Nigeria pushes GM food crops

Cape Town – Nigeria hopes to exploit biotechnology to help feed its growing population as the country looks to a future without oil.

"I think that for us, we’re a very pro-technology government. With our agriculture, there’s so much people to be fed, we have to use the best of technology; it’s not just the biological technology," Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina told News24.

He said that as the country moved to expand its farming to a commercial enterprise, biotechnology would be employed to speed up food production.

"On the genetic side, we are very favourable to the use of biotechnology because we have a whole series of pests and diseases that biotechnology would allow us to fight."

In the 1960s, Nigeria was a major agricultural producer, but after the discovery of oil, the country shifted to the resource and neglected agriculture.

Uncultivated land

Now, with a growing population of 167 million, Nigeria is forced to be a net importer of critical crops.

"We spend $11bn buying wheat, rice, fish and sugar, which makes absolutely no sense in the context of the enormous amount of resources we have," said Adesina, citing the massive amounts of arable land and resources available in the country.

He said that Nigeria had already moved forward on developing biotechnology crops.

"Nigeria is the only country in Africa that has produced Pro-vitamin A cassava using bio technology. This cassava has a high density of vitamin A which is very good for nutrition."

Around 60% of Nigeria's arable land remains uncultivated and the government is pushing to be a regional example of how farming can be developed as a commercial, rather than developmental, activity.

"We have taken the decision that first, we are going to turn agriculture around in Nigeria - not as a developmental activity because I don’t believe agriculture is a development programme - it's a business.

"The drive here is to make Nigeria’s agriculture industrialised to become a global player in the global food market and we want to add to our domestic food supply 20 million metric tons of food over four years and to create 3.5 million jobs," Adesina said.


Around 48 countries in Africa (including SA until 2004) receive food aid, but there is much resistance to GM crop technology.

Kenya fired the head of its National Biosafety Authority for expediting the process to import milled food aid which might have contained genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola and Sudan have all imposed restrictions on GMOs, despite being in critical need of food to feed their populations.

"Why shouldn't we be wary of this technology and its possible long-term health impacts, if the EU is. If it is not good for them, why should it be good for us?" said Tewolde Egziabher, Ethiopia's director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Adesina, though, said that Nigeria was determined not to have its people remain poor and is determined farming by whatever technology suits the country's needs.

"Our view is that we are not going to be a museum of poverty; we have to be an ocean of wealth for our people and agriculture is the fastest way to doing that."

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