing and 8 were industrial countries. Stacked traits occupied 47.1 million hectares, or 27%.

“For the second consecutive year, in 2013, developing countries planted more hectares than industrial countries. Notably, developing countries grew more, 54% (94 million hectares) of global biotech crops in 2013 than industrial countries at 46% (81 million hectares). Successful public/private partnerships were established by several countries including Brazil, Bangladesh and Indonesia,” the report stated.

According to James, in 2013, a record 18 million farmers, up 0.7 million from 2012, grew biotech crops – remarkably over 90%, or over 16.5 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. “Farmers are the masters of risk-aversion and improve productivity through sustainable intensification (confining cultivation to the 1.5 billion hectares of crop land and thereby saving the forests and biodiversity). In 2013, a record 7.5 million small farmers in China and another 7.3 million in India, elected to plant more than 15 million hectares of Bt cotton, because of the significant benefits it offers. In 2013, almost 400,000 small farmers in the Philippines benefited from biotech maize.”

Although seven countries (Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda) have conducted field trials, which is the immediate step prior to approval for commercialization, South Africa is already benefiting from biotech crops for more than a decade now. While Burkina Faso and Sudan have increased their Bt cotton hectarage by an impressive 50% and 300%, respectively, in 2013, James further disclosed.

Importantly, the WEMA project is scheduled to deliver the first biotech drought tolerant maize to Africa in 2017. “The lack of appropriate, science-based and cost/time-effective regulatory systems continues to be the major constraint to adoption. Responsible, rigorous but not onerous, regulation is needed, particularly for small and poor developing countries,” the report stated.

Globally, 2013 was the 18th year of successful commercialization of biotech crops, which first began in 1996. “Hectarage of biotech crops increased every single year between 1996 to 2013, with 12 years of double-digit growth rates, reflecting the confidence and trust of millions of risk-averse farmers around the world, in both developing and industrial countries. Remarkably, since the first plantings in 1996, an unprecedented cumulative hectarage of more than 1.5 billion hectares have been successfully cultivated, an area that is 50% more than the total land mass of China or the United States.”

Biotech crop hectares increased by more than 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, to over 175 million hectares in 2013. “This makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times – the reason – they deliver benefits. In 2013, hectarage of biotech crops grew by 5 million hectares, at an annual growth rate of 3%. It is important to note that more modest annual gains, and continued plateauing, are predicted for the next few years due to the already optimal (between 90% and 100%) adoption rates for the principal biotech crops, leaving little or no room for expansion,” ISAAA noted.

Five countries are top on the list of biotech crops planters – deployment of the first drought tolerant maize and stacked HT/IR soybean. The US continued to be the lead country with 70.1 million hectares and an average ~90% adoption across all crops. “Importantly, the first biotech drought tolerant maize was planted by 2,000 US farmers on 50,000 hectares. Brazil was ranked second, and for the fifth consecutive year, was the engine of growth globally, increasing its hectarage of biotech crops more than any other country – an impressive record increase of 3.7 million hectares, up 10% from 2012, reaching 40.3 million hectares,” ISAAA further reported.

Brazil also planted the first stacked HT/IR soybean in a record-breaking 2.2 million hectare launch, and its home-grown virus-resistant biotech bean is ready for commercialization. Argentina retained its third place with 24.4 million hectares. India, which displaced Canada for the fourth place had a record 11 million hectares of Bt cotton with an adoption rate of 95%. Canada was fifth at 10.8 million hectares with decreased plantings of canola but maintained a high adoption rate of 96%. In 2013, each of the top 5 countries planted more than 10 million hectares providing a broad, solid foundation for future growth.

Nigeria’s biosafety bill should not be made to deter Nigeria’s farmers from the benefits of biotech crops. Mr President should not delay for another rainy reason before he sign the bill in view of the benefits attached to the adoption of biotech crops.

For example, from 1996 to 2012, biotech crops have contributed to Food Security, Sustainability and the Environment/Climate Change by “increasing crop production valued at US$116.9 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 497 million kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2012 alone reducing CO2 emissions by 26.7 billion kg, equivalent to taking 11.8 million cars off the road for one year; conserving biodiversity by saving 123 million hectares of land from 1996-2012; and helped alleviate poverty for >16.5 million small farmers and their families totalling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea and adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.”

Therefore, if Nigeria’s biosafety bill signed into law and if Nigeria adopts biotech crops species for Nigerian farmers, sooner than later, farmers here will start commercialising these crops, thereby boosting the country’s food production indices. Besides, NIMET’s warning wouldn’t have any serious impact, especially as it affects farming.

Biotech crops will help deal with the problems of short rainfalls and drought.

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