Nigerians kick in as FG approves genetically modified maize

The federal government has granted environmental approval for the assessment and outdoor cultivation of TELA maize, a new variety of maize developed by researchers at the Agricultural Research Institute (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria, which can resist fall armyworm, stem borers and tolerate moderate temperatures. Drought.

This was contained in a certificate issued to the IRA by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the federal government agency mandated to regulate genetically modified products in the country.

LEADERSHIP reports that there has been a lot of controversy around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country, largely due to a public misconception about agricultural biotechnology, with many Nigerians expressing reservations about their long-standing security.

Scientists have insisted, however, that crops yield more, require less spraying, improve nutrient composition, and are resistant to pests and diseases.

The certificate dated October 8, 2021, with the permit code no. NBMA / CM / 003, has been issued to IAR for general / commercial release of TELA maize genetically modified for drought tolerance, resistance to stem borer and fall armyworm. It comes into force from October 8, 2021 to October 5, 2024.

It has been learned that the research name, TELA, is a Latin name meaning protection.

Nigeria approved its first biotech crop in 2018. Previously, only two crops, cotton Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) And cowpea were approved for commercial use.

According to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), TELA maize is like normal maize grown in the country, except that it has the potential to resist worms and other pests that plague maize and have resulted in reduced of maize production in the country.

“Maize has the potential to produce 10 tonnes per hectare compared to three to four tonnes currently in the country. It guarantees harvest at the pump, food security and nutritional security in the country, ”the organization explained.

AATF TELA Maize Project Director Dr Sylvester Oikeh said: “This is the start of a new era for maize farmers in Nigeria who have suffered greatly from the dual problem of drought and insects. devastating pests caused by climate change. Resources and time spent protecting corn from insect pests will be used for other operations. The corn produced will provide healthier grains for farmers and consumers.

TELA maize principal investigator Professor Rabiu Adamu said that with deregulation the Institute is now allowed to conduct multi-site trials to assess the yield and adaptability of TELA hybrids in the country’s different agroecologies. .

“The most productive, drought tolerant, stem borer and fall armyworm resistant hybrids will be distributed to farmers for cultivation. We hope to register some of the outstanding hybrids for marketing through Nigerian seed companies so that farmers can cultivate them during the rainy season of 2023, ”he said.

“Deregulation will accelerate our work to achieve the project’s mission of providing farmers with transgenic corn to solve the challenges of drought, stem borer and fall armyworm. “

IAR Executive Director Professor Ishiyaku Mohammed said that it is truly inspiring for IAR to get NBMA approval for the commercial release of drought tolerant and insect resistant maize (maize TELA).

“This further highlights the capacity and commitment of IAR to provide effective solutions to the agricultural problems facing our farmers and to optimize the food security of Nigerians. The approval will pave the way for combating the devastating effects of drought and insect pests through the deployment of this new variety of corn in our farming system.

“The next step is to further assess the performance of this new variety by farmers on their fields in all major maize growing areas in Nigeria. Thereafter, we will seek further approval from the national variety dissemination committee before we market the seeds so that farmers can plant them in the 2023 farming season, ”he said.

“GMOs represent a health risk”

A farmer who practices organic farming (who spoke on condition of anonymity) told LEADERSHIP that globally there has been controversy around genetically modified foods, as studies have shown that countries that promote genetically modified foods have a high cancer prevalence rate.

Bringing such food to Nigeria, a country that does not have a good health system, would only do more harm than good, he said.

The reason for the government’s decision to introduce genetically modified foods (corn) into the country is due to pressure from the companies that produce them, he said, adding that “these genetically modified foods that we are talking about are made. by large companies abroad. , so they find a way to sell their products to third world countries like Nigeria.

“This is of great concern to me because remember that nutrition is the backbone of health, we now find ourselves where our government is now bringing genetically modified foods into the country. I can assure you that over the next five years we will start to notice an increase in the number of people with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

When asked how genetically modified foods can lead to cancer, he replied, “This is why I told you there is controversy about this. However, I ask researchers to consider it. Through research, we will be able to find out that some of the foods we eat are the main causes of the health problems we suffer from. “

Similarly, the National President of the Nigeria Cassava Producers Association (NCGA) Pastor Segun Adewumi, while speaking with LEADERSHIP, instructed the National Agency for the Administration and Control of Food and Medicines (NAFDAC) to review genetically modified foods and issue statement to allay fears of Nigerians.

FG misleads into believing that GMOs are 100% safe – Unze

Meanwhile, a public affairs analyst and the Nigerian coordinator of the African Student Parliament (ASUP), James Uneze, said he believed the federal government was wrong in thinking that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are 100% safe for human consumption.

Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP yesterday in Abuja, he noted that his specific concern was the potential for GMOs to negatively affect human health.

He said that while it might seem new that the government approved the cultivation of genetically modified corn yesterday, Nigerians were already consuming GMOs from processed foods.

“Studies show that a specific percentage of processed foods purchased today contain genetically modified (GE) food products. My warning to Nigerians is that they have to watch what they eat. It’s because there are a lot of strange diseases in the country now, ”he said.

“TELA Corn is safe”

While some continue to raise concerns about the safety of genetically modified foods, the three main areas that have sparked debate are the potential of GMOs to cause allergic reaction, gene transfer and allogamy.

Addressing these issues in a survey conducted by LEADERSHIP, Alex Abutu, communications manager, West and Central Africa, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), an organization that coordinates the TELA Maize project in Nigeria, said the maize had been the subject of a risk analysis and was found to be effective. be safe for consumption and the ecosystem.

He said maize was developed by IAR Zaria to control pests, adapt to moderate drought and address the devastating effects of low yields faced by farmers in Nigeria.

He noted that when cultivated, the Tela maize variety has the potential to yield ten tonnes per hectare of land at harvest.

“Maize is not only produced and released, but genetically modified, which means that there are levels of controls carried out by the National Biodiversity Management Agency (NBMA) and that it has been proven to be safe. . It does not affect human beings; it does not affect the environment, and the NBMA has regulated Tela corn and approved it based on WHO guidelines for safety protocols, ”he said.

About Alma Ackerman

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