Category Archives: Biotech

Science Has the Power to Boost Agriculture in Africa

The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

It is, by and large, a successful sector. There have been huge improvements in yields and food production over the past five decades. 

More cereals have been produced annually during the past 40 years than in any earlier period. It is also predicted that more grain will be harvested in 2017 than in any year in history. This is as a consequence of scientific advances, increased fertiliser use and favourable rainfall patterns.

Many of these gains have been felt in Africa. Improved seed varieties, new fertilisers and pesticides, improved credit and market access have all played a role. So have scientific innovations such as improved and more reliable weather prediction, improved drought tolerance and increased resistance to extreme climatic conditions, and cross-breeding for improved efficiency.

And yet hundreds of millions of people in Africa are going hungry every day. Globally, 800 million people are categorised as chronically hungry. Around 30% of them – 227 million people – live in Africa.

So where is the disconnect between food production and food security in Africa? Why does the continent spend about US $40 billion a year importing food when so many of its own residents are farmers? And how can this situation be changed?

At least part of the answer lies with science. There are already several excellent examples of ways in which science has led to dramatic increases in food production and moved farmers in some countries closer to self-sufficiency.

Science at work

A project in Uganda provides an excellent example. Ugandan scientist Robert Mwanga won the 2016 World Food Prize for his work in addressing Vitamin A deficiencies. Without Vitamin A, children are more likely to develop entirely preventable blindness. Working with people in Uganda’s poor, rural areas, Mwanga set about substituting, at scale, white sweet potato – which is low in Vitamin A – with a Vitamin A-rich alternative.

In Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his work on improving the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the production of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic Striga weed.

None of these projects would have been possible without governments supporting the research that lay behind them. But much more needs to be done. Research shows that investing an extra US $88 billion in agricultural research and development globally over the next 15 years could increase crop yields by 0.4% each year.

This could save 80 million people from hunger and protect five million children from malnourishment.

Africa is behind the curve on investing in research to improve agriculture outputs. Even though all 54 countries of the African Union have signed up to successive commitments – starting with the Maputo Declaration in 2003 – to increase their agricultural research budgets to at least 10% of their national budgets, few have actually done so.

At the last count only 13 had met or exceeded the 10% target in one or more years since 2003.

There’s an added problem. Africa relies on external capacity for most of its scientific research in agriculture. This has undermined its capacity to use science to deliver solutions for problems unique to Africa. This needs to change. Scientific research should be Africa-based, owned and led. Investment will be key – and so will solidarity among African scientists and governments.

Using science to benefit people

In 2014 African heads of state renewed their commitment to the agriculture sector when the signed the Malibu Declaration. The core of its agenda is to connect science to benefit society by:

  • Identifying broad areas of science that can be developed in partnership
  • Strengthening national science and technology institutions
  • Building human capacity
  • Diversifying funding sources to support science
  • Facilitating partnerships between African institutions at a national and continental level
  • Sharing information, technologies, information, facilities and staff for common challenges and opportunities, and
  • Creating a favourable policy environment for science

In addition to this, governments need to step up to the plate and increase their research budgets. Combined with the commitment to work together, the hope is that science will increasingly be used to create a more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector across the continent. This is critical to improve rural economies, where most people in Africa live.

Source: The Conversation

Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

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Photo credit: ecomercioagrario.com

Nigeria is still a developing country despite being blessed with abundant natural resources including a good climate which supports the growth of vegetation and rearing of animals. 

Nigerian agriculture is still characterized by low yield per hectare, low production technology, outdated production techniques, low level of innovation adoption etc. 

Nigeria has also witnessed progressive increase in importation of food in order to meet shortfalls in domestic food supply. As Nigeria continues to battle economic recession, which has hit the nation hard, the spirit of most citizens has dampened and they have lost hope in the government. Food security is the one thing Nigeria needs most now.

Food insecurity is still a major challenge in Nigeria. Both rural and urban poor people suffer from food insecurity and poor nutrition, caused in large measure by poverty and lack of nutritional balance in the diet they can afford. Food insecurity and malnutrition result in serious public health problems and loss of human potential. 

To combat these challenges, food production and purchasing power both need to increase in Nigeria. Since land and water are the most limiting resources for food production, there is a need to increase yields on the available land and biotechnology offers solution to this.

Biotechnology tools are presently used to tackle the problems of global food insecurity and agricultural biotechnology offers opportunities in developing countries like Nigeria. 

Many potential biotechnologies are available, these include: Traditional Plant Breeding, Tissue culture and micro propagation, Molecular breeding or Marker assisted selection, Genetically Modified crops, and recently Genome-editing for crops. 

These techniques can help address the problems of food insecurity by increasing per seed yield of some of our crops, multiplying the planting materials for farmers, increasing the area of land under cultivation, enhancing nutritional qualities of some of our crops and reducing dependence on agrochemicals.

Genetically Modified crops have been developed and rapidly disseminated since the early 1990s. GM crops for virus resistance, insect/pest resistance and delayed ripening are good examples of crop improvement strategies that are beneficial. 

Insect–resistant plant varieties using the ᵟendotoxin of Bacillus thuringensis have been produced for several plant species like tomato, tobacco, potato, cotton, maize sugarcane and rice, of these, maize, cotton is already commercialized. 

This technology can be adapted to our local crops to help increase productivity. This is important because adapting biotechnology to local or indigenous crops often have deep social or religious meaning to culture and simply replacing local crops with another crop to increase productivity may potentially destroy local cultural traditions. 

Local farmers in Nigeria are more likely to embrace a known crop with genetic modification than a foreign crop. Also, our local varieties of wheat can also be genetically modified or improved to reduce wheat importation and save foreign exchange. 

Nigeria is presently the highest importer of wheat and rice on the African continent. Tissue culture and micro-propagation can also be used to assist farmers obtain quality, disease free and readily available planting materials for crops like banana, plantain, pineapple, citrus, yam, cassava. Small scale farmers in rural communities can benefit from this. 

In addition, farmers and researchers/scientists in agricultural biotechnology can collaborate, so that research results from the laboratories can reach farmers. Research can also be targeted and tied to meet the specific needs of rural farmers; this will help increase food /agricultural productivity and economic empowerment.

In spite of the tremendous advances in biotechnology, public fear persists, especially the controversies on the acceptance of GM crops. These issues may prevent these innovations from having the impact they promise. 

Stakeholders of biotechnology in Nigeria must substantially increase its efforts to educate and engage the public to ensure that biotechnology truly lives up to its potential to solve our food insecurity challenges. Biotechnology for food security should be our priority.

The World’s First Malaria Vaccine to Be Rolled Out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018

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Image credit: Shutterstock

Malaria is one of the world’s most deadly diseases even though it is highly preventable and treatable. Malaria causes approximately 881,000 deaths every year, with nine out of ten deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

Effective control and treatment of malaria has been very challenging and efforts have been made to reduce the burden of malaria in an integrated approach that combines preventative measures, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), with improved access to effective anti-malarial drugs.

However, malaria is a disease that stems from and causes poverty, and many at-risk populations live in extremely destitute, remote areas. Poor, rural families are the least likely to have access to these preventative measures that are fundamental to malaria control, and may live kilometres from the nearest healthcare facility. They are also less able to afford treatment once infection has occurred.

In addition to the human cost of malaria, the economic burden of the disease is vast. It is estimated that malaria costs African countries more than US$12 billion every year in direct losses, even though the disease could be controlled for a fraction of that sum. For Nigeria alone the direct loss to the economy is estimated at GBP530 million annually.

Up to 40% of African health budgets are spent on malaria each year, and on average, a malaria-stricken family loses a quarter of its income through loss of earnings and the cost of treating and preventing the disease. Malaria causes an average loss of 1.3% of economic growth per year in Africa.

There is a ray of hope in Africa as the world first malaria vaccine is to be rolled out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018. This injectable vaccine known as “RTS,S or Mosquirix” was developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will be offered for babies and children in high risk areas as part of real life trials as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In clinical trials it is proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule, but it is the first-regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito- borne disease. The WHO, who is in process of assessing whether to add the shot to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, has said it firsts wants to see the results of on-the ground testing in a pilot programme.

“Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director said in a statement as the three pilot countries were announced.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”

Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria toll by 62 percent between 2000 and 2015. The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the Mosquirix’s protective effect in children aged 5 to 17 months can be replicated in real life. It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the four doses needed and explore the vaccine’s potential role in reducing the number of children killed by the disease. 

The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programmes, wide use of bed-nets and well-functioning immunization programmes. 

Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine.  The vaccine was developed by GSK in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The WHO said in November it had secured full funding for the first phase of the RTS,S pilots, with 15 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and up to 27.5 million and 9.6 million respectively from the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID for the first four years of the programme.

This significant development will help to address the continuing challenges presented by malaria in Africa in the years ahead and hopefully bring an end to this deadly disease.

Sources:

The Hindu, April 25, 2017. 

Kokwaro G. (2009) Ongoing challenges in the management of malaria. Malaria Journal, 8(Suppl 1):S2 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-S1-S2.

Croton nuts: Africa’s New Biofuel That Literally Grows on Trees

The Croton megalocarpus tree is common throughout much of East and Central Africa

The history of biofuel production in Africa is marked with expensive and damaging failures.

The much-hyped jatropha crop saw millions of dollars and vast tracts of land squandered, while the production of palm oil has been widely criticized for association with environmental damage and human rights abuses.

But there is a new hope for the field. The Croton megalocarpus tree is common throughout much of East and Central Africa, and until now it has been used for little more than firewood.

The nuts of the tree have been shown to contain high concentrations of oil and protein, and they are now being used to produce a fuel that could serve as a clean alternative to diesel.

With an abundant supply of croton nuts available at minimal cost, a new industry is emerging with sky-high ambitions.

The Croton megalocarpus tree is common throughout much of East and Central Africa

Low-hanging Fruits

In 2012, serial entrepreneur Alan Paul established Eco Fuels Kenya (EFK) to explore the potential of croton, following early research that suggested promise. His company is now the driving the movement to bring croton biofuel to the mainstream.

The business took a low-key approach at first, in contrast to high-budget flops such as jatropha.

“(Paul) said we can grow organically by sourcing what is already there from one of the most common trees,” says EFK Managing Director Myles Katz. “We can buy nuts from farmers so they get an income and we have a business model that does not require $10 million of funding and a big plantation to get off the ground.”

EFK put out radio ads to attract local entrepreneurs into partnerships, who assembled teams of smallholders to supply the nuts. When suppliers realized their previously useless trees had become an easy and reliable source of income, the network rapidly expanded.

This has enabled EFK to double production each year, says Katz, up to 1,000 tons of nuts this year from 500 tons in 2015. The company is now in a position to scale up the operation, without having planted a single tree.

New Products

Producing croton nut oil is a low-tech, low-energy process compared with traditional fuel manufacturing.

“It is comparable to any other nut or oil pressing facility,” says Katz. “We modify the equipment to work on croton nuts but essentially we are buying machines used with walnuts or macadamia nuts.”

Much of the fuel is sold to local businesses that run generators, such as tourist camps.

The company has also branched into selling by-products of the nuts, including seedcake from the pressed nut as poultry feed, and organic fertilizer from the shells. This offers insurance at a time investors remain wary of biofuels, says Katz.

“The ‘unknown’ (element) is hard for investors,” he says. “We are not an oil-only business, and we can stand on different parts of the business at different times.”

Grand Plans, Local Roots

Having local networks of suppliers and agents is key to the EFK business model, and a critical challenge for the company is to maintain these networks while expanding across the country and beyond.

“We have a completely local approach,” says Katz. “Everything we source, process and sell should be within 100 kilometers of the factory.”

The company plans to maintain this approach while creating up to five new factories in Kenya and several more in neighboring countries such as Tanzania in the coming years.

EFK is also planning a first foray into an “orchard model” of planting its own trees on a 500-acre plot in 2017, that will allow the company to test and push the limits of croton capacity.

“There is an interesting topic of crop efficiency,” says Katz. “An indigenous tree with access to normal rainfall might produce 100 kilograms of nuts a year. But the optimum trees will produce over 300 kilograms…The ‘orchard model’ can change outcomes dramatically.

Ripe for Success

Croton can succeed where other biofuels have failed, according to Dr. Gerald Kafuku, principal research officer of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, who has published several papers on the properties of croton oil.

“I can say that croton is one of the most promising sources of biofuel,” he says. “It can give advantages in the form of biodiesel or straight oil, and as a ‘carbon sink’ for afforestation.”

Kafuku believes that only a lack of funding for research and development is holding croton back from the mainstream. He adds that the region urgently needs such solutions.

“East Africa is among the areas where there is significant environmental degradation,” he says. “New biofuels such as croton can add to the alternative sources of renewable energy as well as providing for more planting of trees.”

Croton can also avoid the ethical pitfalls of other biofuels by benefiting local communities, according to Rodrigo Ciannella, head of the biofuels program at the World Agroforestry Centre.

“(Croton) is providing value from a natural resource that is already abundant in the country and is largely wasted,” he says. “Farmers are already benefiting from receiving additional income…and they could get even more by having access to other components of the value chain such as fertilizer.”

With global demand for biofuels set to increase steadily, Katz believes it is a matter of time before oil giants enter the croton market and the nut becomes a major industry that can rival fossil fuels.

“I like to tell people that croton will be a coffee or tea type of value chain,” he says. “There will be lots of competitors and regional processing all over East Africa.”

Source: CNN

How Knife-peeling of Cassava Leads to Huge Wastage

I know that science has helped in shaping the world through breakthroughs that have revolutionised humanity’s existence and provided valuable solutions to multiple challenges.
Bur currently, cassava, one of Africa’s leading root crops — a staple in over 20 African countries that serves as a huge source of livelihood for millions of families — is faced is facing challenges. For me the big question is: Will science come to its rescue? 

Scientists, especially plant breeders, need to return to the laboratory and develop cassava varieties that will have uniform shapes and sizes.

Kola Adeniji, Niji Farms, Nigeria

Cassava forms part of the daily meal for most families, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The crop has also been researched thoroughly over the years and this has led to the tremendous improvements witnessed by farmers.

Despite the wonderful improvements, I learnt during a three-day workshop at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria last week (4-6 October) that women and children spend many hours processing it. An individual can only peel about 30 kilograms an hour and at most 200 kilograms a day.

Peter Kolawale, a postharvest specialist at the IITA, says more than 45 per cent of the root is lost to the conventional peeling method used by women. “The convention method of using knife and removing the brownish outer cover lead to huge wastage,” Kolawale noted during the workshop, which discussed ways to process cassava to improve livelihoods.

Cassava has a very high amount of cyanide, a fast-acting and potentially deadly chemical, which must be removed from the root before it is consumed. Efforts by technologists across the globe in the past to address this problem has yielded little result.

Kola Adeniji, managing director of Nigeria-based Niji Farms, says that even with the introduction of mechanical processes the problem remains because of the irregular shapes and sizes of the crop, and that scientists need to develop tools that will enable farmers minimise post-harvest losses. “For instance, scientists, especially plant breeders, need to return to the laboratory and develop cassava varieties that will have uniform shapes and sizes. This way, fabricators can construct machines that can peel the root without wasting it,” says Adeniji.

But as lofty and magnificent as the idea of uniform shape and size may sound, Unamma Chika Victor, an agronomist with the Italy-headquartered International Fund for Agriculture and Development, says developing a uniform form of cassava may be possible with time but may not be acceptable to farmers.

“Cassava is a root crop that grows on the top soil and can expand so long as the soil is fertile, so controlling it to maintain certain shape or size may be difficult,” explains Victor. “With science, almost everything is possible but we have to consider the time, resources and fund needed to undertake such research and more importantly [and whether] farmers like it.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

How Western Countries Steal From Africa by Patenting Her Natural Resources

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Europe and America has always stolen from Africa using deception or force. In the 90s, Africa was pressed hard by the West to adopt a legislation recognising foreign patents. This meant no country can steal another country’s knowledge and natural resources.

This law prevents Africa countries from using the discoveries and knowledge of great inventors and innovators, and the natural resources from western countries without paying a huge price, but allows western countries to use Africa’s traditional knowledge passed down from generation to generation and natural resources without the consent of the country of origin and without paying for the knowledge or resources.

Africa’s Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity

Africa is a land of abundant natural resources. It’s biodiversity is one of its largest asset. Africans carry in them valuable knowledge collected over many centuries, of plants, seeds, algae, soil etc, that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Much of its natural and human resources lies largely untapped. The very few that’s has been tapped have not been done on full industrial scale, because Africa has not yet developed its secondary and tertiary industries.

Unlike developed countries, Africa lacks indigenous companies with the innovation and energy to research and develop local discoveries that can be brought to the market.

Western Countries’s Rules on Research and Development

Europe and America have an advanced Research and Development (R & D). To encourage research, patents were introduced long ago to ensure that anyone developing an original idea would have a monopoly on the fruit of that research for a fixed period of time.

In the 1990s, they went further to establish an international law called TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which includes recognising foreign patent.

In theory, the idea is that companies from one country can not rip off the ideas and products of companies from another.

In practice, western drugs are expensive, especially patent or branded drugs. When the patent of a drug expire. Any company can produce a copy called a generic drug without any license from the inventor.

Generic drugs are frequently as effective as, but much cheaper than, brand-name drugs. Because of their low price, generic drugs are often the only medicines that the poorest can access. 

By signing this law, Africa countries gave the West control over the amount of generics Africa countries can access and the West has always us this control in international trade to their own advantage.

In theory also, no one can steal anyone’s else’s natural resources: there have to be prove of an original step in the research and a new discovery.

But in practice, African knowledge, ideas or products are still in their natural form and have not been patented for personal or monetary gain.

No pharmaceutical company in the West want to market a strange yellow flowered tropical plant from southern Nigeria which the Esan people claims cures acute Eczema when the leave of the plant is squeezed and it’s juice used to scrub the skin; they would rather want to isolate the compound that kills the Eczema and make it a constituent of an antifungal cream already in the market.

The West Stealing From Africa

The San people of the Kahalari desert long discovered a cactus plant that can keep you going when you want a bite to eat.

A south African company sold the right to the active components of the cactus – a Hoodia compound, to an American company called phytopharm which further sold the license to the American drug company Pfizer in the late 1990s, planning to make such drug.

When the Sans found out they were understandably angry. After much media backlash there was an agreement to give the Sans who are the true owner of the intellectual property a meagre 0.003% of retail sales.

In another patent dispute in 2007, an enzyme was found in Lake Nakaru in Kenya. This enzyme survives in a caustic environment, softens fabric, and eats up indigo dye, making this enzyme very useful and valuable in the textile industry. A U.S biotech company, Genencor, patented the enzyme.

Guess what, the Kenya Wildlife Service argues it never approved access for the research in Lake Nakuru nor received any benefit from the discovery.

Western company’s also patented Brazzein, a protein 500 time sweeter than sugar from a plant in Gabon and an extract from Aloe ferox plant from Lesotho, which helps lighten skin.

The biggest robbery was carried out by a Dutch company, Health and Performance Food International bv. (HPFI) in 2007. This company patented Teff, an Ethiopian gluten-free hardy grain used for making Injera, a flat bread which is a staple food in Ethiopia.

In practice, the teff patent excludes all others, including Ethiopia itself, from utilizing teff for most forms of relevant production and marketing in the countries where it is granted. The patent was also filed in the USA and Japan. Ethiopia was sidelined and the country found itself squeezed out of position to utilize its own teff genetic resources.

TRIPS legislation was forced on Africa because it suits the West industrialised, service economies of their heavy emphasis on research and development.

TRIPS must be adjusted to also protect African countries, to allow African countries get a greater share of the profits made from their traditional knowledge and natural resources, as it is done in the crude oil sector.

Why You Cannot Find Akara (Beans Ball) or Masa (Rice Cake) in Shoprite or Any Supermarket

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Masa (Rice cake) left | Moi moi (Beans cake) top | Akara (Beans ball) bottom

Have you ever thought of going into a convenience store or a super market to by Akara?

Do not even think about it!

Nigerians will agree with me that it is a stupid thing to do. Well, if you decide to go ahead still, what you will find is “cheese balls” instead of Akara (beans ball). You will find sachet wheat-flour cakes instead of sachet beans cakes (moi-moi or opka) or rice/corn cake (masa). You will find Coke drink instead of Zobo (Roselle) drink. You will find Soya drink instead of Kunu (cereal) drink. You will find many packaged foods but are not African, like cookies/biscuits, crackers, breads, cakes, candies, rolls and pies.

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Convenience Foods

Short Shelf Life of African Foods
Supermarkets and convenience stores businesses are very concerned about the shelf life of the goods they sell. The shelf life of a good is very important to a seller and a buyer. The shorter the shelf life of a food, the riskier it is to store that food. This is a big change for supermarkets and convenience stores because they buy their goods in very large quantities, store and sell to the final consumer. On the other hand, no consumer will knowingly stock his or her kitchen with food that will definitely get bad few days later.

Most African convenience foods have very short shelf life so stocking them is a very bad idea. They can get bad just after two days of production. Foods like akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi start to get bad just after a day. This is not so with other cakes of foreign origin. The most comparable cake of foreign origin, which is the wheat flour cupcake, can easily be found on the shelves of supermarkets in Nigeria. They have shelf life of about 2 weeks.

The short shelf life of akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi can be tied to factors like high moisture content, presence of oil or fat, absence of preservatives and poor or bad packaging. Biodegrading organisms are most active in moist condition, thus can quicken the break down of food into undesirable or even toxic product.  Fat or oil gets stale or rancid when exposed to light and microorganism that break down fat and oil. In addition, when a product is not proper packed or sealed, the product will certainly get bad faster compared to the same product that is properly sealed. This is because the pack is not airtight so there is an increased or maximum contact with atmospheric moisture and organism that encourages deterioration.

Poor Packaging and Branding
No supermarket or convenience store will display a product that is not well packaged and branded. Good presentation matters a lot in the business of buying and selling. Products have to be appealing and attractive to buyers. African foods have good taste and smell but good taste and smell cannot attract the eyes. In a supermarket or convenience store, aesthetics is important. The most consumed Nigerian drinks are zobo and kunu and they are sold inside used bottles of different water bottling companies. Supermarkets or convenience stores will never stock that kind of product on their shelf.

The Job of Food Scientists
Nigerian food scientists have evidently and obviously not lived up to societal expectation as regards to adding value to Nigerian convenience food and African foods in general.  According to the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT), a food scientist studies the physical, microbiological and chemical make up of food and by applying their findings; they are responsible for developing the safe, nutritious food and innovative packaging that line supermarket shelves everywhere.

Nigerian food scientists should wake up to this responsibility and come up with the best ways to process, preserve and store African foods. They should come up with akara, masa, okpa, moi-moi, zobo drink, and kunu drink and other local convenience foods that are easy and cheap to produce, store and sell without the foods losing their essence.

Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

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Millions of Nigerians are urging the Nigerian government to reject Monsantos attempts to introduce genetically modified (GMO) cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems.

Organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, have submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.

The groups’petition follows Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited’s own application to NAMBA that seeks to release GMO cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985) into the city of Zaria as well as surrounding towns. Another application seeks confined field trials of two GMO corn varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria.

The Modification in GMOs
In an interview with Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Blumenstein, Bill Gates explained his views about GMOs: “What are called GMOs are done by changing the genes of the plant, and it’s done in a way where there’s a very thorough safety procedure, and it’s pretty incredible because it reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification.

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GMOs as an Alternative to Global Food Security
GMO-advocates say that biotechnology is not only safe for human consumption and the environment, it’s also a solution to malnutrition and global food security, as these crops have been genetically tinkered with to provide certain nutritional benefits and/or spliced-and-diced to resist certain pathogens and other roadblocks.

GMOs companies and foundations are heavily funded. For instance, Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds. The project receives funding from the Gates Foundation, United States Agency for International Development and Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Bill Gate, on his views about GMOs added: “…I think, for Africa, this is going to make a huge difference, particularly as they face climate change … The U.S., China, Brazil, are using these things and if you want farmers in Africa to improve nutrition and be competitive on the world market, you know, as long as the right safety things are done, that’s really beneficial. It’s kind of a second round of the green revolution. And so that Africans I think will choose to let their people have enough to eat.”

Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, one of the leading opposition groups, objects to the argument that GMOs are necessary to ensure food security and nutrition in Africa and that the continent can feed itself without the aid of multinational biotech companies. “Genetically engineered crops are not engineered to help anybody,” he says. “They are engineered to help the industry that produces the crops.”

Why is GMOs Bad for Nigeria?
In a press release, the protesting groups said they are particularly alarmed about the commercial release of Bt cotton into Nigeria, which is being phased out in Burkina Faso due to the “inferior lint quality” of the GMO cultivars.

“We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer-reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso,” Nnimmo Bassey, said in a statement. “It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.”

He asked in the statement: “Since our Biosafety Act has only recently entered into force, what biosafety legislation was used to authorize and regulate the field trials in the past in accordance with international law and best biosafety practice?”

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.

The groups noted Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last March.

“Should commercialization of Monsanto’s GM maize be allowed pursuant to field trials, this will result in increased use of glyphosate in Nigeria, a chemical that is linked to causing cancer in humans,” Mariann Orovwuje, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty co-coordinator, said in a statement.

“Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That NABMA is even considering this application is indeed unfortunate and deeply regrettable, knowing full well about the uncontrolled exposure that our rural farmers and communities living close to farms will be exposed to.”

Besides the potential contamination of local maize varieties, the groups argued that the health risks of introducing GMO maize into Nigeria could be “enormous” considering that maize is a staple food in their diet.

Coupled with a lack of resources to adequately control and monitor the human and environmental risks of GMO crops and glyphosate, the groups argued that Nigeria does not have a platform to test for glyphosate or other pesticide residues in food and food products, nor do they have an agency that can monitor the herbicide’s impact on the environment, including water resources.

Culled from EcoWatch

Meet the 33 Years Old Growing Yams and Potatoes in the Air and of Course Without Sand

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The tweet that got viral and the pictures of the amazing yam and potato plants

Ogbole Samson, a 33 years old Nigerian cultivated yam tubers and potatoes in the air and without sand. This technique may not be new in developed countries but it is new and amazing to most Nigerians.

Ogbole Samson is a biochemistry graduate from Igbinedion University is currently running a master programme in biochemistry (specialty in drug metabolism and toxicology) at the University of Ibadan and also currently running a Common Wealth of Nations MBA at the National Open University of Nigeria. He works with Yam Improvement for Income and Food security in West Africa (YIIFSWA), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo state of Nigeria, where he grows plants without the use of soil – and grows them in the air/misty environment instead, through a process referred to as aeroponics.

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Samsom, having found passion and purpose in aeroponics wishes to train farmers, set-up and help maintain the aeroponics system on a small and large scale for vegetables, flowers and fruits in Nigeria.

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No soil needed just air

What is Aeroponics?
According to Wikipedia, Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate median (known as geoponics). Aeroponic culture differs from both conventional hydroponics, aquaponics, and in-vitro (plant tissue culture) growing. Unlike hydroponics, which uses a liquid nutrient solution as a growing medium and essential minerals to sustain plant growth; or aquaponics which uses water and fish waste, aeroponics is conducted without a growing medium. Because water is used in aeroponics to transmit nutrients, it is sometimes considered a type of hydroponics.

Twitter Campaign
Samson wanted the world to know what he was doing. He sent out the sample tweet that went viral. He got numerous retweets, commendations and questions. Samson took time to answer every question asked by those who evidently could not hid their amazement. The questions that were asked came from young people. They were intelligent questions that reflected their interests and concerns. Samson answered each question, dishing out answers rich in hand-on and practical knowledge.

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Some Questions that Were Asked and Answers

@berri_licious why? What is the point? Will a human carry an oxygen tank around when they can breathe perfectly? Please explain.
@samsonprolific in the air, pathogen/diseases free which are present in the soil, (Air is free of pathogen or disease causing pathogens, which are present in soil.) [Farmers can] plant anytime of the year, anywhere, [with] less water usage. [So there is] no need for pesticide. Plant grows faster, high flavonoids produced, no dirt, no need for weeding, set up is once unlike traditional farming. You can plant close to the market even inside a warehouse or hall and get good product. You can do organic growing also. The system is automated thus anyone can operate it with minimal maintenance skills. It is scalable to any size. Benefits outweighs planting in the soil economically, health and environmentally. Earoponics also outweighs hydroponics.
@samsonprolific it (earoponics) is cheap e.g. 3m by 1m aeroponics can produce 8000 lettuce plants; [the] system is cheap to maintain and setup…

@MR_COLLINSLFC …but it is chemical…
@samsonprolific you can choose organic or inorganic growing. Traditional farming in the soil uses fertilizers (chemicals) for the soil but with aeroponics even of you decide to use inorganic (chemicals), you use 95% less than in [growing in] the soil.
@samsonprolific …less fertilizer is used e.g. 500-700g inorganic fertilizer in 1000 litres of water for 2000 plants for a month. So a farmer will use 1 bag of 25kg for 3 years and 6 months approximately on aerophonics.

@uddy_or I have looked at the clip over and over…..have you done any analysis on why the yams are a bit small
@samsonprolific 3 months old! They can be bigger. Traditionally, farmers make heap to determine length of yam, once the yam [tuber] touches the soil not the heap, but real soil level), the tuber is not able to penetrate the soil so it stops getting long and starts getting big…the box is quite high (1m) and thus the yam will have to touch the bottom of the box before it starts getting big…aside the fact it was harvested at 3months. Initial plan was to produce seed yams (5-100g) size but with vine cutting tech in 6 months about 13000 vines were cut which gave variable sizes of yam {tubers] from seed (planting) to ware yam {tubers] (eating)…a cob of corn for the maize farmer can get 50-100 maize plant, with the aeroponic system, a tuber can give…a tuber of yam can be multiplied using aeroponics to get over 50,000 tubers annually.

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Ogbole Samson is doing a good job and should be supported by everyone and the government. Africa needs more young people engaged in developmental projects like this. Africa can feed herself if we invest in agrotechnology. Youths are attracted to Agro tech like this. All they need is funding and enabling environment.