Renowned maize breeder who manages the TELA Maize project at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Sylvester Oikeh, has expressed regrets at the anti-technology activism in Africa, saying it is preventing the continent’s smallholder farmers from growing beneficial crops.
Speaking during a one-day interaction with editors in Lagos, he said Biotechnology remains a strong investment for African farmers as gains globally, showed that for each dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, more than a threefold return of approximately $3.5 was attained.
Dr Oikeh said that in 2016, farmers in developing countries received $5.1 for each dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, which is a five-fold return whereas farmers in developed countries received only $2.7 for each extra dollar invested in biotech crop seeds.
He said that genetically engineered crops such as Pod-borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea, Nitrogen-Use Efficient, Water-Use Efficient and Salt-Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice, and TELA Maize will greatly contribute to addressing food security and the impact of climate change in Nigeria and Africa as a whole in view of the various challenges facing agriculture on the continent.
These challenges, according to him, include climate change which is responsible for more frequent droughts in many parts of the continent, flooding which is happening in places that hitherto had no history of floods, little rain in some areas and too much rain in others.
Dr Oikeh also cited widely used chemicals, which are oftentimes either misused or overused, as challenges which African farmers face, in addition to the pollution of water bodies associated with the use of chemicals by farmers.
“There also exist biological constraints. New pests like fall armyworm (FAW) which was unknown to farmers in Africa prior to 2016, suddenly appeared and is now ravaging farms especially maize farms across the continent. With estimated losses of 8.3–20.6 million tons (USD 2.48 – 6.19 billion) of maize in 12 major maize growing African countries including Nigeria in 2017 alone, the FAW is threatening maize farming in Africa,’ said Sylvester, adding that the issue of low productivity which is caused by low soil nutrients and recycling of old crop varieties for more than two decades is another key problem for the continent.
Dr. Oikeh said that these challenges could be addressed by deploying biotechnology and its tools ensuring positive contribution to the continent’s quest for food security. He added that Bt Maize should be a key component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for control of stem borers and FAW in maize production while the PBR Cowpea will help manage the challenge posed by Maruca bug in cowpea farming.
The good-will and support of government and other relevant organizations is critical to ensuring development and release of biotechnology products including genetically modified products. Dr. Oikeh said that this support will help expedite the decision-making processes to enable the continent benefit from this technology.