Law News
Biosafety law: What is there for agriculture

Many may have given up that the bill on Biosafety will be passed by the 7th National Assembly not to talk of being signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan before he leaves office on May 29, 2015. But all that doubts changed when the National Assembly passed the bill and it was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan the National Biosafety Agency Bill into law on Monday, April 21, 2015.

Oil Palm Seedlings

With that singular act, Nigeria the following Countries in Africa that have Biosafety laws and Agencies and are currently using modern biotechnology for the development of their agricultural and allied economic sectors, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Mali, Sudan, Cameroun. The journey to having a Biosafety law did not start yesterday as the country signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2000 and ratified it in 2003 in commitment to Global Biodiversity Management.

Nigeria accords high priority to the successful implementation of this Protocol on Biosafety and all UN resolutions and has participated in all the meetings of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity Serving as meeting of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP). Nigeria’s commitment is also reflected in her efforts in the domestication of the protocol and the main streaming of biosafety into her National Programs with the aim of achieving global biodiversity conservation targets.

The country has equally been active in the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) as a means of information exchange on Biosafety issues, just as it has equally signed the Nagoya Kuala Lumpur Supplementary protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2012. Many are quick to ask the benefits of the law to the growth of the country’s economy and in particular agriculture growth.

For Ms. Rose M. Gidado, Assistant Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency, the law will create more employment, boost food production that will put a smile on the faces of farmers and elevate hunger if given good attention by government. The National Biosafety law is crucial in the management of Modern Biotechnology in the country. Modern Biotechnology, according to her, has been identified as an important tool that can help countries to achieve food sufficiency/food security, industrial growth, health improvement and environmental sustainability.

She added that the Biosafety law will give the legal framework to check the activities of modern biotechnology locally as well as imported GM crops into the country as well as providing avenue to engage Nigerian scientists and experts from different fields to identify and pursue solutions to our local challenges. “The Biosafety Law also recognizes the complex issues to be addressed by Central Authorities in the judicious application of Modern Biotechnology; it bases the deliberate release of GMO on Advance Informed Agreement (AIA)”.

Speaking further on the purpose of the Law, Ms. Gidado explained that the Biosafety Law is for an act to provide for the management of Biosafety and other related matters and it seeks to: Harness the potentials modern biotechnology has to offer under a legal regulatory regime;Ensure environmental, human and socio-economic safety while harnessing the benefits associated with the practice of modern biotechnology and its outputs; and Exercise the sovereign right over all the nation’s natural resources and authority to regulate access to such resources.

She added that the law will also allay the fear of the populace on the socio-economic consequences of modern biotechnology, especially among the small scale farming systems that are prevalent in Nigeria; Reaffirm Nigeria’s commitment to the principles of the World Trade Organization and to reaffirm Nigeria’s commitment to the goals and objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which Nigeria has signed and ratified as well as safe use of modern biotechnology and provide holistic approach to the regulation of modified organisms in Nigeria among other purposes.

Speaking further, Ms. Gidado who is also the Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Nigeria Chapter , said the country stands to gain lots of benefits with the law put in place as Nigeria can without delay commercialize Bt-cotton, Bt-maize, Herbicide Tolerant (HT)-soya beans, which are already in South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt.

...Yam tubers and yam plantation

This, she said, can lead to increased yield productivity to ensure food security and industrial growth especially in the ailing Textile Industries. “It will also promote the quantity and quality of cotton that the Nigeria can export to other international countries.” Gidado added that the passage of the law will also ensure the much desired in-flux of foreign direct investment from notable world leading companies in Biotechnology thereby improving gross domestic product growth rate and increase job creation.

“The Law will promote national security through the application of DNA finger printing for crime detection, paternity testing, identification among others. “It will also promote active commercialization of the research and development projects in our various Universities and Research Institutes hence improves our economy as well as support the country to become one of the leaders in Biotechnology, particularly in Africa.”

For Prof. Ado Shehu Garko, the VC, Alqalam University in Katsina state, the law will allow research and business with biotech products including consumption. He added that the law will assist farmers reduce production cost and get more profit growing biotech crops, “more nutritious crops can be developed and even medicinal crops can be developed.”

President of National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), Alhaji Hamma Ali Kwajaffa, speaking at the Cotton Value Chain Forum organised by Monsanto Seed Company and NACOTAN recently, said looking at Burkina Faso’s agriculture sector, which has been dominated by the cotton segment, “Nigeria having the Biosafety law in place will make cotton farmers in the country to be globally competitive.”

He stressed that Nigerian farmers have been anxious to have the BT Cotton in order to compete with other farmers in Africa, so also were scientists eager to see the results of their research works. He added that at the present time when oil prices were dwindling, the country needed to diversify from oil into agriculture for enhanced economic development. One of the stakeholders in the passage of the law in Nigeria, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- Biotech Applications (ISAAA) explained that the country will benefits from the potential of GM plants. “In the developed world, there is clear evidence that the use of GM crops has resulted in significant benefits.”

Some of the benefits Nigeria stands to benefits from having the law in place include higher crop yields; reduced farm costs;increased farm profit and the improvement in health and the environment ISAAA says while most of the debate over transgenic crops has taken place mainly in the developed nations in the North, the South stands to benefit from any technology that can increase food production, lower food prices, and improve food quality.

“In countries where there is often not enough food to go around and where food prices directly affect the incomes of majority of the population, the potential benefits of GM crops cannot be ignored. It is true that nutritionally enhanced foods may not be a necessity in developed countries but they could play a key role in helping to alleviate malnutrition in developing countries.

While explaining that some Institutions in Nigeria have been identified to have potentials to carry out modern biotechnology activities in the country, Ms. Gidado said some institutes have been accredited and their containment facilities have equally been certified for modern biotechnology activities. “These institutions are; the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria (IAR), the Federal University of Technology, Akure and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).”

She added that with the law in place in the country, that fear of potential risks of GMOs have been addressed as the Biosafety law defines offences and Penalty for violation . The law, she said contains powers to authorize release of GMOs and practice of modern biotechnology activities; confers the power to carry out risk assessment/management before the release, handling and use of GMOs; covers all genetically modified organisms/Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and products thereof including food/feed and processing and covers socio-economic consideration in risk assessment.

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