The Director-General, National Biotechnology Development Agency, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, says Nigeria will soon deploy genome editing technology in agriculture.
This, he said, would help to boost productivity and ensure food security.
Speaking in Abuja on Tuesday at the commencement of the validation workshop to review the draft of the genome editing national communication and advocacy strategy and action plan, Mustapha stated that as soon as the strategy was validated, Nigeria was ready for implementation.
At the programme, held in partnership with the African Union Development Agency, were researchers from various institutes and ministries, farmers, lecturers, civil society and faith-based organisations and regulators like the National Biosafety Management Agency.
Also present were representatives of the National Orientation Agency and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
The organisers stressed that GEd agricultural products would help to boost agricultural productivity, alleviate poverty, enhance the nutritional value of farm produce, and reduce crops’ vulnerability to pesticides and environmental stress as well as the dependence on fertilizers.
Mustapha noted that the convergence of the stakeholders was to enrich the inputs in the national communication strategy before its adoption.
He stated, “The meeting brought together stakeholders with backgrounds in science, technology and innovation, most especially genome editing, to validate the work that has been done on genome editing in Nigeria. It’s a new technology that has cut across the continent, and if harnessed, will transform the continent in terms of science, technology, and innovation.
“So, we partnered with the AUDA-NEPAD to see how we can make a success of this innovation. We also invited journalists, who are the ears and eyes of society, to join in validating the communication strategy and the roadmap.
“This initiative began in Nigeria in October 2022 and once it is validated, we swing into action and start the implementation. So, this workshop is to examine a critical aspect of GEd for the effective communication of the benefits, risks, and ethical considerations to the Nigerian public.”
Also, the Director-General, NBMA, Dr. Agnes Asagbra, said the agency had developed the guidelines, which researchers were expected to follow “and when they do not conform to the guidelines, we will wield the big stick.”
She added, “We have a Memorandum of Understanding with Customs to ensure that unlicensed GEd products do not make it into Nigeria. So, we have the GEd guidelines that will ensure that GEd products do not impact negatively on people’s health and well-being.
“The NBMA Act came into effect in 2015 but was amended in 2019 to include genome editing. With the crop of stakeholders present at this workshop, I have every conviction that at the end, we will come up with a workable action plan on GEd.”
Meanwhile, the Supervisor, Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation at AUDA-NEPAD, Prof Olalekan Akinbo, said there had been high-level policy engagements in all the African countries used for the pilot scheme, including Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Eswatini.
He noted that it had become necessary for Africa to embrace innovation, given current realities.
Prof. Akinbo added, “For the level of acceptance that we have seen when the products are fully in the market, it will not go the route of other technologies that suffered from bias. We say in our centre that innovation today is tomorrow’s prosperity, and until our policymakers identify the benefits of an initiative, they may not be committed. However, once they see that this innovation improves the livelihood of people, they will fund it.
“The mandate of the centres of excellence is to drive the implementation of Agenda 2063, which has the slogan, ‘The Africa we want’. Africa is tired of policies without implementation.
“The mandate is that by 2063, we should have a policy document that translates to implementation, which is our Chief Executive Officer travelled all over the world to speak about the agenda, and what we are doing now is one of the pillars.”
He noted that many scientists were doing a lot of work in the laboratories, but that their findings and expected outcomes had to be properly communicated to the regulators and final consumers.
“Our mandate is to look for home-grown solutions to our problems, drive innovation to commercialisation and effectively harness innovation and emerging technologies in addressing the problems,” he added.
Prof. Akinbo noted that due to the way the competing need for land had limited access to land for farming, it was expedient to embrace innovation in agriculture to make the best use of the available land.
Also, the Director-General, Sheda Science and Technology Complex, Prof. Paul Onyenekwe, said all the stakeholders across the value chain should be carried along for the initiative to maximise its success.
“Let the press, traditional rulers, environmentalists and others understand our language.
That was one of the banes of genetically modified organic products. I believe it is a very important task to prepare the roadmap for communication, and I believe that in the end, Nigeria will be better for it.”
The anchor of the event and director at NABDA, Dr Shakirat Ajenifujah-Solebo, also warned that Nigeria would be left behind if it failed to innovate and embrace technology.