The Federal Government of Nigeria on Thursday the 11th of January 2024 openly approved the open cultivation and commercial release of the TELA maize which is said to be a transgenic insect-resistant and drought-tolerant variety along with other ‘’high-yielding crop varieties’’. This is coming at a time when Mexico, the centre of origin of maize has halted the cultivation of genetically engineered corn to preserve local and more nutritious varieties despite heavy pressures from vested interests.
The Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology, Chief Uche Nnaji while speaking at a press conference held in Abuja said the commercial release of the crop was a remarkable step at enhancing agricultural productivity to ensure food sufficiency in Nigeria. He also stated that this move would strengthen Nigeria’s position in the global agricultural landscape, fostering economic stability and opening new avenues for trade and export, claiming the benefits of the release were far-reaching, promising increased crop yields, enhanced resilience to pests and diseases, reduced environmental impact, and improved nutrition content.
Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) while commending the intention of the Federal Government to address food insufficiency in Nigeria, expressed disappointment over the release of the genetically modified varieties. HOMEF noted that there is no evidence of a risk assessment conducted before the release of the TELA Maize on either the website of the National Biosafety Management Agency (the agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the uses of GMOs) or the Biosafety Clearing House of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity where parties are expected to upload updates on their decisions/use of GMOs/LMOs.
According to the Executive Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey “it is totally unacceptable that in the name of food sufficiency, the country is exposing its citizens to products of risky technologies without adequate, independent and/or long-term assessment on their impacts on human and environmental health. There are many challenges associated with genetic modification crops that we cannot deny. “So far, GMOs have been linked to cancers, diseases, allergies, and all sorts of health challenges due to environmental implications because of their dependency on toxic pesticides and the destruction of biodiversity and nutritional diversity. We are also concerned that there is no way to label or inform our farmers that they are planting GMO maize. To deny Nigerians the right of choice is highly objectionable and wicked.”
It is expedient that the government conduct independent long-term feeding tests and environmental/biodiversity assessments before any GM crop is approved for use and not merely testing to confirm productivity or performance”.
Bassey charged the Nigerian government to understand the difficulties of recalling genetically modified living organisms and to quickly withdraw the TELA Maize.
The TELA Maize was released along with 22 other new varieties said to be aimed at achieving food sufficiency in Nigeria. The crop varieties were released at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) in Ibadan, Oyo State, during the 33rd meeting of the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breeds/Fisheries.
HOMEF’s Director of Programmes and Project Lead for Hunger Politics, Joyce Brown stated “We don’t need GMOs to feed our population. Our farmers have selected and preserved seeds, crops, and animal varieties over the centuries. They have kept a stock of varieties that both provide food and meet our medicinal and other needs. They kept the norms that preserved biodiversity. Introducing the open cultivation and commercial release of the TELA maize is an outright danger to the lives and livelihood of our farmers.
What is of utmost importance is enhancing the health of our soils – which ensures their resilience to environmental stressors; building biodiversity instead of encouraging monocultures which helps pests to thrive; and supporting farmers with needed access to credits, land, infrastructure, and access to markets”?
Of the 23 new crop varieties released, 12 are varieties of the TELA Maize is genetically modified. In order words what the country is celebrating, is the flooding of our agriculture system with a product of a risky technology that promotes monoculture and does not necessarily lead to higher productivity than local varieties.
The National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) did not state if the other varieties are also products of genetic engineering. Nigerians deserve adequate and accurate information on what is going on with their food. It is however ironical that a centre that prides itself in its commitment to the conservation of the rich genetic resources of the nation is the same in charge of approving the release of genetically modified varieties – with serious potential to contaminate our local varieties in an irreversible manner.
Lovelyn Ejim, a farmer and Director of The Network of Women and Youth in Agriculture charged other farmers to have a united front and reject this approval. “It is important for farmers to also speak in a united voice. Allowing GMOs to take over our food system is like going back to slavery. We should not allow the big guys to use unfounded terms and unrealistic promises to derail us.”
HOMEF demands that the federal government through the NACGRAB, and NBMA show Nigerians what factual evidence supports the claim that this crop variety has reduced environmental impact and improved nutrition content. What are the said environmental impacts which are claimed to be ‘’reduced’’?