COMMUNIQUÉ ISSUED AT THE END OF THE FOURTH NATIONAL BIOSAFETY CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL BIOSAFETY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (NBMA) HELD ON SEPTEMBER 12-13, 2018, AT THE REV. CHRIS OYAKHILOME AUDITORIUM, AMBROSE ALLI UNIVERSITY, EKPOMA, EDO STATE
The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Abuja in conjunction with the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nile University of Nigeria, Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) Abuja, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) and African Union New partnership for Africa’s Development (AU-NEPAD), African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) held the Fourth National Biosafety Conference on September 12-13, 2018 at the Rev. Chris Oyakhilome Auditorium, of Ambrose Alli University, Edo State. The theme of the Conference was Biosafety Management in a Diversifying Economy with subthemes carved out to discuss the relatedness of the theme to pertinent socio-economic issues and economic sustainability. The Conference was expected to enable Scientists; Line government Institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders, within and outside the country cross-fertilize ideas to foster holistic biosafety management at this epoch of economic diversification drive in Nigeria. The outcomes are to assist in the strengthening of our National biosafety management in its contribution to the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
One hundred and ninety-five (195) 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 the National Biosafety Management Agency etc. The Conference was chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo state – Prof. I.A. Onimawo who also delivered the Conference Keynote address. Goodwill messages delivered by Partners and Participants commended the efforts of the NBMA in organising the Conference and for providing the regulatory framework for Modern- biotechnology in Nigeria.
Twenty-two (22) persons were decorated as Biosafety Ambassadors with the Agency’s Ambassador wrist band. The DG/CEO, NBMA, handed over the Chairmanship Plaque to the Vice-Chancellor of AAU as the current Chairman of the Conference while the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) was given the hosting rights for the 5th Annual Biosafety Conference in 2019. The Conference was declared open by the Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology, Edo State.
Paper Presentations and discussions
The following papers were presented at the Conference:
- Status of Biosafety Regulation in Nigeria –Chinyere Nzeduru, NBMA.
- Emerging Biotechnologies – Gene Editing, Synthetic Biology and Gene Drive: Need to Revisit Risk Assessment Protection goals and Regulatory Landscape – Dr. Arinze Okoli of Centre for Biosafety, SIVA Innovation Centre, Tromso, Norway
- Biosafety Risk Assessment and Risk Management in addressing Potential Adverse Impacts of GMOs – Dr. Olalekan Akinbo, AU-NEPAD ABNE,
- Global Status of Biosafety in Modern Biotechnology Regulation – Dr. M.P.O. Dore, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS).
- Regulatory Role of NBMA in the Safe Adoption of GMOs – Bello Scholastica, NBMA
- Assessing Socio-economic Benefits of Adoption of Biotech – Sam Timpo, AU-NEPAD
- Institutional Biosafety Requirements – Joy Odozi, NBMA
- The Role of ABNE towards building Capacity in Biosafety in Africa Dr. Jermy Ouedraogo, Director, AU-NEPAD ABNE
In the course of deliberation, participants at the conference made the following observations:
- In its quest to revamp the economy, the Federal government of Nigeria acknowledges the role of agriculture in Long-term economic growth and food security. Hence, its commitment to adopting any safe technology that would facilitate its food security and economic recovery drive for the country. This is aptly captured in government’s Agriculture Policy – The Green Alternative and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In view of this, the participants were in consensus that Safe Modern Biotechnology practice is a very critical tool in the economic diversification drive that can help Nigeria achieve food sufficiency, food security, industrial growth, health improvement and environmental sustainability. The audience was also of the conviction that safe practice of the technology will ensure the much desired in-flux of foreign direct investment from notable world leading companies in Biotechnology thereby improving gross domestic product growth rate and increased job and wealth creation.
- New and safe science and technology including agricultural technologies will continue to play critical roles in enhancing agricultural productivity and economic diversification and growth in Nigeria, Africa and indeed, the world. Plant biotechnology is uniquely important in this regard because it is a new tool which can significantly impact crop productivity; compatible with sustainable, environmentally sound agricultural practices; a non-capital-intensive approach that will benefit agriculture in developing countries and a source of value-added genes and traits that will increase farmers productivity and profitability. In consideration of the these, the audience agreed that in countries such as Nigeria where there is food insufficiency and where food prices directly affect the incomes of majority of the population, the potential benefits of biosafety of GM crops cannot be ignored.
- The audience noted few public-sector institutions or organisations are involved in the transfer of appropriate biotechnologies to the farming systems of rural groups. The audience also noted that while some institutions in Nigeria have potentials to carry out modern biotechnology activities, some institutes have been accredited and their containment facilities have equally been certified for modern biotechnology activities. However, a good number of higher institutions in Nigeria do not have appropriate curriculum and facilities for teaching and learning responsible and applicable biotechnology and biosafety courses. Besides, lack of funding for infrastructure and research is a big hindrance to advancement of safe biotechnology in Nigeria
- It was the conviction of the participants that Biosafety is very crucial for safety assurance and confidence building with regards to modern biotechnology and GMOs. 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. The participants agreed that with the advent of the NBMA to enforce the biosafety law in the country, the fear of potential risks of GMOs have been addressed. The law contains powers to authorize release of GMOs and practice of safe modern biotechnology activities; confers the power to carry out risk assessment/management before the release, handling and use of GMOs; covers all genetically modified organisms/Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and products thereof including food/feed and processing and covers socio-economic consideration in risk assessment. Most importantly, the law defines offences and penalty for violation. Nigeria therefore cannot afford to stand aloof or left behind in this fast-growing world.
- The audience noted that the first World countries popularly known as developed countries made tremendous achievements in safe modern Biotechnology because of their commitments to funding of human and infrastructural capacities development which have made them the leaders of today. In an attempt to learn from them, NBMA has set milestones, established partnerships with organization within and outside Nigeria and has a critical mass of well-trained officers. Consequently, the Agency has committedly pursued the development of human and infrastructural capacities, recognising them to be critical to safe modern biotechnology development and application in Nigeria.
- The debate around Genetically Modified Products is as a result of widely circulated misleading information about purported dangers that are not supported by any scientific evidence by those whose knowledge about the technology is limited and questionable. The evidence of the recognition and acceptance of safe practice of Modern Biotechnology as well as the role and efforts of NBMA was manifest by the fact that Nigeria recently won a court case instituted by a group of Activists against the NBMA and seven other MDAs over some Permits it granted. This victory is indeed a landmark achievement for the NBMA and has boosted its morale in the execution of its mandate as well as public confidence in her activities.
- The benefits in modern biotechnologies such as gene-editing, synthetic biology and gene drive for the Nigerian economy can be maximized in the application of biotechnology to facilitate the contributions of agriculture to the current diversification drive in Nigeria if properly regulated to ensure minimal adverse impact if any on human health, animal and the environment. CRISPR/Cas9, in particular, can be used to modify the genome of any organism in a much more powerful, targeted and efficient manner than the classical GM techniques, such that existing regulatory framework and risk assessment (RA) protection goals may need to be revisited. Specific areas of relevance include:
- CRISPR/Cas9 can modify an organism´s genome without addition of a new DNA or introduce few sequences which do not result in expression of new proteins -this is relevant for stringency of regulation for products of such modifications
- Modifications introduced by CRISPR/Cas9 may also result from natural variation -this is relevant for post-release monitoring and labeling.
- The VC of AAU, Ekpoma announced the immediate constitution of a Biosafety Society in the University
- Opportunities exist for grants in the field of biotechnology and biosafety by many international Development Partners that are not currently being assessed by Nigerians. Participants were therefore called to take advantage of such opportunities.
- All the Institutions and Universities present at the Conference indicated willingness for their staff and students to be trained by Biosafety Development Partners.
- Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) and the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi volunteered to host the 5th Annual Biosafety Conference in 2019. However, Federal University of Technology, Akure was granted the hosting right because they submitted their application to host first.
In consideration of the observations made by the participants the following recommendations were arrived at:
- Recognizing the intricacies of innovative, responsible and emerging modern biotechnologies, NBMA should ensure that relevant environmental protection goals are identified /revisited at this early stage in the adoption of these technologies. These protection goals should be incorporated into the country´s Risk Assessment (RA) and regulatory framework. The Agency is hence recommended to:
- Facilitate Hands-on training of relevant personnel and stakeholders locally through equipping existing laboratories, short courses, workshop, etc. on the new techniques
- Initiate capacity building and sensitization on the regulation of emerging technologies including gene-editing, synthetic biology and gene drive, in order to strengthen the capacity to evaluate, approve and oversee the safe adoption of the technologies for Nigeria’s development.
- NBMA should be made by law, a certification and accreditation body for Biosafety courses and programmes in Nigeria. All institutions in Nigeria, both private and public dealing with and/or on modern biotechnology are encouraged to establish an Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), which will be responsible to and co-operate with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). The Institutions must also obtain accreditation of the Institute to deal in modern biotechnology and certification of their Biosafety Containment from the NBMA.
- The NBMA Act is in full force and companies that are involved in GMOs activities are encouraged to formalize their dealings with the Agency to avoid being sanctioned. There is also need for government, international and national non-governmental organizations and private enterprises to strictly comply with the regulations of modern biotechnology application and its products as stipulated by NBMA as breach of the NBMA Act 2015 and other pursuant regulations has severe consequences.
- Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the National Biosafety Management Agency on matters concerning GMOs. The debate around Genetically Modified Products is as a result of widely circulated misleading information about purported dangers that are not supported by any scientific evidence by those whose knowledge about the technology is limited and questionable. The public should therefore 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 the clarification. The Agency should partner with all stakeholders in the discharged of its functions.
- The audience commended the commitments of the NBMA in pioneering and ensuring safe practice and adoption of Modern Biotechnology as well as the way the Agency organises annual conferences which is a sustainable platform for awareness creation on safe biotechnology practices in Nigeria.
- The Biotechnology/Biosafety curriculum currently being used the Nigeria Universities need to be reviewed to make it more practical and result oriented to meet contemporary challenges in Biotechnology. Also institutions and researchers are encourage to seek foe and access international funding in Biosafety concerns
- NBMA should ensure appropriate labelling and effective monitoring and control in the release of GM products in Nigeria
- The NBMA should endeavour to establish zonal/ state offices across the country to enhance its effective performance in Nigeria
- That Professional bodies and the academia should synergize with Biotechnology promoters and regulators to promote research on genetically modified crops and products to enhance acceptance of the gains of modern-biotechnology in Nigeria.
- The private sector should be encouraged to take the initiatives of funding research endeavours in Nigeria
The participants expressed their satisfaction and commended the efforts of NBMA at regulating the safe practice of Modern Biotechnology and promised to establish lasting collaborations with NBMA that would be leveraged towards consummating the quest for best International Practices in safe practice of Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria.