Why Government Must Listen to Farmers on Agric Biotechnology,By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Farmers applying fertilizers on their farm for high yieldIn every nation’s quest to feed its people and provide food security, many methods aimed at improving agricultural productivity towards availability of food for the people, are put on trial. Nigeria’s Operation Feed that Nation, The Green Revolution and the recent Agricultural Transformation Agenda, are few examples.

As the world’s population by year 2050 is expected to rise to nine billion, to satisfy the demand of adequate food to meet the ever-growing population, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has predicted that food production will need to increase by 70 percent. “Meanwhile, land and water resources are increasingly being degraded and depleted, which has serious implications for developing countries, and in particular for the African continent. These are huge challenges, but one possible solution is for farmers to combine their expert local knowledge with recent advances in biosciences.”

Expectedly, the world over, agricultural biotechnology is being promoted as the veritable means of beating the 70% target. This is because “biosciences,” according to Prof. Walter Alhassan, “represents a powerful tool that augments conventional approaches of food security.”

For farmers who have suffered over the years to grow crops that are not resistant to weeds, pests, draught, and that could grow without the application of fertilizers, they will readily accept improved variety of crops that doubles yields. An onion farmer, Aliyu Adamu of Duhuwa Gumsa village in Wurno local government area of Sokoto claps his hands to welcome the news that there are crops that have been improved to resist weeds, pests, draught.

“Do we really have such crops? What is the government waiting for that it is not helping us with it? We will surely welcome such crops. We won’t have to buy fertilizers, which we now buy at N5,000.00 per bag,” Adamu excitingly said. This, for sure will be the position of many, if not all, farmers across the nation. The fact that every Nigerian farmer would like to have crops with high yields, yet resistant to draught, pests, weeds and other crop-growth deterring elements should make government bow to the present need for them

Prof. Calestous Juma observes that “sustaining African economic prosperity will require significant efforts to modernize the continent’s economy through the application of science and technology in agriculture.” This is a position that should make Nigeria pave the way for her farmers to fully employ biotechnology for food production.

Second world richest Bill Gates posits that “If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”

Obasanjo’s Operation Feed the Nation and Shagari’s Green revolution employed agricultural mechanization at the time when that was the ultimate method for mass food production. Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) should not look away from the product of the day, which is Agricultural Biotechnology. This is because, according to Phil Bloomer of Oxford, “A one percent increase in per capita GDP in agriculture reduces the depth of poverty at least, five times more than a similar increase outside agriculture.”

Nigerian government should emphasize research and development in agriculture because current levels of agricultural research and development spending in sub-Saharan Africa are inadequate for agricultural growth and poverty reduction. And, a 2012 report by Africa Human Development observes that “The challenge of food security in sub-Saharan Africa is formidable, the timeframe for action is tight and the investment required is substantial. But the potential gains for human development are immense.”

It will be dangerous for ATA success if biotechnology is not given a chance and most importantly, if the biosafety bill is allowed to lie fallow on Mr. President’s table, unsigned.
Abdallah el-Kurebe is a Media Fellow of Biosciences for Farming in Africa and can be reached at [email protected]

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