•A matter to be examined for any commitment
A protest march by various civil society groups, which culminated in the submission of a petition to the office of the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, highlighted the reality of public resistance to Genetically Modified (GM) foods and the Federal Government’s reported plan to introduce GM seeds in the country’s agricultural sector. It is a sad measure of the confusion over the alleged scheme that the agriculture minister, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, offered a denial, saying, “What we have in Nigeria is biotechnologically improved crops to raise yields for farmers and not genetically modified crops as being speculated.” Nigerians would, no doubt, be interested in knowing the difference, if any.
The arrowhead of the opposition, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and Nigerians Against GMO (NAG), inspired about 200 protesters with the objective of creating awareness of alleged negatives of the scientific development, especially the perceived harmful health implications. It is instructive that these antagonists of Genetic Modification, also known as GMO, said in their petition to the political authorities, “Nigeria is blessed with fertile land. In today’s world, GMO seeds and produce are being banned in France, Japan, Russia and most of the European Union countries due to the adverse effects scientific research has shown they have on humans and animals as well as the soil. The introduction of this in Nigeria is unacceptable.”
Moreover, NAG leader Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour provided enlightening elaboration, and was quoted as saying, “These things (GMO) have been linked to cancer by independent researchers; it has been linked to organ failure, sterility and these are diseases we are starting to see among our people.” According to him, “With the way research is done in the world, big companies are only interested in profits and not doing research to know what happens to the human body and effects these products do have.”
Against this background, the anti-GMO campaign has a commendable social concern value that should not be overlooked. However, it is worth noting that GMO, which dates back to the 1980s, basically involves gene mutations to get desirable qualities from crops and developed from the need to produce more food, more cheaply, even if inorganically, on limited arable land for a burgeoning world population that is now over seven billion. In this sense, it can, paradoxically, also be considered as socially valuable.
It would appear, therefore, that the issue transcends emotionalism, and should be seen from a holistic or all encompassing view, which is about the fact that all angles matter, including the advantages and disadvantages. It is worth mentioning that the American Association for the Advancement of Science said in a 2012 statement, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” To go by statistics, GMO farming seems to be gaining increasing acceptance across the world: In 2012, about 17.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 28 countries, and 20 developing countries accounted for 52 percent of the total GM harvest that year. More relevant to Nigeria is the detail that about 16 African countries have adopted GMO farming for food security purposes.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable to allow a margin for doubt, particularly because GMO research may be considered open-ended with the possibility that new findings could substantially alter the picture of unqualified safety, which is not to say that GMO could eventually prove to be more dangerous than useful. More and more research is the key.
More importantly, beyond the merits and demerits of GMO, the central administration and the state governments need to seriously address the real problems in the country’s agricultural sector, particularly mechanisation, storage and transportation issues that have been identified as counter-productive to achieving food security.
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