Biosafety Management in Nigeria: Panacea for Economic Growth and Development


COMMUNIQUÉ ISSUED AT THE END OF THE FIFTH ANNUAL NATIONAL BIOSAFETY CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL BIOSAFETY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (NBMA) HELD AT THE POST GRADUATE AUDITORIUM, NASARAWA STATE UNIVERSITY (NSUK), NASARAWA STATE

DECEMBER 4-5, 2019,

Introduction

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), in collaboration with the Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Nasarawa, held its 5th Annual National Biosafety Conference at the Post Graduate Auditorium, Nasarawa State University, Nasarawa on December 4-5, 2019. The theme of the Conference was “Biosafety Management in Nigeria: Panacea for Economic Growth and Development”.

The Conference was aimed at enabling stakeholders within and outside the country cross-fertilize ideas to foster holistic biosafety management for national economic development. The outcomes would assist in strengthening the NBMA in its contribution to the growth and development of Nigeria’s economy.

Two hundred and thirty-eight (238) participants attended the Conference from Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the Academic and Research Communities, Professional Organizations, NGOs/Civil Society Organizations, Students, the Media, staff of NBMA, etc. The Conference was chaired by the host, Vice-Chancellor, Nasarawa state University, Keffi (NSUK), Professor Suleiman Bala Mohammed, who also delivered the welcome address while the DG/CEO NBMA, Rufus Ebegba Ph.D delivered the Convener’s speech. Prof. Y.B. Ngwai of NSUK presented the keynote address. Delivering goodwill messages, partners unanimously agreed that the role of Biosafety in our national development cannot be over emphasised considering the high rate of global adaptation of Biotechnology.

The VC, NSUK, in his welcome address thanked the DG/CEO for bringing the Conference to NSUK, stated that the theme of the Conference was timely in view of the relevance of biotechnology across sectors of the economy and its impact on economic development. He stated that the schools agreeing to host the Conference was a way of extending a hard of friendship and partnership to the Agency. He assured the Agency that NSUK was open to exploring other areas of partnership and collaboration with it. He concluded by citing other partnerships the University has with local and foreign institutions.

In his own speech, the DG/CEO, NBMA specially thanked the VC of NSUK and the entire University Community for their willingness and acceptance to host the Conference within a very short notice, and making it reality. The DG emphasized that modern biotechnology is a powerful tool which needs adequate regulation in harnessing its benefits to ensure safety to human and animal health, and the environment. Hence, the United Nations came up with Protocols (CBD and CPB) to address the potential adverse effects that could arise from the application of the technology, and use of its products. This, he said, led to the establishment of the NBMA to serve as a safety verve in the practice of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. He gave a brief insight on the amendment of the NBMA Act to include – Gene Drive, Gene Editing, Synthetic Biology and Biosecurity. The DG/CEO concluded by stating that there is need to translate knowledge into production, job creation and economic growth; and the Agency was working on calling a Stakeholders’ meeting to strategize on how to address the new areas included in the Agency’s mandate, which will include a National Emergency Management Response.

The VC, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma Ignatius A. Onimawo handed over the Conference Plaque to the Vice-Chancellor of NSUK as the current Chairman of the Conference. Thereafter, the Conference was declared open by the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture and Water Resources, Nasarawa State, Prof. Allananah O. Otaki.

Paper Presentations and Discussions

The following papers were presented at the Conference:

  1. The Status of the Nigerian Biotechnology – Prof. Alex U. Akpa, Acting DG/CEO, NABDA, represented by Dr. Rose Gidado.
  1. Regulating Emerging Biotechnologies – Prof. B.O. Solomon, OAU
  2. National Biosafety Management Agency: Imperative for National Development – Mrs. Bello Scholastica, NBMA.
  3. Biosafety Requirements for the Genetic Modification of the Cell Wall of Switchgrass for Effective Use as a Biofuel – Prof J.C. Onovo, NSUK
  1. Current Status of Biosafety in Regulating Biotechnology and its Benefits – Chinyere Nzeduru, NBMA
  1. Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Certification and Biosafety in Nigeria – Prof. O.J. Jayeoba, NSUK
  1. The Status of Global Biosafety – Dr. M.P.O. Dore represented by Mr. Simeon Ighodaro
  1. The Imperatives of National Food Safety Sufficiency Versus the Question of Biosafety in Agricultural Biotechnologies – Dr. Isaac M. Ogara
  1. Institutional Biosafety Requirements – Fauzeeyah Aminu and Joy Onwude, NBMA
  1. The Role of NGOs/CSOs in Ensuring Safe Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria – Barr. Frank Tietie

Observations

In the course of deliberations, participants at the conference made the following observations:

  1. In its quest to revamp the economy, the Federal Government of Nigeria commits to adopting any safe technology that would facilitate its efforts. This is aptly encapsulated in several of governmental polices such as the government’s Agriculture Policy – The Green Alternative and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
  2. In view of the above, the participants were in consensus that Regulated and Safe Modern Biotechnology practice is a very critical tool in sustainable economic growth and development especially in the attainment of food sufficiency, food and nutrition security, industrial growth, health improvement and environmental sustainability in Nigeria. It will also ensure in-flux of foreign direct investment (FDI) from notable world leading companies in Biotechnology thereby leading to improved Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increased job, poverty reduction and wealth creation.
  3. The opportunities in the adoption of safe technologies are endless and their borders seamless. It is however, determined by the strength of its regulation which in turn determines its safety. Hence, participants noted that NBMA’s regulation of modern biotechnology and GMOs is very crucial for safety assurance and confidence building. Its activities have been very satisfactory and if sustained, would contribute greatly to achieving the SDGs. The Agency has in place world class and functional instrumentals such as GMO detection and analysis laboratory as well as qualified personnel to detect and guarantee the safety of GMOs in the country. NBMA’s Biosafety instruments are currently being used as samples globally and Nigeria is indeed the Chair of African Biosafety Regulators Forum.  Hence, Biosafety Management can be said to be a panacea for sustainable development.
  4. The claims of the anti-GMO activists that GMOs are harmful are baseless and lack scientific evidence as GMOs have not been scientifically proven to be unsafe for adoption. Participants agreed that with the advent of the NBMA, the fear of potential risks of GMOs have been addressed.
  5. The benefits of emerging modern biotechnologies such as gene-editing, synthetic biology and gene drive for the Nigerian economy can be maximized for economic growth and development in Nigeria. However, proper regulation will minimize potential negative impacts on the environment, human and animal health.
  6. NSUK’s genetic modification research into Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a right step in the right direction as it is a potential biofuel candidate that can launch Nigeria into the global bioenergy market and thus contribute to economic growth and development of the country.

Recommendations

In consideration of the observations made by the participants, the following recommendations were arrived at:

  1. Nigeria’s adoption of safe use of modern biotechnology to achieve food security and sustainable economic growth and development should be sustained.
  2. Considering NBMAs achievements and expanded responsibilities following the successful amendment of the NBMA Act in 2019, funding/ budgetary allocation for the Agency should be reviewed upwards.
  3. Biosafety should be included in the curricula of secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
  4. All institutions in Nigeria, both private and public undertaking modern biotechnology researches are encouraged to establish an Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) in line with the NBMA guidelines and seek accreditation of their facilities to deal in modern biotechnology.
  5. All individuals, organization private and public who intend to transit, develop, promote and or commercialize GMOs must apply for Biosafety Permits before commencement of activities.
  6. NBMA and all relevant stakeholders should expand public outreach and advocacy to enhance understanding and acceptance of the benefits of biosafety regulation in the country.
  7. NBMA should continue to partner with all relevant stakeholders in the discharge of its functions.

Conclusion 

Participants commended the commitment of the NBMA in pioneering and ensuring safe practice and adoption of Modern Biotechnology. It also commended the Agency’s steadfastness in organising its annual conferences which is a sustainable platform for awareness creation on safe biotechnology practices in Nigeria. Nigerians should therefore be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the National Biosafety Management Agency on matters concerning GMOs and trust the Agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic. In the event of any doubt on matters concerning Biosafety, the NBMA is available for clarification.

Public Notice

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