What Role Can Biotech Play in Addressing Food Security in Nigeria?

By: Modesta Nnedinso Abugu
Program Assistant for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology-Nigeria Chapter and Fellow of Cornell University’s Alliance for Science Program

Nigeria will be the world’s third most populous country by 2050, according to the United Nations’ (UN) projections for West Africa. As a Nigerian, I don’t know if this news should make me happy or sad, but as far as agriculture and food security is concerned, it is going to be a serious challenge to feed ourselves in the future if new agricultural technologies are not adopted and existing ones improved.

Suggesting agricultural biotechnology solutions to our food insecurity challenge was the topic of discussion at a recent Washington, D.C., panel event. Organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in collaboration with CropLife International and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Agricultural Policy, the event brought together participants representing various organizations working to promote agriculture in developing countries — including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID, CropLife International, Cornell University and CSIS — as well as representatives from the U.S. Embassies of Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.

I spoke to the role that science plays in decision-making, including the need for advocacy and communication on agricultural biotech. I also elaborated on the potential for biotechnology to boost the Nigerian economy, such as helping to increase the country’s exchange earnings, productivity and gross domestic product, while improving crop resilience during periods of low rainfall and reducing the need for farm labor.

Furthermore, the event afforded me the opportunity to speak on ways to engage youth in ag biotech adoption through policy processes, advocacy and information dissemination, as well as getting involved in research work to enhance crop adoption through field trials and productivity demonstrations. The role of youth in biotechnology adoption cannot be overemphasized.

Other panelists included: Hans Dreyer, of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who spoke on how biotechnologies can be part of a wide range of applications that undoubtedly will have a role in improving food security in the world. Dr. Sylvester Oikeh of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation explained how the WEMA project is seeking to confer drought-tolerance and insect protection on maize. And Former U.S. Ethiopian Ambassador Patricia Haslach outlined the agricultural problems the world is facing, including the role of science, technology and innovation in addressing most of these challenges.

Overall, I believe that a combination of all possible technologies, especially crop biotechnology, is what Nigeria needs as the problems of pest and insect attacks, diseases, climate change and malnutrition continue to affect all agricultural zones in Nigeria.