By, Uchechukwu Ugboaja
The high cost of food in different parts of the country have continued to give concern to many Nigerians especially stakeholders in the agricultural sector including the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria where its Country Director Dr. Mrs. Rose Maxwell Hillary insisted that food prices may continue to soar except if Nigeria fully embraces agricultural biotechnology.
This expert opinion was expressed at the OFAB Media Award 2017 recently held in Abuja to honour policy makers, legislators and especially journalists who have been playing critical role in promoting the science reporting as well as the synergy between agriculture and biotechnology in Nigeria.
According to the Country Director Dr. Rose, despite its dominace in about 7 African countries in advancing food biotechnology OFAB’s role in promoting agricultural technology is being misunderstood in Nigeria and has greatly undermined Nigeria’s capacity to become self reliant in food production.
“In the last 8 years OFAB has engaged in educating Nigerians on the role of biotechnology in advancing our agricultural capacity to a level where we require minimal food imports to feed our population but opponents of agricultural biotechnology have continued to kick against this modern way of food production due to little knowledge about its operations in the agricultural sector,” she said.
She further insisted that OFAB activities has been focused on enlightening the farmers to make them understand that agriculture can be attractive, profitable and sustainable for farmers in the country through several advocacy efforts, workshops and empowerment programmes organised in collaboration with international organisations and partners. She lamented how long Nigerian farmers will continue to deal with insufficient farming which culminates to food crises and increased poverty when a credible alternative is available in agricultural biotechnology which can contribute immensely to increased food productivity.
It is on record that several Civil Society Organisations and groups have continued to call for the repel of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act established by the Parliament but the Dr. Rufus Egbegba who described the agency as a beneficially of that act has described them as ‘panickist’ who are otherwise calling for chaos in the sector which has achieved a lot as a result of their efforts at ensuring the safety and regulations of Genetically Modified Organisation (GMO) detection in Nigeria.
Another important stakeholder who was awarded for his contribution in advancing science and technology in agriculture was Prof. Turner Isoun a former Minister if Science & Technology who said that agriculture can no longer be driven by hoes and cutlass, thus the need to embrace innovative approaches based on science and technology to tackle our contemporary agricultural challenges. He reminded the audience of how ICT only contributed to 4% of Nigeria’s GDP 15 years ago but today statistics have shown how it has increased to about 10-12% contribution to the country’s GDP.
Prof. Isoun used the platform to appeal to the government for the establishment of the National Research Information Trust Fund (NRITF) to increase the possibility of research into various field of learning especially in science and technology as it remains the only way to prepare for the challenges of the future. He also lamented the poor budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Science and Technology in the current administration and called for more legislative support for the sector.
Prof. Tony Iredia the former Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) who was the keynote speaker addressed the need for cohesion between scientist and journalists because both of them are always in search of the truth. The veteran journalist insisted that journalists must always endeavour to report science and technology in a manner that will engender national development. He stated that since journalists are the determines of national discourse it becomes imperative for them to give science reporting the right prominence in our national discourse because what OFAB Nigeria is doing today is to provide a credible alternative to oil in Nigeria.
Other awarded are Hon. Barr. Nkem Abonta from Abia state who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions. His role in the establishment of the NBMA stemmed from his sponsoring of the Bill on the floor of the House of Representatives which the act was eventually passed by the legislature. He however credited the process of the passage of that law to the immense advocacy efforts of OFAB.
One if the high points of the night was the award for overall Best Science Reporter of the year which went to Ms. Lara Afolayan a TVC News Correspondent who beat other nominees from across the print and electronic media to win the cash prize of $500. The organisers claimed that the motive behind this award is to spur more Nigerian journalists to delve more into the area of science investigative journalism.