Climate change, agriculture and biotechnology 2


Continued from yesterday

This addition of N2O to the soil is brought about when nitrogen fertilizers applied to crops interact with common soil bacteria. It is estimated that nitrogen fertilizer accounts for one-third of the GHGs produced by agriculture (Stern, 2006). Reduced fertilizer use will also mean less nitrogen pollution of ground and surface waters. If addition of fertilizers can cause this why not go organic?
“Now more than ever organic produce is in high demand with consumers willing to pay far more for such products. Countries such as Uganda are benefiting from the global high demand of organic products. Organic products can go into all markets…

It is this prospect that informed Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s statement during his recent address to the Russian Parliament. President Putin proudly outlined his plan to make Russia the world’s ‘leading exporter’ of non-GMO foods that are based on ‘ecologically clean’ production. He went further to say…”

Unfortunately the writers of this text have forgotten that even if we have the best of organic farming, if crops don’t respond to change in climatic conditions…They will totally fail. We can still have genetically modified crops which can be grown in the most organic manner, contributing less to greenhouse effects.

Rice and Canola have been developed such that they use nitrogen more efficiently with less fertilizer applications. Thus “Nitrogen Use Efficiency” (NUE) technology produces plants with yields equivalent to conventional varieties but which require significantly less nitrogen fertilizer because they use it more efficiently. It will only be very unscientific to say that GM nitrogen effect crops are nothing more than patented pesticide delivery systems designed to increase the sales of poisonous agrochemicals such as Roundup, Glufosinate, Bt 2,4D, Astrazine and Neonicotinids.

This technology has the potential to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer lost by farmers every year due to leaching into the air, soil and waterways. In addition to environmental impacts, nitrogen costs can represent a significant portion of a farmer’s input costs and can have a major impact on farmer profitability in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

How else can Nigeria catch up with this fast moving train for our true economic diversification? Indeed it must diversify; Science and Technology must have active roles to play. Biotechnology, a science based solution, will not only help mitigate agricultural based climate problems but will also provide solutions for improved and increased productivity. If we must do this, it’s time we took a critical look at developing our human capacity in biotechnology. Indeed the benefits of biotechnology are enormous but we can only maximize these benefits if all the various R and D in agricultural biotechnology all over the countries are enhanced.

While new traits, varieties and crops will play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, the range of relevant practice and technologies is much broader than this, including water management, production practices, post-harvest technologies, information and forecasting, and insurance. Therefore understanding the policy and innovation issues raised by this broader set of agricultural practices and related technologies is important since responding to climate change genuinely demands an “all hands on deck” approach.
The National Biosafety Management Agency…
Every ideal society needs checks and balances in order to perform at its best; GM issues should not be an exception…it will be very unfair as environmentalists to deny the existence of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), which Nigeria signed in 2000, ratified 2003 and came into force on September 11, 2003. Are we also going to disagree that the convention on Biological Diversity is not in existence? If we are all in the affirmative that these protocols exist, then Nigeria is on the right path in having a biosafety management agency.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, the PDP-led government on Monday April 20, 2015, one week before the handover, signed the National Bio-safety Agency Bill into law. The Bio-safety bill empowers National Bio-safety Management Agency, NABDA, to regulate and open the country to the commercialisation of genetically modified crops.
Unfortunately again, the writers of this statement have decided to play politics with science since government is a continuous process; it is therefore saddled with the full responsibility of having adequate level of protection in the trans-boundary transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology, focus on preservation of human health and the environment, then the National Biosafety Management Agency a Federal Government Agency backed by law irrespective of who signed it has been empowered fully to run the affairs of Biosafety on behalf of the Nigerian Government.

This agency is managed by a seasoned scientist in the current Director-General Mr. Rufus Ebegba, a professionally qualified Agriculturist and Environmental Biologist/Biosafety specialist. With over 25 years working experience in various areas of Biosafety Management, Biodiversity Conservation and sustainable utilisation of renewable natural recourses. With vast experience in strategic planning in Biosafety and Biodiversity, it is very obvious that he knows what is at stake in handling an agency saddled to regulate the practice of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. He is indeed a square peg in a square hole having in the past chaired the development of Nigeria National Biosafety Framework under the UNEP/GEF. Or are we now going to deny the existence of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) as a credible organisation?

It is also to his credit that the Biosafety level 2 Containment facility guidelines as well as the development of Nigeria National Biosafety Risk Assessment Analysis Framework were all developed and are up and running. Therefore it will be very unscientific and unrealistic to say Mr. Ebegba wants to do more harm than good to the Nigerian environment by encouraging the use of toxic chemicals when all his working life he has been in the fore front of protecting the same environment.

Agriculture has a crucial and unique relationship with climate as well as a crucial and unique role in economic development. It is our primary source of food and important raw materials, has significant potential for mitigation of global GHG emissions, and is particularly sensitive to climate change. Biotechnology innovations in agriculture will be more vital in the context of climate change. It is, therefore, very necessary that policies that will boost the development and use of the much needed agricultural biotechnologies should be in place in order to have an enabling effective technological response.

These policy and institutional responses are particularly critical as they can provide a pathway for steady progress towards climate mitigation and adaptation. Whereas short-term climate variability demands, and deservedly gets our attention, adapting to longer-term changes requires vision and discipline. A careful balance of institutional change and wise investment is required to deal with both the demands of climate change and the opportunities for the poor to continue improving their lives.

• Concluded

• ILOH, Andrew Chibuzor Ph.D. is Climate Protection and Bioresourse Conservation Fellow Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung/Foundation

• Gidado, Rose Suniso Maxwell (PhD) is Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, Abuja.

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