By Sylvester Thompson
Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), said it has become necessary to use advanced technological tools in crop production to generate yields.
Mustapha said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Wednesday.
He said using advanced technological tools like genetic engineering in crop production would increase yields at economically viable scales for Nigerian farmers and resuscitate ailing industries as well.
The NABDA D-G explained that the last three to four decades had seen biotechnology worldwide shifting from being a strategic emerging industry to one of the mainstays of most advanced nations strategic industries.
According to him, this is a confirmation that biotechnology is one of the key pillars of development of any nation.
Using cotton as a crop in point, he said that Nigeria commercialised its first genetically modified crop, Bt cotton in 2018, with the aim of revitalising the comatose textile industry and boost economic development.
Recall that the textile industry in Nigeria was a major employer of labour and revenue-earner in the 70s.
Statistics indicate that at its peak, between 1970 and 1990, it comprised about 130 modern factories and supported numerous other ancillary firms.
The industry provided about 350,000 direct jobs and 1.2 million indirect jobs among farmers, suppliers, transporters dealers, traders and exporters.
Today, however, only about 33 factories remain standing and the local cotton industry is comatose, primarily due to lack of good seeds, low yields and high production costs associated with insect damage, Mustapha said.
He said that these pests reduce yields by up to 60 percent which has implications on farmers profits and have also been found to be detrimental to the environment.
The D-G said such development motivated NABDAs collaboration with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Zaria, Bayer and Mahyco Agricultural Nigeria Ltd, for development, commercialisation and deployment of new varieties of transgenic hybrid cotton.
Accordingly, the cotton was then genetically modified to include a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis; a soil bacterium used extensively for insect pest control in organic agriculture to provide pest resistance within the plant itself.
The NABDA Boss said that Bt Cotton plays a critical role in reviving the nations economy.
It can produce 4.1 to 4.4 tonnes per hectare, compared to the local variety which yields just 600 to 900 kilograms per hectare.
Since Bt cotton can resist the devastating bollworm and tolerate sucking insects, it will help farmers reduce their use of pesticides, thus minimising environmental impacts and lowering production costs, he said.
According to him, these varieties of Bt cotton are suitable for cultivation in all of Nigerias cotton growing zones, and they also offer early maturity, fiber length of 30.0 to 30.5 millimeters among others.
He said Bt Cotton varieties would save farmers the trouble of contending with the local conventional variety, which was no longer acceptable at the international markets.
Mustapha added that recent initiatives to improve the contribution of the agricultural sector to economic growth in Nigeria have emphasised the importance of cotton production in stimulating the economy.
He said that Bt cotton offered the hope that the textile industry in Nigeria could be revived as the commercialisation had started a revolution that would help Nigeria in its cotton shortage.
Mustapha said, the stage has been set for self-sufficiency in the production of cotton as industrial raw material with the subsequent transformation of the textile industry.
The productivity data of the improved varieties of cotton obtained from farmers fields has raised the hope that the moribund textile industry in Nigeria would soon come alive.
Nigerian farmers who would be involved in the Bt cotton business would be empowered to enjoy increased productivity.
Similarly, he said the value chain of cotton from the farmers to processors, cottage industry workers, to the spinning and textile industry would also create job openings that the government was clamouring for.
The D-G assured that jobs would be created, wealth generated, the ginneries reactivated, and Nigeria would be able to export cotton to other countries of the world as well as become a global trade player. (NAN)(www.nannews.ng)
Edited by Celine-Damilola Oyewole/Bashir Rabe Mani
Source: NAN News