Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has raised concerns over announcement by National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA to begin marking of Bt Cowpea and Cotton as biotechnology products in Nigeria before the end of the year.
It would be recalled that on the 22nd of March, 2018, the country coordinator for Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) and National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) chieftain, Dr Rose Gidado, had in an interview with newsmen in Abuja revealed that “before the end of 2018, Bt Cowpea and Bt Cotton as biotechnology products in Nigeria would be in market.”
A statement signed by Biosafety Project Officer, Joyce Ebebeinwe, noted that while Nigerians face uncertainties over food security due to incessant herders-farmers clashes, another threat is on the horizon.
According to her, the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari recently inaugurated a Food Security Council underscores the importance of food security to the country. This is even as she added that without food safety there cannot be food security.
Ebebeinwe stressed there is no guarantee about the environmental and health safety of the beans and cotton to be released by the end of 2018.
The Director, HOMEF, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, stressed that GMOs pose serious chaklenges in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune dysfunction and genetic disorders which makes it very important that the country adopts a precautionary principle-which warns that strict measures should be applied where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage and lack of full scientific certainty.
Responding to a promise by an official of OFAB/NABDA that the pesticide tolerant cowpea will allow for a reduced use of pesticide, Bassey, said science has shown that pests have developed resistance to the Bt toxins and it has led to increased use of toxic chemicals which increases the damage to the environment.
Also, the chairperson, African Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA), Mariann Orovwuje, asserted that “Bt crops and other GM foods will not help Nigeria’s economy as the supporters of the technology allege. Rather, there will be forced dependence on corporate bodies for seeds. Farmers will have no right to reuse their seeds and agricultural production will be left in the hands of large scale industrial investors.”
HOMEF warns that the market for genetically modified products from Nigeria is narrowing instead of expanding, with the strict requirement of the EU, citing the National Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) report in June 2017 that revealed that 24 export products from Nigeria were rejected by the European Union (EU) in the year 2016 for failing to meet standards.
HOMEF believes that the way to improve economic situation for farmers is to invest in organic agriculture, provide farmers with extension services, needed infrastructure, good roads and access to land and loans. Support for farmers should include investment in research and exploration of agroecology approach to the problems of pests and diseases.
According to Joyce Ebebeinwe, Biosafety Officer at HOMEF, the Director of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) during a recent twitter chat was asked how the akara or moi-moi made from GM beans and other foods sold by the road sides will be labelled and his response was that the sellers should erect signposts announcing that they are selling GM products. “That would be laughable if not for the fact that it is an extremely tragic notion.”
HOMEF insisted that the promise to have GMOs labelled in Nigeria to ensure that the public have a choice on whether or not to eat such crops will not work mainly due to Nigeria’s socio-cultural and economic realities.
Furthermore, the recent statement by the NBMA DG, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, at a media conference in Abuja on the 5th of April shows clearly how flawed our biosafety regulatory system is. According to reports, “Dr. Rufus Ebegba, had given importers of genetically modified (GM) seeds a seven-day ultimatum to formalise their dealings or risk being shut down”.
The organisation stated that it is good to learn from others who have taken caution against GMOs. “The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni had declined to sign into law a Biosafety Bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament in October 2017 because of issues that included liability and redress and concerns on conservation of indigenous crops and agricultural biodiversity.”
According to HOMEF, the NBMA DG’s statement may be construed to mean that dealers on GM products in Nigeria will be given permits after they had imported GMO seeds without passing through due approval processes. HOMEF totally objects to any sort of formalisation of illegal importation of GMOs into the country. A short notice to import these crops does not allow for risk assessments or safety assurances and regrettably this may have been the basis on which the agency granted WACOT Ltd permits to import several varieties of GM maize over a period of three years – after the company was alleged to have illegally brought in the crop in September 2017 and had been ordered to repatriate the grains.
Adding that Ecological Think Tank are calling on the government to look critically at the activities of the Nigerian Biosafety Regulatory Agency in relation to genetically modified foods in the country.
While HOMEF commends the action of the federal government in establishing the food security council, the group insists that it is pertinent that action is taken to ensure that “our foods are indeed safe.”
BOA patners SUNTRUST on agric financing
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh has described the partnership between SunTrust Ltd and the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) on funding of agriculture as a welcome development.
The Minister made this observation during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SunTrust Bank Ltd and BOA at the ministry recently.
He also explained that farming has remained unattractive to prospective farmers because of high interest rates being charged by commercial banks as many of them of them are wary to lending to farmers.
With the partnership, farmers across the country will start to enjoy better financial services by accessing agricultural loans from the BOA through the SunTrust Bank Ltd that will provide farmers with e-wallet and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Cards.
Expressing his confidence in the ability of managements of the banks to deliver on this initiative, the Minister announced that efforts are on to reduce interest rates being offered by commercial banks to 5 per cent from the initial 7 per cent.
He recalled that farmers have been enjoying the support of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the Anchor Borrowers Programme, while noting that the CBN cannot act as a commercial bank for long. He also disclosed that the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) is being reformed to favour farmers. He assured that after the restructuring, 30 per cent of the shares of Bank of Agriculture will be divested to farmers.
The Chief Executive Officer of SunTrust Ltd Mr. Muhammad Jibrin explained that with the partnership, more customers will be attracted to the banks, projecting that by 2020, about 2 million customers would have been attracted to the bank.
The Managing Director, Bank of Agriculture, Mr. Kabiru Adamu said the bank is interested in changing the narrative of farmers who suffer because they do not have access to financial services. According to him, “Farmers should be able to do business without any challenges. This is the era of e-business, so farmers with e-wallets and ATM cards, can access our products”
He said the banks strongly identify with the federal government on its effort to diversify the economy through agriculture and assured the public that farmers would henceforth have easy access to finance at reasonable terms through the partnership.
FG commits to agric development
The federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), has restated its commitment to develop agriculture in order to attain national food security and provide employment for young Nigerians.
The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Bukar Hassan, who was represented at the occasion by the Director, Federal Department of Extension, Mrs Karima Babangida made this disclosure during a courtesy call on the Ministry by Students of United States of America War College, on recently.
A statement by the deputy director, Information, Mrs Osagie Jacobs Julie, said Mrs. Babangida while highlighting some of the programmes of the Ministry noted that efforts are being made to modernize the sector through farm mechanization and use of ICT to target youth participation in agriculture.
She also explained that the Ministry in its effort to boost export is working with National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) to ensure safety standard of food, maintenance of international quality standards and safety requirements.
At an interactive session, Head, Projects Coordinating Unit (PCU) Mrs. Aisha Mohammed, while outlining the Ministry’s mandate, informed the group that the government is committed to changing the narrative of being a major importer of agricultural produce especially rice to being a major exporter of rice, cassava, cocoa, and other produce. She noted that importation of rice has dropped tremendously as Nigeria is now engaged in local production of the product.
Ms. Cornell Charlett Woodaid, Leader of the delegation said their mission to the Ministry is to interact with USAID Desk Officers, deepen exchange of knowledge that are sector specific and have first-hand knowledge of projects being implemented by the Ministry.
Dr. Osagie Aimiuwu of USAID Nigeria, who led the delegation to the Ministry, said his organization has developed a programme on integrated agriculture that will focus on the North East saying his agency will collaborate with officials of the Ministry to implement the programme.
Members of the delegation include: Charlett Woodaid, James Moyes, Ryan E. Richardson, Judeson Gillett, Brad Duplessis, Will Watson of the US Army, while Corey Ray, is of the US Navy.
USAID’s agriculture and food security programme in Nigeria helps to increase agricultural productivity, expand market participation, increase resilience of vulnerable households, improve business enabling environment and increase access to finance.