Responding to climate change and agricultural development issues: What roles can Biotechnology Play?
Climate Change….. It’s here…. What can we do???
All over the world the issues of climate change has been brought to the front burners of many economies’… It is common knowledge that every year nations come together to work outsolutions to mitigating/ adapting to the devastating effects of our changing climate. The issues of renewables are now at their loudest, no thanks to the devastating effects of climate change.
Most obvious manifestation wouldbe the change in weather conditions, many countries are now experiencing moreheat waves, stormsandfloods, we will not in a hurry forget the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina in the USA or the typhoon Haiyan of the Philippines, all have their increased devastation attributed to change in climate. Coming back to Nigeria, We are losing about 350,000 m2 of land mass to desert condition yearly, which is advancing southwardly at an estimated rate of 0.6 km a year, all thanks to change in our climate.
Agriculture a key contributor to climate change
Thirty percent (30%)of the world’sagricultural land is affected by the drastic effects of climate change. If nothing is done, climate change could cost the world at least loss of 5% of GDP each year; if more dramatic predictions come to pass, the cost could rise to more than 20% of GDP.Ilohet al. in a 2014 publication reported that an increase in just 2 degrees of temperature could drastically affect seed germination and seedling growth of maize, rice and sorghum; three important cereal crops in Nigeria.Indeed, accordingto Lybbert and Summer, 2015, one can conclusively say that the implications of change in our climate on agriculture is very direct, clear and with great impacts.
On the other hand, agriculture has its own contributions to this issue. Studies have shown that this sector contributes greatly to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Fossil fuel for farm inputs and equipment, animal agriculture, land clearing and preparation are significant contributors to GHG emissions. No wonder the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that farming is responsible for over a quarter of total global greenhouse gas emissions. There is therefore an important need for interlinkages between agriculture and climate which have broadened the policy agenda for both (Lybbert and Summer, 2015).
There are model reports which combine agronomic and economic variables to show that global agriculture will drop in production by 6% in 2080 when compared with models that do not take climate change into consideration. As temperatures become hotter and precipitations change, access to water supply for agriculture becomes a problem, we might just be having a drastic shortage of water for irrigated lands and quite disturbing will be totally lack of water to farms where there are no access to water supply…
In all climate change reduces agricultural productivity. One will only wonder what will happen to the current “CHANGE” policy in diversifying the Nigerian economy with agriculture at the forefront when climate issues will bring about massive crop failures.
Providing the right solutions……..
Biotechnology can contribute positively by mitigating the impact of climate change in agriculture through greenhouse gas reduction, crops adaptation and increase in yield using less land (Treasury, 2009). As a matter of fact,agricultural biotechnology can provide solutions, which includes tissue culture, conventional breeding, molecular marker-assisted breeding and genetic engineering.Advances in breeding help agriculture achieve higher yields and meet the needs of expanding population with limited land and water resources. As a result of improved plant breeding techniques, the productivity gains in worldwide production of primary crops, including maize, wheat, rice and oilseed has increased by 21% percent since 1995, while total land devoted to these crops has increased by only 2% (Treasury, 2009).
Scientists have used marker-assisted selections to accurately identifyplants carrying desirable characteristics; hence conventional breeding can be conducted with greater precision. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) varieties, project of the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Howard G. Buffet Foundations was developed through marker assisted breeding.As climate change could as well increase plant disease infestation, Biotechnology enables development of disease diagnostic kits for use in laboratory and field which would be used to detect plant diseases early, by testing for the presence of pathogen’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or proteins which are produced by pathogens or plants during infection (Kumar and Naidu, 2006).
A more modern form of biotechnology application allows for the introduction of NEW TRAITS as well as a far greater control over a genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding. From these definitions, it means that even the conventional breading and crosses are also Genetic Modifications because they also introduce NEW TRAITS to the organisms however, with modern methods traits addition is controlled.
Crops are now produced to be herbicide tolerant, which means that farmers now have the opportunity to reduce the level and efforts in ploughing. Thus a resultant reduction in tractor use also helps to protect the structure of the soil which reduces erosion. Even as new pest and diseases emerge due to climate change, farmers are still able to mitigate this with insect resistant crops. Theses crops require fewer insecticide treatments, in turn,meaning,areductioninfueluseandlowerCO2 emissions.In Europe, insect-resistant biotech maize is grown since 1998. In 2008, 107,719 ha of land were dedicated toinsect resistant maizein 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.
So it will be wrong to say that European countries are rejecting GM crops while 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.The EUobviously knows the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, if not,why will they have committed over 300 million euros funding for research into safety of GMOs over 25 years? As a matter of scientific fact No identified risk to human health or the environment according to the EU assessment.
As published by Barfoot and Brookes (2009), it was estimated that each litre of tractor diesel consumed contributes an estimated 2.75 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. Therefore, thefuel savingsassociated with making fewer spray runs (relative to conventional crops) have resulted in permanent cuts in CO2 emissions due to the adaptation of herbicide resistant crops.Furthermore, the study showed that over the period 1996 to 2007 the cumulative permanent reduction in fuel use was estimated at 7,090 million kg of CO2 (arising from a reduction of 2,578 million litres of fuel). The adoption of reduced tillage or no-tillage systems in respect of fuel use results in reductionsof carbondioxideemissionsof88.81kg/haand35.66kg/harespectively.
Carbon Up take…..
Good management practices when adopted in agriculture can play a large part in ensuring global carbon sequestration. Cropsdeveloped with modern agriculturalbiotechnology reduce the need for tillageorploughing,allowingfarmers toadoptconservationor“no-till”farming practices. Asaresult,over timesoilqualityisenhancedandbecomes carbon-enriched. Inaddition, less carbon in the soil becomes oxidized through exposure to the air since the soil is not inverted by ploughing,and therefore less CO2 is releasedintotheatmosphere.
The Barfoot and Brookes (2009), paper also reported additional amount of soil carbon sequestered since 1996 has been equivalent to 83,179 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This could have beenreleasedintotheglobal atmosphere.
Thosesoil carbon savingshave arisenfrom the rapidadoptionofnew farmingsystems for whichtheavailabilityof GM HTtechnologyhasbeencited by many farmers as animportant facilitator.
Reports also in 2012 have shown GM crops grown on roughly 12 percent of the world’s arable land with a total reduction due to both the direct and indirect emission effects of GM crops of over 26.7 billion kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), this according to Barfoot and Brookes (2014) to equivalent of removalof nearly 12 million cars from circulation.
Reduced fertilizer use…….
It is a fact that Nitrous oxide or N2O has a global warming potential (GWP) of 296, which is said to be about 300 times greater than carbon dioxide. What this means that one kilo of nitrous oxide is equivalent to 296 kilos of CO2. Inaddition,nitrousoxide stays inthe atmosphere for more than100years.
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 GHGsproducedbyagriculture(Stern, 2006).Reduced fertilizer use will also mean less nitrogenpollutionofgroundandsurface waters. If addition of fertilizers can course 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.
Riceand Canolahavebeendeveloped such thatthey usenitrogen moreefficiently with less fertilizer applications. Thus“Nitrogen Use Efficiency” (NUE) technology produces plants withyieldsequivalent toconventional varietiesbut whichrequiresignificantly less nitrogenfertilizerbecause they use it more efficiently.It will only bevery 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 technologyhas 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 significantportionof a farmer’s input costs andcan have a major impact farmerprofitabilityinEuropeandelsewhereinthe world.
Catching the moving train…..
“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….
“In a face of global economic crisis in the price of crude oil, we should diversify our mono economy by embracing knowledge andemphasisetechnology as an important instrument for national development.”………Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Hon. Minister of Science and Technology…..
How else can Nigeria catch up with this fast moving train for our true economic diversification???? Indeed if 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 11th September 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 commercialization 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 environmentthen 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 behave of the Nigerian Government.
This agency is managed by a seasoned scientist in the current Director-General Mr. Rufus Ebegba, aprofessionally qualified Agriculturist and Environmental Biologist/Biosafety specialist. With over 25 years working experience in various areas of Biosafety Management, Biodiversity Conservation and sustainable utilization of renewable natural recourses. With vast experience in strategic planning in Biosafety and Biodiversity, it is veryobvious 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 pastchaired 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 organization?
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 itwill 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.
WE can get there……
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.
ILOH, Andrew Chibuzor Ph.D.
Climate Protection and Bioresourse Conservation Fellow
Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung/Foundation
Gidado, Rose Suniso Maxwell (PhD)
Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter
Responding to climate change and agricultural development issues: What roles can Biotechnology Play?