Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), says Nigeria is ready for genome editing technology with the biosafety laws in place.
Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the League of Nations already using genetic engineering (GE) to boost food production.
The law is to regulate the practice of modern biotechnology, handling and use of its products (genetically modified organisms) that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Mustapha, who stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Abuja, said that this would enhance agricultural productivity in the country.
He said genome editing technology was a scientific innovation that helps in precision agriculture, where genetic impairment of a crop was targeted and fixed, enabling the crop to actualise its optimal yield.
He explained that the technology came with numerous benefits including reduction in time frame between planting and harvesting, mitigating climate change and less application of pesticides among others.
The D-G said the technology does not endanger nor harm the crop, adding that it only repairs what was responsible for the crop’s impaired growth through its DNA.
Mustapha said that as a target specific science, Nigeria has put in place regulations that would ensure the use of genome editing in the country.
“When used in agriculture, all the diseases bedevilling crops in the country, most especially crops of interest used as food and industrial raw materials are the ones being targeted.
“When this has been achieved, the country is going to gain quite a lot in terms of food supply and agricultural raw materials for industrial development.
“With that, there would be wealth creation as employment opportunities shall be available for our teeming population of youths,’’ the NABDA boss said.
He stressed that Nigeria’s agricultural focus was to be self-sufficient with enough food for all, with ample supply of industrial raw materials by industries to agricultural companies in the country.
“So, this technology is going to help in the area of providing the huge amount of crops that are going to be sufficient for these two purposes,’’ Mustapha said.
He said that the technology was an initiative of the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).
He said the mission of the Centre was to make use of modern technology to foster development across the African continent with focus on agricultural productivity.
Mustapha said about seven selected African countries including Nigeria were involved in the AUDA-NEPAD initiative, whereby collaboration would be formed to actualise this initiative within a specified timeframe.
He said this collaboration would enable exchange of ideas and strengths in order to foster scientific development and bring political will to bear on facilitating STI through the use of genome editing technology.
He explained that on the recent visit of the AUDA-NEPAD team, led by NABDA, the host agency and custodian of the technology, they had visited the Ministers of STI, Agriculture and Rural Development to solicit for support.
Mustapha said the genome editing initiative of the AUDA-NEPAD was a policy issue, and both ministers had pledged to enlighten the presidency on the prospects of using the technology to fast- track development.
“Presently, policy and working documents are being drafted for the technology to be applied on the African continent,’’ he said.
The NABDA D-G added that on the AUDA-NEPAD team’s return to Nigeria, part of their consortium would see about how some of the laboratories would be upgraded in order to achieve the aim.
“The goal of Africa that can feed itself in terms of agricultural produce is why the genome editing technology was conceived and why they came here,’’ Mustapha said.