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April 19, 2024
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Can Agricultural Biotechnology be the Answer to Nigeria’s Food Security?

A recent report called Cadre Harmonies, released by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in collaboration with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners, has highlighted a food crisis that threatens approximately 26 million Nigerians in Borno, Sokoto, Zamfara states, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between June and August 2024.

Another report from UNICEF emphasizes the need for agriculture to be the driving force behind Nigeria’s economic growth while ensuring a hunger-free nation.

However, the country is plagued by food insecurity caused by ongoing security challenges, resulting from conflicts and armed actions. In fact, 25 million Nigerians are currently at high risk of experiencing food insecurity.

Unfortunately, the current economic situation in Nigeria has exacerbated the food security threat. The limited food available in the market is now unaffordable for the average Nigerian due to high prices.

In addition to these challenges, communal crises, banditry, and terrorism have made it difficult for farmers, especially those in northern states where a significant portion of the nation’s food is produced, to access their farms.

Even those who are fortunate enough not to be directly affected by herdsmen or bandits face difficulties, as they have to rely on saved seeds that may not guarantee optimal productivity.
Adding to the complexity of the food security situation, farmers are being targeted and harmed by bandits and terrorists.

Some are randomly kidnapped and released for ransom, while those who successfully harvest their crops are forced to pay exorbitant fees before they can transport their produce from the farms.
Furthermore, pest and insect attacks have also taken a toll.

The invasion of fall armyworms, desert locusts, and other pests has caused great distress among Nigerian farmers, leading many to become discouraged and abandon their farms.

All of these factors, among others, have resulted in a decrease in agricultural activities and a continuous rise in food prices in the market.

Considering the current insecurity and unrest in the country, these statistics are alarming. If swift action is not taken, it will only worsen the already volatile situation.

As Nigeria’s land available for cultivation continues to decrease due to climate conditions and ongoing crises, the country’s farmers are struggling with low productivity due to poor-quality seeds.

To address this issue, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AAFT) is collaborating with relevant partners in Nigeria to establish a sustainable seed system knowing that quality seeds are essential for successful food production, as no amount of fertilizers or good farming practices can compensate for their absence.

Unfortunately less than 10 percent of Nigerian farmers use hybrid seeds, while over 90 percent rely on saved seeds for the next planting season. Due to issues of seed adulteration and faking, farmers had little interest in the organized seed system.

However, this trend is gradually changing with the establishment of ECOBasic Seeds Company by AATF, which aims to improve the West African seed system.

ECOBasic is now at the forefront of hybrid seed development. AATF has recently supported the development of BT cowpea, and TELA maize, which are genetically modified crops that can increase productivity with minimal use of chemicals.

To reduce hunger, it is important to focus on early maturing crops that are resistant to pests, insects, and have high yields. The BT Cowpea, developed at the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) in Zaria with support from AATF, has the potential to resist the Maruca Vitrata pest, which can destroy up to 80 percent of cowpea crops in the field.

Due to a shortfall in Nigeria’s cowpea production, the country needs to import around 500,000 tons of cowpea annually, costing approximately N16 billion.

If properly supported by the Nigerian government, BT cowpea can help reverse Nigeria annual bean deficit which currently stands at over 500,000 metric tons.

Smallholder and commercial farmers do not require large hectares of land, but rather good quality seeds to maximize their available land.

Regarding TELA maize, Nigeria produces around 10.5 million tons annually, while the local demand is around 15 million tons, resulting in a supply gap of 4.5 million tons.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported a decline in Nigerian maize production to 9 million tons in 2020. Maize production in Nigeria is threatened by the Fall Armyworm, which destroys crops on the farm. Farmers have to spend significant amounts on chemicals to control this pest.

TELA maize has the ability to resist the Fall Armyworm, withstand drought, and yield 8 to 12 tons per hectare, compared to the average 1.4 tons per hectare of conventional varieties

These achievements, with the support of AATF, demonstrate that increased investment in agricultural biotechnology can be the solution to fighting hunger in Nigeria. Addressing hunger in Nigeria requires significant investment in agricultural technology, specifically biotechnology.

This technology has proven to be successful in making western countries self-sufficient in food production and enables them to export to Africa.

It is crucial for the Nigerian government to allocate funds for research in the seed system, focusing on genetically modified seeds.

National security cannot be achieved without food security. Hunger breeds anger, and many of Nigeria’s insecurities stem from this anger. By addressing hunger, we can gradually eliminate insecurity.

Over the years, AATF has taken positive steps towards tackling hunger in Nigeria. They have implemented technologies and supported the development of crops that have high yields and are resilient in the face of climate change

  • The Nigerian government has a vital role to play in providing support and creating an investment-friendly environment for organizations like AATF to continue their efforts in eradicating hunger in the country.

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