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Food Security: Biotechnology To The Rescue

Published by Leadership on Tue, 27 Sep 2016

Food security is the one thing Nigeria needs most now as it continues to battle economic recession which has hit the nation hard and dampened the spirit of most citizens that they have lost hope on the government.Experts have suggested a number of ways in which the present situation can be ameliorated as eforts to pull the nation out of the recession intensify. One of such suggestions is the application of biotechnology in boosting food production in the country.The director-general of the Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Prof. Sunday Thomas, said the application of biotechnology would bring about food security in the country. Speaking at a workshop on Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering of Plants and Bacteria, he pointed out that biotechnology helps not only in food production but also in the control of desertification and erosion.The technique can be applied in terms that can be used in control of desertification, erosion and farming. It is good for our country especially now that the President Buhari administration is looking at how to diversify the economy through agricultural production, he said.Biotechnology can be defined as the controlled and deliberate manipulation of biological systems (whether living cells or cell components) for the efficient manufacture or processing of useful products. The fact that living organisms have evolved such an enormous spectrum of biological capabilities means that by choosing appropriate organisms it is possible to obtain a wide variety of substances, many of which are useful to man as food, fuel and medicines.The lead discussant at the event, Prof, Olawale Obembe who also talked about the huge benefits of biotechnology said with the increase in population, many countries are fast moving to biotechnology to help tackle food challenges. A professor of plant biotechnology, Covenant University, Ota, he explained that biotechnology helps in controlling what we want plant to do for us.Biotechnology has many fields which include, animal biotechnology which deals with the development of transgenic animals for increased milk or meat production with resistance to various diseases. It also deals with in vitro fertilisation of egg and transfer of embryo to the womb of female animal for further development.Medical biotechnology deals with diagnosis of various diseases; large scale production of various drugs and hormones such as human insulin and interferon; vaccines for chicken pox, rabies, polio etc, and growth hormones, such as bovine. In the field of medical science, genetic engineering has helped in the large scale production of hormones, blood serum proteins; in the development of antibiotics, and other medically useful products.Industrial biotechnology deals with commercial production of various useful organic substances, such as acetic acid, citric acid, acetone, glycerine, etc, and antibiotics like penicillin, streptomycin, mitomycin, etc, through the use of micro-organisms especially fungi and bacteria.Environmental Biotechnology, on the other hand, deals with detoxification of waste and industrial effluents, treatment of sewage water, and control of plant diseases and insects through the use of biological agents, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi etc, while plant biotechnology is a combination of tissue culture and genetic engineering. It deals with development of transgenic plants with resistance to biotic and abiotic stress; development of haploids, embryo rescue, clonal multiplication, cryopreservation.However, there are misgivings questioning how safe biotechnology products are. While speaking on the issue, the DG of SHESTCO said the products are safe as most of other scientific technological practices, adding the benefits of biotechnology outweigh its challenges.Biotechnology is as safe as most of other scientific technological practices we have abducted throughout the world. Like everything we use, we have to be careful. Rules have to be set in place to make sure that biotechnology is carried out in a safe way. The benefits outweigh the challenges and with appropriate management, the challenges can be managed, he said.He explained that crops improved through biotechnology have undergone more safety and environmental testing than any crop varieties in history, and have been produced and consumed by humans and animals in millions of tons around the world for years.They have been proven as safe as the scientific method permits, by every valid method known to science and medicine. There is, to date, not a single solitary confirmed case of human or animal illness or disease associated with a biotech crop nor has a single negative environmental impact been credibly attributed to biotech-improved varieties, he said.The Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Dr. Rose Gidado who equally commented on the subject matter, however, posited that the acceptance of the products of this technology is low by Africans and other people globally as even policy-makers are confused when it comes to decision-making on the issue of genetic modified products due to mis-information, the myths that have been placed by the green pigs and other anti-genetically modified groups.Gidado who spoke in an interview with one of the nations dailies described biotechnology products as original, saying they are produced through natural means as the technology was developed to solve just certain problems that cannot be solved by other means except this technology.Agricultural biotechnology can contribute in reducing food insecurity in Nigeria by provision of herbicide tolerant crops. That is, the crops that will be resistant to some herbicides. That will reduce labour-intensiveness. When you spray your crops, the weeds will die and the crops will remain intact. By so doing, there is no tillage of the soil in the course of weeding, she had said.With the nation and the people subjected to the current economic recession, coupled with a fast growing population, there is no doubt that we need food security to be able to face the many challenges confronting us. To this end, embracing biotechnology with all its benefits may be one of the ways of getting over our economic problem as a nation.
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