The role of plant biotechnology in the agricultural sector cannot be over-emphasized. Availability of quality seeds of high-yielding varieties preferred by farmers and consumers, easy access to obtain seeds at the right time, and affordable price is key to any nation fighting for a revolution for food self-sufficiency.
Boosting agricultural research in the developing world/country like Nigeria through plant biotechnology is the key to ensuring wealth creation and availability of food for good health through food security and poverty alleviation. This can only be possible through the conscious development of plant biotechnology. The federal ministry of agriculture has a major role to play in ensuring that research work with the necessary policy framework.
WHAT IS PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY?
Plant biotechnology also known as plant biotechnology can be defined as the application of biological techniques in the modification of plants and their products to provide goods and services for human consumption. The rice planting season is here, and we must talk about improved seeds for a bumper harvest.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE ROLE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY IN IMPROVED SEED PRODUCTION IN NIGERIA
The role of plant biotechnology in contributing to the socio-economic development of most nations like India, China, Malaysia, South Africa, Thailand, Kenya, Botswana is so whelming so much so that Nigeria needs to borrow a leave from them in the development of the agricultural sector and the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
Nigeria as a country is blessed with six ecological climates but varies amongst its geopolitical region with equatorial in the south, tropical in the Central, and arid in the North. Of the total landmass, 33% is used for cultivated crops, while another 3% supports permanent crops like fruits and nut-bearing trees.
Hence, if Nigeria’s abundant viable land is utilized fully, it could replace crude oil as the main source of income with the aid of biotechnology. Plant biotechnology has high potential in improved seed production through its enormous technique like plant tissue color, genetic engineering, artificial seed production, recombinant drier technology, etc.
With plant biotechnology, the following improved seeds can be produced. Improved seeds that are:
- Drought/ temperature tolerant like cassava
- Insect-resistant like cowpea
- Light yield
- Light nutritional value.
IMPORTANCE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY
Most Nigerians are planting food grains bought in the market, and crop yields are at the subsistence level. Agro-biotechnology if fully utilized can provide farmers with improved seeds. This offers farmers a better chance to harvest lucrative crops in terms of
- Increased yield
- High income, and
- Improved nutrition
Improved seeds production is based on selecting and improving local seeds material and maintaining international varieties adapted to local conditions. This is made possible by working with both newly developed hybrid and open-pollinated varieties of some varieties of crops that have improved nutritional value.
THE ROLE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY ON FOOD AND NUTRITION IN NIGERIA
Plant biotechnology has lots of changes to make in the plant as well as livestock production. Its effect is felt in all the production chains beginning from agrochemical inputs, breeding to final food processing.
PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY AND ANIMAL PRODUCTION
In animal production, the application of plant biotechnology has advanced greatly. Globally, the health sector has received lots of expenditures on biological researches and development.
Pharmaceutically, there have been many experiments on drugs, diagnostic probes, vaccines, etc., which are applied in livestock production before its use by humans. The list below are the 4 basic fields in animal production that plant biotechnology is applied on:
- Animal health
- Growth and production
- Reproduction, selection and breeding, and
- Feeding and nutrition
THE ROLE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY IN PLANT PRODUCTION
Virtually all aspects of plant production undergo biotechnology application. However, in the Nigerian agricultural sector today, commercial application of plant genetic engineering is yet to happen, and this has adversely reduced a substantial increase in crops and plants harvest. The big challenge today is that the acceleration of the breeding of new plant varieties and the multiplication of disease seed-free materials are done using tissue culture which is a traditional aspect of plant biotechnology.
However, tissue culture is considered the most cost-effective, and the best method for improving seeds in developing countries like Nigeria. This is for the fact that it does not require very costly equipment in the application. Below are the different areas of gain in plant biotechnology application in Nigeria:
IMPROVED VARIETIES OF QUALITY SEEDS/CULTIVARS
In vitro development of improved varieties has been greatly enhanced by Plant breeding. Below is the beauty of tissue culture is felt in:
- The speedy multiplication and production of cultivar
- The rapid selection and adaptation of cultivars that are resistant to salinity and acidic soil stress.
- The production of healthy seeds free of pathogenic agents and viruses.
- The opportunity to produce species that are difficult to reproduce and grow very slow.
- The provision and availability of seed materials all-round the year in the place of seasonal seeds, and
- better storage and transportation or germplasm opportunities.
For the fact that the application of tissue culture which is the traditional method of plant biotechnology, does not necessarily need expensive equipment, this can be applied so easily in the Nigerian agricultural system to improve local varieties of food crops. The multiplier effect will be so awesome at the end of the day.
2. REDUCES THE USE OF AGROCHEMICALS
One of the beautiful ways plant biotechnology can help the Nigerian agricultural sector is to reduce agrochemicals. The availability of fertilizers has been one of the most difficult challenges the average peasant farmers in Nigeria have been facing. This is not only peculiar to Nigeria but to the entire developing nations of the world. It is so because they can hardly afford these agrochemicals [fertilizers].
There are lots of benefits if agrochemicals are reduced in crop production. These benefits are:
- It will bring about a little or no residue in the final products. This is achievable by the application of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the inoculation of the soil thereby allowing a serious reduction in fertilizer input which is usually capital intensive due to the foreign exchange rate on importation of fertilizer.
- With plant biotechnology, you can easily identify the strains of bacteria most suitable for specific crops and soil and multiply them on a larger scale.
- Plant biotechnological pesticides can be used in no small measure to reduce the use of agrochemicals. This is for the fact that it requires much time for genetic engineers to develop in large-scale pest-resistant varieties of the most important crops. It is obvious that most plant diseases are caused by fungi, however, it can also be used to control pests.
- The mass production of fungi in a storable form can be facilitated by plant biotechnology. The essence of this when used is that it makes the product less expensive compared to agrochemicals.
3. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY INCREASES CROP PRODUCTION
Another beauty of biotechnology is that it can be used in diverse ways to increase crop yield. You can increase crop yield by improving on plant’s flowering capacity, and photosynthesis/nutritive elements intake in plants. This is one big advantage plant biotechnology has over genetic engineering. Genetic engineering can increase crop production in crops like rice and cassava but in a very low protein content leading to an imbalanced diet especially for those who lack access to varieties of food. The reason for this is that genetic engineering can only modify the amino acid composition of plants proteins to increase the nutritive values of staple foods with calorie content.
4. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY CAN IMPROVE HARVESTING
The major reason for the cloning of plants is to reduce those harvesting rigors. When crops grow uniformly, and ripens uniformly as well, harvesting it will be easier. Lesser workload management is the key objective of every industrialist, and this is also applicable and key to small-scale farming in developing countries like Nigeria. It will make farming more interesting.
5. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY ENHANCES STORAGE
Another great role plant biotechnology can play in crop/plant production is resolving the problem of post-harvest food losses. This is one of the major problems every average farmer in Nigeria faces. This is the reason why Nigeria as a country suffers food shortage problems leading to hunger and starvation in the country.
The greatest loss of food is caused by microbiological reactions caused by toxicogenic, infective, and spoilage micro-organisms. Well-developed storage and transportation of food crops at every season can actually increase the very high availability of food for the Nigerian populace.
6. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY ENHANCES FOOD PROCESSING
The fermentation process is better for preserving protein and vitamins since they are lost through rational food processing. This is where plant biotechnology comes to play. Biotechnology can be used to upgrade or lift the standard of the rational way of food processing through fermentation. Biotechnology eliminates toxic components in food processing.
Plant biotechnology can be used to produce additives that can increase the nutritive values of final products, improve the texture, flavor,, and appearance of the food. Plant biotechnology can play a major role in the increment of food production and improving food processing.
THE SUCCESSES OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY SOFAR IN Nigeria
Several improved seed has been produced in Nigeria. Examples are:
- The cowpea that is resistant to insects through the use of BT toxin
- The biofortified cassava
- The drought/temperature resistant rice varieties, and more.
THE CHALLENGES OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY IN NIGERIA
- One of the greatest challenges of biotechnology in Nigeria is the distribution and proper utilization of these improved seeds. Availability of quality seeds of high-yielding varieties to farmers, easy access to obtain seeds at the right time, and affordable price misery paramount.
- Agricultural research is the cornerstone to successful agricultural policies. Agricultural policies supporting plant biotechnology are needed and are necessary for food sufficiency in Nigeria.
- Lack of start-up seed companies for seed production and distribution is a serious challenge in Nigeria and its effect on plant biotechnology is strategic, etc.
MY RECOMMENDATION TO THE ESTABLISHMENT/ APPLICATION OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE IMPROVEMENT OF SEED PRODUCTION IN NIGERIA
- Government and non-governmental agencies should try as much as possible to play a big role in ensuring proper sanitization of local farmers before distributing improved seeds to ensure proper usage.
- Government should as well ensure that these improved seeds are distributed to farmers on time, and not Hoarding it until after the farming season is gone before the distributions.
- The major reason for the inability of these improved seeds to get to the peasant farmers is as a result of lost packaging. It should be well packaged.
- Government should try and subsidize the price of these improved seeds for better utilization.
- For better utilization of the opportunities that lie in plant biotechnology, the government should as a matter of urgency pass the biosafety law whose bill has been passed by the national house of Assembly around December 2010, since no country can fully practice biotechnology without a biosafety house to regulate and monitor all modified products that come into the country for the safety of its citizens and the environment at large.
Achieving a revolution for food self-sufficiency in Nigeria will rely on plant biotechnology [agronomic package] starting from the use of good quality seeds of improved high yielding varieties, through appropriate cultivation technology and post-harvest processing and marketing. Academic and researchers of plant biotechnology have greatly generated valuable research data/results in these areas.
The federal ministry of agriculture has a big role to play in ensuring that government gives the needed encouragement and support in research funding and development in Nigeria. This is for the fact that agricultural productivity in Nigeria and the developing countries of the world cannot go beyond the limit set by the seed.
I must commend the effort of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa [AGRA] ably led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Africa with the sole aim of triggering a unique African Green revolution that will transform agriculture into a highly productive, efficient, competitive, and sustainable system to assure food security and lift and lift millions out of poverty.
This is to be achieved through robust, high-yielding seeds, integrated soil fertility management practice, sound water management, affordable credit,, and efficient markets.