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Food systems and options for safety, sustainability of Nigerian farmers

Nigerian Agricultural Produce

*Food security is important to the individual and to the country, as it is one of the basic necessities of life

*Nnimmo Bassey, an environmentalist and Director of HOMEF, frowns on how Nigeria’s food system is being challenged with introduction of GMOs into food production

Usman Aliyu

Unarguably, the development of a nation largely depends on its food system because food security is important to the individual and to the nation.

It is one of the basic necessities of life.

Agriculture experts and economists believe that any country which cannot guarantee food security can never be said to be a sovereign nation in other ramifications.

It is, therefore, due to this reality that stakeholders at a recent national convergence and food festival in Benin City, Edo capital canvassed a food system that is safe, healthy and sustainable for Nigeria.

Food system refers to all the elements and activities related to producing and consuming food, and their effects, including economic, health, and environmental outcomes.

The recent event organised by the Home of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) was to celebrate Nigeria’s food, cultural diversity and rich biodiversity.

At the event, stakeholders expressed serious concern about the high influx of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the country’s food production, thereby eroding the traditional ways of farming, which they adjudged healthier, safer and sustainable.

Introduction and adoption of Genetically Modified foods

Genetically Modified (GM) foods, also known as genetically engineered (GE) foods, or bioengineered foods are edibles produced from organisms that have had changes introduced into their DNA.

Genetic engineering techniques allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits when compared to previous methods, such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.

Nnimmo Bassey, a leading environment activist and Director of HOMEF, said it was appalling the way Nigeria’s food system is challenged in recent years, particularly with the introduction of these GMOs into crop production.

Bassey said: “People are planting what they don’t know, and they are eating what they don’t know.

“We believe the health of Nigerians is being compromised this way; also compromising the health of the environment.

“At the end of the day, Nigerians are exposed to the erosion of our culture, of our biodiversity, and indeed our heritage.

“The government should take steps to avoid promotion of monoculture or a kind of agriculture that is not based on biological diversity.”

During a panel discussion, Mrs. Lovelyn Ejim, a farmer and founder, Network of Women and Youth in Agriculture, said it had been found that GMO activities had impacted the health of the people as well as the wealth of farmers.

She said GM seeds ranging from maize, beans and rice had permeated Nigeria’s food system as a result of free distribution, whereas traditional seeds remained the healthier and more sustainable alternative.

Ejim, who is the South-East Vice-President of Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), urged farmers never to give in, but to return to the planting of indigenous crops that are nearly going into extinction.

Importance of organic/traditional seeds in agricultural system

Corroborating Mrs. Ejim’s stance, Prof. Tatfeng Mirabeau of the Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, in Bayelsa State, advocated the revival of traditional seeds.

Prof. Mirabeau opined: “I am happy to learn that there are banks where our traditional seeds are maintained. Farmers need to strive to get those traditional seeds.

“We should also get ourselves acquainted with agroecology; which is a natural system of growing our crops; making use of our ecological requirements and our agricultural system.

“We should learn how to fortify our soil; learn how to recycle our crops at every season and so on and so forth.”

The academic also dismissed the idea that organic farming is ineffective in tackling global food insecurity.

“It is fallacious that through organic farming, we can’t feed the world.

“We need to explore what God has given agriculture is healthier for us and safer for our environment,” he noted.

To be able to sustain the efficacy of organic seeds and seedlings, Dr. Jackie Ikeotuonye of the BFA Integrative Health and Wellness Centre, advocated the practice of crop rotation.

“We know that in the southern region, we have a lot of virgin land.

“The percentage of land under use now in the whole southern region for agricultural activities from the last count of ratio is just 30 percent.”

In regard to formulating policies on organic farming, Dr. Ikeotuonye said this had not been the problem in Nigeria.

The expert said: “We have enough policies; implementation is the problem.

“So, we are not talking about policies anymore, it is the implementation.”

The stakeholders at the forum further emphasised an ‘eco-regenerating’ lifestyle, which means general consciousness of our environment and its biodiversity.

They also demanded more information on GMOs so that Nigerians would know what they are eating, saying if they can’t be thoroughly explained then they are not the solution to hunger in Africa.

In his presentation on pesticide use and precautions in Nigeria, Donald Ofoegbu, Programme Manager, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said over 58 percent of the pesticides used by farmers in the country are already banned in Europe for health and environmental reasons.

Ofoegbu stated: “There is poor regulation, poor monitoring system in terms of how these pesticides are traded; how they are used.

“A lot of farmers do not even know what they are using.

“It means there is a need for caution. They need to be very conscious about what pesticides should be used in the country.”

The Programme Manager at Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung also noted: “Farmers’ associations should do a lot more in terms of sensitising their members.

“Community leaders and religious groups should also be involved.”

Ofoegbu, who is the Lead Coordinator, Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN), said the safest and most sustainable farming system going organic.

*Aliyu is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

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