Re: Food security in Africa- Is genetically modified technology a pathway?

This week, I honoured an invitation sent to me in November 2022. I was invited to make a keynote address at the 48th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Society for Plant Protection, tagged “Kano -NSPP 2023” with the title “Plant Health, Crop Improvement, and Sustainable Food Security in Nigeria”. I was hesitant about accepting the invitation but the caliber and personal relationship with the members of the organizing committee could not allow me to reject it. With all the eggheads in crop protection and plant science around, why invite me, an agricultural engineer, to talk as a keynote speaker?

 I later realised the wisdom behind the invitation, someone outside the profession should tell the professionals his impression, thoughts, and the impacts of the profession on society. It is also an opportunity to talk about the GMT, the question of safety, and so on. This opportunity came on Monday, 15th May 2023 when I faced over 200 participants in the Plant Protection Conference and presented my thoughts on GMT, Food Security, Biosafety law, and public discourse on GMT. Soon, I will present the summarised version in this Column. 

At the end of my presentation, I posed two important Issues of concern for the conference attendees to cogitate on and come out with possible solutions. One, if crop genes can be altered and transferred to increase yield, resist pests and diseases, withstand harsh conditions, reduce crop growing period, etc, can’t the genes be altered to affect human health or become a biological weapon? – what are the measures for guaranteeing biosafety? 

Biological warfare is more deadly than physical warfare. In the former, you are fighting unknown enemies who use unknown weapons while in the latter, you are fighting known enemies who use physical weapons. Two, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) expresses concern about the undergoing field trials in Nigeria of BT-Cowpea, the African fortified sorghum, and Cassava Plus with little or no public discourse (biosafety law?).

 The Nigerian public is not well educated on GM technologies with their perceived or real risks. While we should crave modern technologies to improve our efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance our productivity as a nation but we must be careful not to adopt a technology that will destroy us. However, with the advent of ICT, there is nothing under the sun that cannot be detected. We should open our eyes.   

With this elaborate preamble, I am presenting an edited version of the concern of my reader on this cutting–edge technology, GMT. It is a response to the 3-part article, published in this Column with the title, “Food Security in Africa- Is Genetically Modified Technology a Pathway?” Happy reading.  

Thanks, Prof Othman for offering this periodical exposition on Food security. The fact is that not much is done to understand the oppression we are facing in Africa and Nigeria is the leading country. We have just passed through an election of a new governance system, the hullabaloo is not ended. Before that, we had and are still having serious security problems leading to Fulani herdsmen attacks that had rubbished the food production systems. Corruption had ravaged the governance system and within these hydra-headed problems, the Foreign powers are here in different camo flags dominating, influencing, and controlling the Food security network of our country in diverse ways but the most excruciating and far-reaching agenda is Genetic modifying Technology systems. It is quite unfortunate that there is no deep knowledgeable understanding of the motive and goal of their agenda. Why?

 The foreign powers approach us with corrupt incentives to present to our country through the federal ministries and agencies associated with agriculture and agro industries with programs that look like help or aid to the nation. However, such programs or aids may intend to be destructive to our Home-grown developments. That is what the entire GMO system had brought to Africa and Nigeria. I stand to be corrected with evidence-based reasons.

Let me start the proof empirically. If anyone had taken note of raw crops for food preparation at home, some abnormalities will be observed. Tomatoes, pepper, and some leafy vegetable look just puffy, robust, and big but lack the real natural taste. Most of the maize cobs are just dwarf cobs with tattered seeds. The GMO series had extended to soya beans and even to cassava. I don’t know if the exploits of yam had extended to GMO. 

The generality of these crops now reflects poor quality products despite the noise on increased yield per area cultivated. They lack nutrient quality and lead to second-seed generation sterility. The second seed sterility is the most dangerous and damaging. In the past, our fathers normally reserve quality seeds from their harvest to be used as seeds in the following seasons. It is a farce to claim that GM crops help farmers to increase production. It doesn’t. It increased prices and is fertilizer dependent most often.

It is important to take note of the comments on “Genetic Use Restriction Technology” GURT, “terminator gene” of the GMT as exposed above. It is not only forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every planting time it also produces killer pollens that go to other fields to destroy and infest them with genes that become sterile after first cropping. That must be the reason why our old crop breeds are extinct. A lot of reports had been made concerning the Monsanto company as the Chief Agent of the seed Companies of the US and other European countries whose main agenda is to destroy African food survival and make them food dependent.

This is sad because while we are engaged with many socio-economic and developmental problems, the foreigners come with obnoxious foreign funds, induce the government agencies to create special units, and equip and give the staff monetary incentives for guided and tailored-made research and extension services. This is highly deceptive.

The answer to these problems is for the government to establish a very strong unit in the Ministry of National Planning to oversee, and research into all inputs of foreign agencies to our agro economy and indeed all other sections of our economy. It is important to know that the Civil service is not well suited nowadays to detect and protect our country from external manipulations nowadays. We need serious agents backed by law to do it. The survival of this nation depends on our ability and readiness to protect it from internal and external forces working to destroy it. 

Engr Adenupoye Jones Akinbolade