Stop double speaking on GMOs, CSOs tell Ogbeh

The Alliance of Civil Society Organizations, CSOs for Effective Biosafety for the Development of Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria has taken a swipe at the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh on his recent statement in which he was quoted as saying that Nigeria would not embrace GMO seeds, describing the statement as a policy summersault.

At a press briefing yesterday in Abuja, a member of the Coordinating Committee for the CSOs, Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu said the statement credited to the minister was not only embarrassing but devastating to the agricultural policy and the diversification plan of the present administration to move Nigeria away from hunger and food importation.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development had during the town hall meeting with Youths in the Banquette Hall of Presidential Villa on 18 December, 2016 stated that the Federal Government was still apprehensive of Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) and that he was officially and personally opposed to GMOs. He added that Europe and America were still suspicious of GMOs too.

Agbaegbu said the group felt concerned and considered it a patriotic duty to draw both regional and global attention to the contradictions in the Minister’s statements through strategic communications and outreach for informed policy and choice to avoid misconstruing the statements as fact and incontrovertible position of Nigerian government.

The group said they had expected the Minister to refute the report as it is in contraction to many statements he had earlier made in support of modern biotechnology and GMOs as a scientific and globally accepted method of improvement on agriculture, food production and fight against hunger and malnutrition towards a sustainable development in the country.

‘‘The statement credited to the Minister is quite embarrassing and devastating. We had expected him to refute that report as it amounts to double speak for a Minister of his status. We appreciate that Ogbeh, although a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is still human and susceptible to mistakes and misadventures.
‘‘The statement clearly indicates that he has joined the league of anti-GMOs in contrast to his original position and to the view of apparently majority of enlightened personalities and interest groups represented in Nigeria by the Nigerian Academy of Science and Internationally by 110 Noble laureates, who spoke out late last year, supporting precision Agriculture.

‘‘It is important to note that Chief Ogbeh’s view is tantamount to a policy summersault and a contraction of an earlier view from his office.’’
The group further cited instances in which the Minister was quoted as clarifying the adoption of agricultural biotechnology.
‘‘On 3rd February, 2016, during a visit by OFAB PC members to the Minister, he stated that agriculture over the world is facing some challenge like climate change, insect attacks, low yield and productivity and a lot has been done using conventional breeding to solve these challenges.

‘‘He said Nigeria must embrace modern biotech and also indicated interest in collaboration with all institutions concerned to bring about a proper deployment of biotech, especially in the cotton industry.

''He pledged to work with Mosanto and AATF to revitalize the agricultural sector by applying all forms of technology necessary to bring about increased productivity, yield and increased income for farmers especially as Nigeria is looking forward to diversify the economy through agriculture,’’ said the group.

The Minister was also quoted to have said in a different fora that GMOs in agriculture sector will aid proposed process of boosting food production and also help in diversifying Nigeria’s economy.
The Minister had also during his presentation at a Sectoral Debates organised by the House of Representatives, in 2016 appealed to the National Assembly to give more appropriation to agricultural development in the 2017 budget to address the challenge of poor funding.

Similarly, in a report from one of the national dailies, the minister was said to have called for the establishment of a commodity exchange in the country with GMO as such synergy is expected to contribute immensely in the diversification of the country’s economy.

For the CSOs, Ogbeh’s view did not reflect those of other misters and agencies of government that are stakeholders in the agriculture project.

For instance, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and outgoing Minister of Environment see the matter differently.

They have expressed confidence that Nigeria could overcome its present food shortage through the deployment of GMOs and have assured the commitment of President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration to ensuring that science and technology are effectively utilized to serve the nation.

The group called on the Minister to crosscheck his facts with his scientist experts before going public on such critical maters and warned political leaders from making unguided statements that would mislead the public. They also asserted that modern biotechnology is based on scientific discoveries of scientists who faced criticisms yesterday and have been vindicated today.


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