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GMOs: Pots Of Gold For Nigeria By Rose Gidado, PhD


During the Twenty Third Ordinary Session of the Africa Union Assembly in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the heads of States and Governments of Africa undertook to eliminate hunger on the African continent by the year 2025. Put in simple terms, the Malabo Declaration states that by 2025, no African should go to bed hungry.
Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration but as at date, 10 percent of the nation’s population is still unable to meet their daily calorific needs due to affordability, effective mass food production, storage and distribution. Nigeria tops the list of eleven ECOWAS countries that have over one million people affected by hunger and undernourishment while 63 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line of less than one dollar per day.  The challenges are bare. There is no solution in sight other than a very pervasive agricultural practice that will make food abundant and available to the generality of the masses.
Countries of the world faced with similar challenges have attempted to address them using new technologies especially biotechnology.  Countries under pressure to produce more food for their growing population have started growing genetically modified (GM) crops.
In 2016, global hectarage of biotech crops increased from 179.7 million hectares to 185.1 million hectares, a 3% increase equivalent to 5.4 million hectares. Predictions made by James, C. (2015) that the slight decline in biotech crop area in 2015 due to the low global commodity price would immediately reverse once crop prices revert to higher levels was realized. It is noteworthy that fluctuations in biotech crop hectarage of this order (both increases and decreases) are in influenced by several factors including global commodity price, demand for biofuels, need for livestock and poultry feeds, environmental stresses, disease/pest pressure, country policies, and consumer perception. Thus, adoption of biotech crops detailed in each country chapter was a result of an interplay of these various factors, but it is noteworthy that majority of the adoption rate was over 90% for major products in principal markets in both developing and industrial countries. High adoption rates reflect farmer satisfaction with the products that offer substantial benefits ranging from more convenient and flexible crop management, lower cost of production, higher productivity and/or net returns per hectare, health and social benefits, and a cleaner environment through decreased application of conventional pesticides, which collectively contribute to a more sustainable agriculture.
This 2016 Report also includes detailed discussion on the benefits of biotech crops which were endorsed and attested by various scientific and international bodies; a discussion on the regulation of biotech crops; and a glimpse of the trends in global GMO crop approval and the future prospects. The Brief is supported by eight sections in the Appendix: 1) a table with global status of crop protection market in 2015, courtesy of Cropnosis; 2) tables on international seed trade – these have been reproduced with the permission of the International Seed Federation (ISF); 3) estimated value of the domestic seed market in selected countries for 2014; 4) arable land per capita of selected countries in Asia; and 5) country pro le of the 26 biotech crop countries, 2016.
Dr. Clive James, founder and emeritus chair
of ISAAA, has painstakingly authored the 20 Annual Reports making it the most credible source of information on biotech crops in the last two decades. He has been a great advocate of biotechnology and biotech products following the footsteps of his great mentor and colleague the late Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, who was also the founding patron of ISAAA.
In 2016, the accumulated hectarage (planted since 1996) surged to a record 2.1 billion hectares or 5.3 billion acres (Table 1). Of the total number of 26 countries planting biotech crops in 2016, 19 were developing countries and 7 industrial countries (Table 2, Figure 1).
To put the 2016 global area of biotech crops into context, 185.1 million hectares of biotech crops is equivalent to almost 20% of the total land area of China (956 million hectares) or the USA (937 million hectares) and more than 7 times the land area of the United Kingdom (24.4 million hectares). The increase between 2015 and 2016, of 3%, is equivalent to 5.4 million hectares or 13.3 million acres (Table 1).
Distribution of Biotech Crops in Industrial and Developing Countries
Developing countries continued to plant more biotech crops compared to industrial countries since 2012 (five years). Prior to 2011, industrial countries planted more than the developing countries, and by 2011, global hectarage of biotech crops was evenly distributed between industrial and developing countries. Starting 2012, developing countries consistently increased in hectarage and by 2016, a difference of 14.1 million hectares between developing and industrial countries was achieved. Developing countries grew 54% of the global biotech hectares compared to 46% for industrial countries (Table 2, Figure 1). Moreover, industrial countries increased by 3.5% in 2016, compared to 2015, while developing countries increased by 2.6%.
The 3.5% increase in the industrial countries between 2015 and 2016 is due mainly to increases in the USA at 2%, Canada at 0.6% and Australia at 0.2%. Increases in developing countries, led by Brazil at 4.9% and South Africa at 0.4% contributed mainly to the 2.5% difference in 2015 and 2016 (Table 3). The trend for a higher share of global biotech crops in developing countries is likely to continue
in the near, mid and long-term, firstly, due to more countries from the southern hemisphere adopting biotech crops and secondly, adoption of crops such as rice, 90% of which is grown in developing countries, are deployed as “new” biotech crops.
Distribution of Biotech Crops, by Country
A total of 26 countries, 19 developing and 7 industrial countries, planted biotech crops in 2016.  The top ten countries, each of which grew over 1 million hectares in 2016, is led by the USA which grew 72.9 million hectares (39% of global total, similar to 2015), Brazil with 49.1 million hectares (27%), Argentina with 23.8 million hectares (13%), Canada with 11.6 million hectares (6%), India with 10.8 million hectares (6%), Paraguay with 3.6 million hectares (2%), Pakistan with 2.9 million hectares (2%), China with 2.8 million hectares (2%), South Africa with 2.7 million hectares (1%) and Uruguay with 1.3 million hectares (1%). An additional 16 countries grew a total of approximately 4.9 million hectares in 2016 (Table 3 and Figure 2). It should be noted that of the top ten countries, each growing 1.0 million hectares or more of biotech crops, the majority (8 out of 10) are developing countries, with Brazil, Argentina, India, Paraguay, Pakistan, China, South Africa and Uruguay, compared with only two industrial countries, USA and Canada. Burkina Faso and Romania did not plant biotech crops in 2016 due to internal problems brought by change in cotton germplasm and onerous reporting requirements of biotech.
The number of biotech mega-countries (countries which grew 50,000 hectares, or more, of biotech crops) was 18. Notably, 14 of the 18 mega-countries are developing countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa. The high proportion of biotech mega countries in 2016, 18 out of 26 equivalent to 69% reflects the significant broadening, deepening and stabilizing in biotech crop adoption that has occurred within the group of more progressive mega-countries adopting more than 50,000 hectares of biotech crops, on all six continents. It is noteworthy that in absolute hectares, the largest year-over-year growth, by far, was Brazil with 4.9 million hectares, followed by USA with 2 million hectares, Canada with 600,000, South Africa with 400,000 hectares and Australia with 200,000 hectares. The top three biotech countries in terms of global share of the million hectares planted globally were USA at 39%, Brazil at 27% and Argentina at 13% for a total of 78%. Of the 26 countries that planted biotech crops in 2016, 12 (46%) of the countries were in the Americas, 8 (31%) in Asia, 4 (15%) were in Europe and 2 (8%) in Africa. On a hectarage basis, of the 26 countries that planted biotech crops in 2016, 88% of the hectarage was in the Americas, 10% in Asia, 2% in Africa and <1% in Europe. Distribution of Biotech Crops, by Country.
The United States of America is the leader in hectarage planted with commercialized biotech crops since 1996. In 2016, 72.92 million hectares were planted to major biotech crops: maize (35.05 million hectares); soybean (31.84 million hectares); cotton (3.70 million hectares); some areas of biotech crops: alfalfa (1.23 million hectares); canola (0.62 million hectares); and sugar beet (0.47 million hectares) and small areas of virus resistant papaya and squash (1,000 hectares each), and non-browning Innate™ potatoes (2,500 hectares). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates indicate that the percentage adoption of the three principal biotech crops were at, or close to optimal adoption: soybean at 94% (same as 2015), maize 92% (same as 2015), and cotton 93% (lower by 1% in 2015) (USDA, NASS, 2016), with an average of 93%. The 2016 biotech crop area in the USA of ~73 million hectares is 39% of the global biotech area and 3% higher than the 2015 planting of 70.9 million hectares.
In Europe, insect-resistant biotech maize is grown since 1998. In 2008, 107,719 ha of land were dedicated to insect resistant maize in seven EU countries with Spain having the largest cultivation area of GM maize (approximately 20% of its total maize area), followed by Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. In 2016, Four EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Czechia, and Slovakia) continued to plant biotech crops led by Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and Czech Republic with an increase of 17% at 136,363 hectares, compared to 116,870 in 2015. Romania decided not to plant in 2016 due to onerous requirement by the government.
It is therefore a mis-representation to aver that European countries are rejecting GM crops. Applications for GM field trials in the EU in 2013 alone (European Commission Joint Research Centre 2013) have come from Spain, Poland, UK, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Slovakia, Romania, France. These applications have come for trials in maize, wheat, poplar, sugar beet, cotton, and cucumber.
Significantly, the entire 11.57 MH GM crop area in India in 2014 consisted of Bt cotton. Nearly 96 per cent of the country’s cotton area is now covered by Bt hybrids. Bt technology has helped India to increase its cotton output from 13 million bales in 2002 (when it was introduced) to 40 million bales in 2014. Dr. C. D Mayee, a former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, said India achieved a historical milestone, overtaking China as the world’s No. 1 producer of cotton in 2004. The India’s success story from Bt cotton calls for proper interrogation of the Burkina Faso’s situation as bandied in some quarters.
South Africa is the continent’s sole cultivator of GM maize, cotton and soya beans in Africa but at date more African countries are adopting the Bt technology.
The five leading developing countries in biotech crops in the three continents of the South are China and India in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, and South Africa on the continent of Africa.
Of the US$167.8 billion additional gain in farmer income generated by biotech crops
in the 20 years of commercialization (1996 to 2015), it is noteworthy that US$81.7 billion was generated in industrial countries and US$86.1 billion in developing countries. Moreover in 2015, developing countries had a lower share, 48.7% equivalent to US$7.5 billion of the total US$15.4 billion gains with industrial countries at US$17.9 billion (Brookes and Barfoot, 2017, Forthcoming).
The six principal countries that have gained most economically from biotech crops during the first 20 years of commercialization of biotech crops, 1996 to 2015 are, in descending order of magnitude, the USA (US$73 billion), Argentina (US$21.1 billion), India (US$19.6 billion), China (US$18.6 billion), Brazil (US$16.4 billion), Canada (US$7.3 billion), and others (US$11.8 billion) for a total of US$167.8 billion (Brookes and Barfoot, 2017, Forthcoming).
In 2015 alone, economic benefits globally were US$15.4 billion of which US$7.5 billion was for developing and US$7.9 billion was for industrial countries. The six countries that gained most economically from biotech crops in 2015 were, the USA (US$6.9 billion), India (US$1.3 billion), China (US$1 billion), Argentina (US$1.5 billion), Brazil (US$2.5 billion), and Canada (US$0.9 billion), and others (US$1.3 billion) for a total of US$15.5 billion (Brookes and Barfoot, 2017, Forthcoming).
In Nigeria, the adoption GM products is a step in the right direction. Nigeria must promote and support this technology that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no Nigerian goes to sleep hungry by 2025. This is in line the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari administration who has declared that:
 “Agriculture must cease from being treated as development Programme; Agriculture must be treated as business.”
“We will intervene in mining and agriculture, and we will upgrade the country’s physical and social infrastructure, which will broaden our revenue base and significantly improve the level of employment, especially among the youth.’’…………President M. Buhari.
Obviously, the high adoption rate of GM all over the world is testimony to the trust and confidence of millions of small and large farmers in crop biotechnology in both industrial and developing countries, despite pockets of opposition at very insignificant local level. There is the need to avoid ideological arguments and stick to strategies to benefit from GM products potential to increase food security in Nigeria.
Many public-private partnerships in Africa, where companies donate their technologies for free, disprove the anti-GM lobby’s arguments that poor African farmers are being exploited by the big multinationals. The arguments about the safety and health concerns around GM products are unfounded. For instance, only healthy dosages of chemicals and pesticides are used in genetic modification. This technology reduces the use of chemicals and pesticides. For example, in Bt cotton the number of chemical spray reduces from 9 to 2.
The fears around glyphosate being carcinogenic have been allayed by the European Food Security Authority (EFSA) when in November, 2015 it published the EU’s peer review of the active substance, glyphosate.
“The report concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose carcinogenic hazard to humans. This is a direct contradiction to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as ‘probably’ carcinogenic. The IARC classification has caused widespread media attention…”  EFSA.
It is known that there are many kinds of foods, cosmetics, etc that can cause cancer or kidney diseases. Infact, any food taken in excess can cause cancer. For example, cyanide in cassava, aflaxtoxin in groundnut, mould growth in dry fish among others cause cancer.
Nigerian government has laid solid foundation for application of modern biotechnology in the country. First Nigeria signed the United Nations Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) in 2000, which was ratified 2003 and came into force on 11th September 2003. Secondly, the Nigerian government signed the National Biosafety Bill into law in 2015 after the bill had scaled through the two chambers of the National Assembly since the anti GM groups had no solid arguments to convince the Senators and the House of Representative members to discard the bill during the public hearings. The National Biosafety Act provides for the establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). NBMA is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity taking into account risks to human health, animals, plants and environment. The Federal Government appointed a seasoned scientist, Mr. Rufus Ebegba, a professionally qualified Agriculturist and Environmental Biologist/Biosafety specialist to head the agency. He has garnered over 25 years working experience in various areas of Biosafety Management, Biodiversity Conservation and sustainable utilization of renewable natural recourses. True to expectations, Mr. Ebegba had in January 2016 called on all owners of
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) suspects that are already in Nigeria to formalize them as the six months’ moratorium given them has expired. He announced that the enforcement of NBMA will commence in 2016 and has left no stone unturned in achieving this. The stakeholders have been fully sensitized and the security agencies have pledged their support and cooperation to the NBMA s enforcement drive.
Nigerians are assured of safety of their health and environment with NBMA in place. Nigeria should join the league of nations of the world that are transforming the lives and fortunes of their people using this technology. It is heart warning to hear the Nigerian Textile Manufacturer’s association express their readiness to adopt Bt cotton to revive the ailing textile sector. The Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA) has expressed its support for ‎the environmental release and commercialization of genetically modified Bt Cotton, which is known to be resistant against pests for Nigerian farmers.
A position paper signed by the Acting Director General of the Association, Alhaji Hamman Kwajaffa noted that while the Nigerian textile industry was a strategic non-oil sector and the largest after oil and agriculture, it was also the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is estimated that about 30,000 Nigerians are employed in the textile industry and an additional one million small farmers and labourers are both in direct cotton production and within the value chain, probably supporting five million more people. This is a sharp contrast from over 400,000 people employed across over 250 textile mills in the country in the 80s”.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu who recently said the government has interest in utilizing the potentials of Bt. Cotton to revive the industry.
Globally, markets for GMOs are swelling. Nigerian GM products can be exported US, Canada, Japan, Brazil, India, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico among others.
With GM technology already in place, there is no doubt that Nigeria will indeed find a pot of gold at the end of the transgenic rainbow.
Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado is the Coordinator of the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigerian Chapter.

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