Nigerian Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr. Rose Gidado speaks with African Harvesters on Genetic modification, her leadership at OFAB Nigeria and Gene editing technology.
The interview below
African Harvesters: Can you introduce yourself and what the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB Nigeria) does?
Dr. Rose Gidado: My name is Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, Deputy Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency and Country Coordinator, OFAB in Africa, Nigeria Chapter.
The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) is a platform initiated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Nairobi Designed to facilitate the flow of information between the scientific community and policymakers, lawmakers, media, farmers, civil society groups, NGOs and the general public to support informed decision making. There are seven OFAB Chapters in Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Nigeria,). The Nigerian Chapter was launched in 2009 and the National Biotechnology Development Institute being the agency with the mandate of promoting, coordinating, facilitating biotech activities in Nigeria and creating awareness amongst others is the Host institution for OFAB while the Agricultural Research Council (ARCN) is the Co-Hosting institution in Nigeria. The then Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Hassan Zaku and that of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili all of blessed memory were at the launch of OFAB Nigeria.
The objectives are to:
- Provide a forum which raises the profile of biotechnology usage in agriculture; noting it’s potential use in staple food crops
- Improve the quality of information available to the media and policymakers on Biotechnology benefits and risks
- Forge strategic alliances for creating synergy and optimization of resources through encouraging inter-institutional networking and knowledge sharing in the agricultural biotechnology space
- Contribute to informing policy decision making processes on matters of agricultural biotechnology through the provision of factual, well researched and scientific information and participating in policy discussions
- Foster entrepreneurship in the space through the facilitation of networking even Improve communication across all sectors interested in biotechnology for African agriculture
African Harvesters: What is crop genetic improvement?
Dr. Rose Gidado: Crop genetic improvement is a viable tool of modern biotechnology practice used to develop better crop varieties that we grow to produce food, fuel and fibre needs of our citizens. It is the science of applying genetic modification and plant breeding principles to improve plants. Genetic modification is literally the essential feature of all life on earth. Every genetically modified organism (GMO) ever produced was derived using enzymes and techniques discovered by researchers who found them in nature. Genetic engineers figured out how to do what they do by studying the natural world, understanding it and learning how to emulate it. Researchers have discovered that the movement of genes between different lineages is commonplace and widespread. We see it in organisms such as corn and sweet potatoes with which we are very familiar, working in ways we never imagined. It is in fact, a feature of our own human genetic makeup.
African Harvesters: How does gene editing technology help for crop improvement and food security?
Dr. Rose Gidado:
i. This is not an impossible task if crop varieties with a higher yield, better adaptability to the changing climate as well as more tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses are developed using gene editing in the next decade on urgent basis. The editing of a plant genome at defined sites by precise nucleases has revealed possibilities for improvement of crops to meet the rising demands of food in Nigeria.
ii. For food production to match the escalating population in Africa, new approaches such as the gene editing technology will be required to improve crop production while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and other chemical sprays that enhance the release of greenhouse gases. For instance, taking the issue of tomato spoilage, the application of the CRISPR gene editing technology has been used by scientists to generate tomato with longer shelf life thus, ensuring a stable supply all-round year. This was done by silencing the receptor gene of the bacteria in the tomato. Nigeria will have to increase her food production by 50% before 2030 if she must feed her consistent growing population.
iii. It is quicker and easier to use with fewer intellectual property restrictions. This efficient gene editing system will reduce many of the opinion gaps that have contributed to the opposition of the genetic modification technology. Because of the simplicity involved in the use of technology, it would be easier to get the buy-in of policymakers in Africa to adopt.
African Harvesters: To feed Nigeria’s growing population modern technologies need to be introduced to attain food security.
Dr. Rose Gidado: What are the measures employed by OFAB Nigeria in advocating the benefits of biotechnology for food security?
In partnership with like-minded institutions in Nigeria, we create awareness and sensitization through workshops/seminars/town hall meetings targeting different stakeholder groups like farmers, the media, civil society groups, lawmakers, policymakers, professional bodies, Universities etc. We educate and inform the people on the benefits of GMOs (its economic viability, environmental sustainability and scientific verifiability). We carry out weekly radio commentaries designed to create better understanding and correct misconceptions around GMOs by the general public on Radio Nigeria, through massive newspaper publications; drama jingles on radio and TV, documentary sharing and adverts. We have a website: www.ofabnigeria.com and our social media handles are always active: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, U-tubeTumblretc. After each workshop, seminar or meeting, we send out presentations to participants and also produce monthly newsletters which we share to contacts on our database.
In secondary schools, we carry out “Catch them Young” programmes, launch of Biotech and Biosafety Club which aims at enlightening school children on this technology too.
Recently, we developed an OFAB Nigeria mobile phone App which everyone can download on android (apple I- phones will soon be installed) to access up to date information about GMOs and other scientific innovation in agriculture all over the world.
African Harvesters: What policies are in place to enact policies that promote useful innovations in genome editing while safeguarding health and environment?
Dr. Rose Gidado: The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 was amended recently to include Gene editing technology. The amended Act is NBMA Act 2019. Presently guidelines and regulations are being developed to safeguard the use of the technology. In some countries, GE is not regulated because the process does not entail transferring a gene from an unrelated specie of plant to an un-related specie as it is done in genetic modification. You work within the genome of the plant or crop or animal. It is quite different and less cumbersome than Genetic modification (GM).
African Harvesters: Can you share with us your favourite leadership quote
Dr. Rose Gidado: Quote 1). “Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others, it is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed”.
Quote 2.) “I believe that modern biotechnology not only unveils the
the mystery of life but also transforms nature and promotes human
progress and development”.