….’Nigeria risks losing N1 trn over adoption of GMO seeds’
- We’ll make more profit, not loss – FG
Following the quest by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for food sufficiency and affordability for Nigerians, and the indication that it may be considering adopting Genetically Modified seeds, industrialists and development experts have raised concerns that the practice will run the economy into losses amounting to over N1 trillion.
Aside from the huge losses, which experts say will be the gains of other economies where the GMOs will be sourced, it is also said that the adoption will further crash a handful of local industries, deepening the country’s economic woes in the process.
Crops such as maize, rice, soyabeans, wheat, cassava, tomatoes and potato, among others, which are all Nigeria’s major cash crops, are listed as some of the food sources government may adopt their GMO versions.
But in separate interviews with our correspondent, scientists, economic analysts, agriculturists and some researchers stressed that it was important for the FG to find other means of attaining food sufficiency, and avoid deepening the country’s economic woes as a result of its inability to constructively diversify the economy and encourage large-scale mechanised farming.
According to them, for a government that wants to diversify the economy in these trying times, going the way of GMO seeds portrays the administration as confused in terms of policy direction. Some of the respondents told our correspondent that while proponents of GMO foods adoption may insist that it is a good initiative, its implementation at a time the economy is in ‘recession,’ will also amount to a contradiction of the nation’s preparedness to use the agriculture sector to grow the economy.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and Global Alliance, Nigeria is not doing badly in terms of revenue generated from its cash crops, especially the ones available in GMOs.
The US agency disclosed that since 2009, Nigeria had been producing an average of 7.8 million metric tonnes of maize worth almost N512 billion annually; average of 77,143 metric tonnes of wheat worth N10.8 billion annually; an annual average of 2.7 million metric tonnes of rice worth N218.1 billion (out of the 6 million metric tonnes annual demand) and 600,000 metric tonnes of soya beans worth N96.7 billion, among others.
The total worth of the four grains and others is over N1 trillion. This is aside from the 10.8 million metric tonnes of cassava produced yearly, which is worth almost N200 billion in its raw state and N1.08 trillion naira when processed. A full implementation of the GMO policy will mean the loss of this revenue to other countries.
The analysts faulted the inability of the government to learn from either its mistakes or that of the past governments, especially the former President Olusegun Obasanjo that introduced the N10 billion worth Cassava Bread initiative, which many attributed its failure to lack of deep research on the acceptability by Nigerians.
They insisted that the FG must consider to what extent the GMO initiative would bleed farmers, industries and the economy at large so that the hardship facing Nigerians would not be aggravated.
NAIRA MAY SLIDE FURTHER
An economist and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Dr. Alaba Olusemore, said that the impact of the imminent adoption of GMOs would pull the value of the naira further down.
According to him, there could be up to 100 per cent decline in the value of naira within the next few years, as it will worsen the exchange rate, hike inflation and affect the real value of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product.
Olusemore opined that the inability to replant seeds of GMO crops after harvest, brought deficiency to the entire idea. “The dependence on importation of seeds for continuity as well as potential environmental hazard and possible disease outbreak, among other negatives, makes the idea unattractive.
Olusemore, who is the Managing Consultant, Nesbet Consult, said, “This is similar to mistakes made between the 60s and 70s, when Nigeria adopted what we call import substitution industrial approach, which meant that what we were importing before, we were now producing them locally. The impact of that was that we were not making use of our local raw materials and still had to depend on raw materials produced abroad.
“The initiative for now is counterproductive because it would amount to continuous increase in the import rate as time goes by, as GMO seeds need to be imported over and over, which would in turn drain our foreign reserve further.”
But, if the GMO crops could help tackle food shortage, as some have said, why are some experts opposed to the idea?
Responding, the Deputy National Coordinator, Institute of Chartered Economists of Nigeria, Prof. Ganiyu Oladapo, said, “It could be a good move if Nigeria were not in recession. If it were to be days when we had excess foreign reserve, it would have been a project to be embraced, given to our potent financial capability to testrun and curb its negative effect if there happened to be any.
“At the moment, we are in an economic mess, it would not work. Anybody advising Nigeria to dabble into such project at this moment is not helping matters but causing further serious problems economically,” he added.
WE NEED INCENTIVES, NOT GMO – INDUSTRIALISTS
The Executive Secretary, NigerianIndian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Tope Oluwaleye, also frowned at the GMO initiative, saying that it contradicted the move to diversify the economy, using agriculture as stated by President Buhari during and after his campaign.
“This will be a drain on the much needed forex of the country. Why do we need to import GMO seeds? Our soil is fertile enough to maintain regular planting and harvesting year in year out. The soil nutrients here are replenished by nature. In this part of the world, God has not allowed us to be ravaged by natural adverse occurrences, which devastate lands in other climes.
“It is true that even if you drop a seed on the ground without consciously dressing the soil, it will grow. We are blessed to that extent. Federal and state governments need to encourage farming at all levels in the country by providing incentives. Let them put in place measures that will add value to the harvests thereby eliminating waste as much as possible.
“Government should buy excess output and store such, so that more people will be encouraged to farm. Buying GMO seeds every year to distribute or sell to farmers will drain our scarce forex and it also has the potential of fostering corruption through economic ‘rent’ (payment to a factor of production in excess of the cost needed) as witnessed before in the country.”
GMO IS MODERN SLAVERY – AGRIC-ECONOMISTS
An Agro-economist, Mr. Akintunde Akinmolayan, recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety bill into law in 2015 and this singular act had enlisted Nigeria as one of the countries of the world permitting GMOs.
“The impact would be obviously negative because it would make Nigeria to be totally dependent on the chemical or biotech firms that are the proponents of the technology. Besides farmers’ inability to replant the seeds, research findings have shown that GMOs will upset the ecosystem and pollute the gene pool of crop varieties, while also degrading the environment,” he said. According to him, FG’s present work towards increasing our export rate while decreasing our import rate and the adoption of GMOs into the country is contradicting.
He added that “GMOs cannot fit into this plan. The myth widely publicised by the biotechnology companies that GM crops increase yield is totally false. Replete in the literature are evidences to fault this claim.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development needs to come up with our own strategies to ensure we can feed ourselves and export our agricultural produces. Drastic reduction in postharvest losses, planting improved varieties of seeds, GMOs excluded, and improving on processing of agricultural produce and the like, are a few options to consider.”
He urged the FG to see this concept as modern day slavery and wickedness. He alleged that the world knows Africa is the next frontier and that our market has yet to be tapped, hence the reason the capitalists want to exploit us and penetrate Africa.
On his part, a Professor of Agronomy, Tayo Adebayo, frowned expressly at FG’s consideration of GMOs.
For him, Nigerian farmers would definitely abandon existing seeds for the new one, which will in turn put Nigeria into another unrecoverable economic slavery, which will incline us permanently on importation of seeds. “We should rather embrace hybrids that can give better yield than adopt what will further compound our economic woes. I can never support that,” he said. However, another stakeholder and the country manager, Harvest Plus, a multi-national agricultural outfit, Mr. Paul Ilona, said there was no justification for condemning the imminent adoption of GMO on Nigeria soil as there have been no empirical or scientifically proven facts and evidences to establish that consumption and growing of GMOs are environmentally threatening, dangerous to human health or could cause disease outbreak.
Ilona expressed confidence in the efforts of government to ascertain that it is safe to grow and consume GMOs in Nigeria, as he observed that there have been ceaseless efforts on their side by engaging environmentalists, scientists, and other necessary agencies in research exercises on what its effects could be, when fully embraced.
“The government is only making farming more efficient and ensuring there is increase in food production to meet local demand and reduce the rate of food importation,” he added.
FARMERS WILL MAKE MORE PROFIT AND NOT LOSS – FG
Though the Federal Government admitted that some stakeholders/ investors would benefit from the sale of the GMO seeds, it insisted that the initiative was a plus to the farmers and the economy at large.
The media adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, Dr. Kayode Oyeleye, argued that the view of the experts that implementing GMO crops would deplete the forex base was unilateral.
He told The Point that there was no doubt that some companies with business interest would benefit from the development because they were involved in commercial production of GMO seeds but added that, considering the spread of the initiative across the globe and how it would boost food and curb hunger among the citizens, the development had more of economic advantage for Nigeria than loss.
“We should not confuse Nigerians while trying to inform them. If China, Brazil and South Africa have subscribed to GMO, why will Nigeria run away from a science that will help us in food security? We need to be creative and innovative, to run away from GMO seeds would compound and not solve our food crisis issues. It would lead to an increase for the economy and not a loss because the farmers will make more profit from the initiative like their counterparts in Burkina Faso and Brazil,” he explained.
However, contrary to the insinuation that GMO seeds could not be replanted, the Director-General, National Biosafety Management Agency, Mr. Rufus Ebegba, argued that such claim was false. While insisting that the seeds could be replanted, the NBMA boss disclosed that the productivity of the seeds would only drop after some time.
“We are not saying GMO is the solution to food shortage but the technology is to solve problems that the conventional seeds have not been able to solve. The Federal Government is determined to ensure that Nigerians have access to food and that is the reason we are performing experiments on the initiative to avoid abuse,” he told The Point.
The FG, through the Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, admitted that it had approved field/experimental trials for the initiative but said that GMOs had yet to be fully implemented in Nigeria.
While 38 countries have banned the growing and circulation of GMOs within their geographical territory, with the backing of their scientists, doctors and environmental agencies, including Scotland, the home country of one of the big brains behind the initiative, others are consciously working on opting out from growing them.