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Don canvasses adoption of crop biotechnology to address Nigeria’s food crisis | The Guardian Nigeria News

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A Professor of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at the Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Prof. Benjamin Ewa Ubi, has called for the adoption of crop biotechnology as response to Nigeria’s current food crisis.
 
Ubi, who made the call recently while presenting his inaugural lecture titled ‘Crop Production Biotechnology and the Future of the Nigerian Food Basket’, said millions of Nigerians now go to bed hungry daily.

“Every day, millions of people (especially children who are the most vulnerable) go to bed hungry in this highly food and nutrition insecure region of the world; and there is high prevalence of stunted and underweight children under five years,” he said.

Ubi stated that food is the first of man’s basic needs, stressing that it is most vital to sustain human life.He added that enhancing food production in Nigeria would continue to be a challenge if modern agricultural technologies including biotechnology are not deployed in crop production.

According to him, the lecture was presented to highlight the achievements of plant breeding in man’s quest to conquer hunger towards healthy living. He explained that output from crop production could be increased by expansion of hectarage under cultivation and increased per se productivity through the deployment of improved varieties coupled with enhanced agronomic packages.

He, however, stated that given the nature of land as a fixed crop production resource, the increasingly changing climate and the different biotic and abiotic constraints, increased per se productivity rather than expansion of cultivation area alone is important for the attainment of food and nutrition security.

 
“Crop breeding must come to the rescue by helping to avert the imminent food crisis (food riots). Though plant breeding is not the whole story for food and nutrition security, but it is a major story (half the story) which in combination with other components in the agricultural value chain have an important role to play towards the full realisation of the benefits of plant breeding for food and nutrition security,” he explained.
 
The don said “the delivery of good quality seeds (of high-yielding varieties) constitutes 50 per cent of agricultural input; all the other important agronomic packages (e.g. improved irrigation, fertilisation, pest control, etc.) being taken as cosmetic.”

He pointed out that genes could not cause a trait to develop unless the organism possessing the trait is grown in an appropriate environment, noting that on the other hand, no amount of external environmental manipulation would give rise to a phenotype in the absence of the necessary gene or genes.

“Thus, optimum crop productivity must first rely on planting high-yielding cultivars (50 per cent of the story) and in combination with improved agronomic packages.

“Modernising plant breeding through harnessing the powerful new tools of biotechnology has enabled more successes for plant breeding than hitherto attainable,” he added.

Ubi emphasised that the novel technologies should not be seen from the prism of being stand-alone technologies, as they could only stand on top of the foundation of the classical technologies whose efficiency they seek to enhance.
 
He noted that most of the crops in the Nigerian food basket, often referred to as “orphan crops” were indigenous, stressing that government should be willing to look inward and undertake the research investment into their genetic improvement. 
 
According to him, securing the future of the Nigerian food basket “lies with the deployment of agricultural technology including crop production biotechnology to accelerate the genetic improvement and productivity of the diverse crop resources of Nigeria.”

He provided detailed highlights of the various aspects of crop production biotechnology such as plant molecular breeding including marker-assisted selection, genetic engineering, mutation breeding and genome editing, as well as plant tissue culture and speed breeding, as an expansion of the breeder’s toolbox essential for enhancing the Nigerian food basket, while showcasing his professional and academic contributions.

Ubi said that not all biotechnologies involve the creation of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs); as approaches such as tissue culture and several aspects of genome editing and molecular breeding do not entail the creation of GMOs (transgenics), which on their own are an invaluable contribution to agricultural development but requiring biosafety regulatory approval.

Quoting Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Ubi stated that food security exists when “all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

He further noted that there was need for urgent steps to be taken to address the present level of hunger in the country.

He attributed part of the challenge to the increasing frequency and intensity of conflicts (especially the globalised Ukrainian-Russian war), climate change and resultant extremes (particularly precipitation, heat and emerging adverse biotic factors), economic slowdowns and downturns (further exacerbated by challenges of the recent COVID-19 pandemic) – largely drive hunger and malnutrition.
 
Ubi said the Russian-Ukrainian war has shown the volatility of the global food commodity supply shocks and its huge negative impact on food and nutrition security in Africa, which relies heavily on Russia and Ukraine for wheat, fertilizer or vegetable oils imports.

“Nigeria must take sovereignty of the stomachs of her citizens so that this human right is not compromised at the altar of external volatilities,” Ubi said.

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