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Nigeria Approves GMCs Crops for Commercial Use Amidst Safety Concern

Nigeria has become the second African country to approve genetically modified crops (GMCs) after South Africa.

A report published by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) noted that Nigeria is the second that has adopted and commercialised the “T maize” varieties.

According to the report, Nigeria has approved commercializing four genetically modified (GM) corn varieties known as TELA maize.

GM crops are plants, whose DNA are modified using genetic engineering methods, to be resistant to insects and more tolerant to drought.

Food crops for example can be genetically engineered to be resistant to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, chemical treatments or just to improve the nutrient profile of the crop.

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The report noted that the adoption has a potential to increase Nigeria’s average corn yield from 2.2 tons per hectare to 10 tons per hectare using the new TELA varieties and proper farming practices.

In addition to boosting Nigeria’s corn production and contribute to food security, it argued that it will “reduce crop losses from pests like the fall armyworm which could save Nigerian farmers substantial amounts of money.

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“The fall armyworm can destroy up to half of the corn yield and increases the need for pesticides. By using TELA maize, which is less susceptible to these pests, farmers can reduce their reliance on chemical pesticides.”

It added “Studies indicate that since 2016, fall armyworm has cost Nigerian corn producers around $53 million per year. Adopting TELA maize could help reverse these losses.”

Challenges

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Despite the potential benefits, there are challenges to the widespread adoption of GMCs like TELA maize.

There is growing concern over the adoption of GMCs and its commercialization in Nigeria.

Stakeholders in agriculture and environment are arguing that the adoption will far-reaching consequences in Nigeria.

Part of the concern is the possible dismantling of current subsistent agriculture for more capital-intensive agriculture by multinationals to the detriment of the local farmers.

This is also because the seeds are often patented which could weaken the position of farming communities and aid the depletion of indigenous seed.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), at least 33 major food crops have been genetically modified globally including maize, cowpea, cotton and soybean which are approved for commercialisation in Nigeria.

Health Hazards

Despite their potentials to aid Nigeria in food security, the GM crops are said to be having some potential health risks such as allergic reactions, genetic material which may transfer to organisms in the body.

According to critics of GM crops, it also contains hormone-altering genes, which may lead to hormone imbalances and related health issues, may contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Additionally, it is said that some studies have linked GM crop consumption to organ damage and dysfunction as well as potential to weaken the immune system.

Experts noted that the science on GM crop health hazards is not yet conclusive but World Health Organisation (WHO) and others have approved many GM crops for human consumption with some.

Many other organizations and experts advise cautious utilization of the GM crops as the extent of their impact on human health is yet to be fully ascertained.

Reps call for investigation

The House of Representatives has earlier called on the federal government to suspend the commercialization of Genetically Modified (GMO) crops in Nigeria and thoroughly investigate health and other safety concerns.

The House later mandated that its Committee on Agricultural Production and Services to the potential health and environmental risks associated with GM crops and report to the House.

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