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FishNet advocates caution on proposed release of Genetically Improved Tilapia

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FROM TAYESE Mike, Yenagoa

FishNet Alliance, a network of fishers in several African countries have called for a cautious approach to the planned introduction of Genetically Improved Tilapia fish into Nigeria.

The fishermen stated that the ‘artificial’ variety, if allowed into Nigeria would cross breed and eventually lead to extinction of the natural variety and distort the rich biodiversity of the nation.

The coalition appealed to the federal government to with old regulatory approvals for the release of the artificially altered fish variety until the biosafety concerns around the variety is addressed and regulatory authorities strengthened.

The group made its position known on Friday in a statement issued by Stephen Oduware, Coordinator of the FishNet Alliance.

The alliance said the improved tilapia is to be introduced following “an inclusive legal agreement” between WorldFish and Premium Aquaculture Limited through a programme on genetically improved farmed Tilapia (GIFT).

It said that, according to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, “This agreement will augur the establishment of a GIFT-based aquaculture industry in Nigeria.

The group noted that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are collaborating with WorldFish and PAL on this endeavour.

FishNet said the aim of the collaboration is to have WorldFish/PAL GIFT tilapia in Nigerian fish markets by late 2023.

The group stated that it is concerned that apart from the environmental and health challenges, it is unclear which agencies of government have had a hand in this transaction.

“Improved Tilapia will not tackle the root cause of challenges in the fisheries sector in Nigeria. Neither will it solve the hunger and malnutrition problems in the country.

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“The issues affecting the Nigerian fisheries sector namely: pollution due to oil and gas and other minerals exploration and exploitation; insecurity and piracy; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities of national and international trawlers

“Indiscriminate activities of trawlers lead to overfishing of both target and non-target species of fish; destruction of the mangrove forests amongst other issues – are matters that government should focus attention on.”

“The genes used to improve the tilapia could have come from a variety of organisms, including other fish, coral, mice, bacteria, or even humans.

“They are basically produced to suit industrial aquaculture models with doubtful regard for possible ecological, environmental concerns.

“Fish farming in Nigeria is done mostly close to the river or in the creeks and there are fears that there could be interactions between the “genetically improved” fish and their relatives in the wild.

“If such fish were genetically engineered, research has shown that releasing as little as sixty fish into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.

“The implication of having genetically improved tilapia released into the wild is not known,” FishNet stated.

The alliance noted that a new study found that genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) zebrafish (Danio rerio) have escaped from fish farms in Brazil and are multiplying in creeks in Brazil.

FishNet Alliance quoted researchers  that their results “confirm that escapes from aquaculture facilities are common and could bring severe consequences to local fish populations including endemic, rare, and threatened species.”

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They conclude that the production of non-native species should be avoided and transgenic fish should be banned.

“The escape of  GM  fish from Brazil should be a big wake-up call for our Nigerian Regulators  and Government,” FishNet quoted Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program with Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Africa as saying.

The group recalled that in 2020 Friends of the Earth USA led an advocacy against the incursion of genetically modified seafood.

Fishnet noted Friends of the Earth USA,released an updated list of 80 grocery retailers, seafood companies, food service companies and restaurants with more than 18,000 that declined to sell genetically engineered salmon.

The group said the action demonstrating a widespread market rejection of the first commercial offerings of the first genetically engineered animal even though it was approved for human consumption in the U.S.

According to the statement, groups such as  HOMEF and ERA/ FoEN, GM Free Nigeria that are concerned about genetically engineered organisms in the country.

It stated that they have consistently complained about the weak nature of biosafety regulatory framework in the country.

They have also called for increased transparency, accountability and public engagement before considering approving new life forms into our environment and biodiversity.

The statement also quoted Dr Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF as opposing the idea while reacting to moves to release genetically improved tilapia to Nigeria.

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“The Nigerian environment is already bedevilled with many genetically engineered crops and products of which farmers and consumers are not aware of.

“We are concerned that the introduction of genetically improved tilapia may be a step towards the introduction of genetically engineered fish into the country.

“Moreover, we are not aware that there was consultation with majority fishers and consumers in the country before the so-called inclusive agreement that opened the door for this tilapia specie was signed.”

“As stakeholders concerned with the wellbeing of our aquatic ecosystems, we see the so-called gift of genetically improved tilapia as potentially having adverse effects on our food system and on the livelihoods of millions of fisherfolks and processors.”We also call on our government to put a stop to approvals of genetically modified fish, animals, or plants in Nigeria until the biosafety regulatory system is strengthened and tightened.”We also demand that in all cases ppublic participation should be mandatory to ensure transparency and the Precautionary Principle should be adhered to strictly in all cases,” Bassey cautioned.FishNet also urged the Nigerian government to provide resources to public fisheries and oceanography institutions for healthy management of the nation’s aquatic ecosystems and resources.The group went further to advice advised against opening the gates to novel varieties, coming under the guise of philanthropy that may negatively affect our food systems.It said that it would continue to resist moves to foist the genetically improved tilapia and sneak in genetically engineered fish into the Nigerian environment and dining tables.

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Agriculture

New, Improved Cassava Varieties’ Launch Excite Kogi Farmers

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From Joseph Amedu, Lokoja

The NextGen Cassava Project, being implemented by Cornell University, New York, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), has launched new, improved cassava varieties in Kogi state.

The new, improved varieties include: Game Changer, Baba 70 and Poundable, which were part of the varieties released in 2020, was launched at Crest Agro Farms along Kabba-Lokoja Expressway, Lokoja over the weekend.

Speaking at the event, Dr Ismail Rabbi, a molecular geneticist and plant breeder with IITA, stated that years of consumer preference studies were conducted before releasing the varieties.

“In addition to high yield and stress tolerance, we found that these varieties are suitable for several agro-ecologies.

“Farmers, processors and consumers love these varieties because they were high-yielding, stress-tolerant, disease-resistant and had the right food properties.

“I am confident that farmers who adopt these varieties will make more profit and improve their livelihoods. These varieties are also a huge contribution to food security,” he said.

He explained that when cultivated with good agronomic practices and weed control, the new varieties produce more than 30 tons per hectare instead of the current national average yield of eight tons per hectare.

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According to him, while Game Changer can produce 32 tons per hectare, Baba 70 can produce 38 tons per hectare. It was also proven that the new cultivars were drought-tolerant and resistant to the virus diseases of cassava.

As part of the inauguration, farmers and processors were taken to the field where the varieties were planted alongside an old improved variety, TME 419, 11 months ago and managed by Crest Agro.

After an assessment of the field as well as the plant architecture, the farmers participated in harvesting some of the roots to compare with TME 419.

The farmers expressed awe at the large sizes and number of roots produced by the varieties. They spoke about the difference between the new varieties and the old ones, saying Baba 70 and Game Changer were far ahead of the TME 419 they were used to. Some took a few stems to plant on their fields, saying they would love to adopt the new varieties.

There was also a demonstration of the processing of the new varieties to prove that their dry matter and starch contents were high and of great food value.

The participants witnessed the entire process from the farm to the table where they consumed garri, eba and fufu, chips and chinchin made from the two varieties.

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The meals were consumed with vegetable and egusi stew made with cassava leaves.

Speaking on the field, Dr. Vishnuardhan Banda, Product Manager for Crop Variety Development, IITA, expressed joy that the farmers and processors were happy with the new varieties and eager to plant them on their farms.

He however urged them to always send feedback on the performance of the varieties to the researchers.

“We want you to work with us. You are very important in the process of crop improvement. You are the farmers and the first consumers. We urge you to always tell us how these varieties are performing on your various farms.

You have seen that these are very good varieties but we know that in years to come, you would need something new. Just keep giving us feedback about farmers’ choices and complaints, and we the breeders will be working with that information to give you new and better products.”

Ambassador Jaiyeola Lewu, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, and now a farmer, was present at the event.

While commending the NextGen project and the IITA and NRCRI scientists, Lewu described the varieties as game changers in the agricultural sector, saying “farmers will benefit immensely from them.”

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He urged the project leaders to ensure that the products were available and assessible to the farmers who need them.

In his response, Dr. Godwin Atser, the Advocacy, Outreach and Promotions Lead of the IITA Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System, Phase 2 (BASICS-II) project, who spoke on behalf of Prof. Lateef Sanni, the Project Manager, stated that the BASICS-II project is using a seed system model to ensure that farmers get access to new and improved varieties.

“There is no gainsaying that farmers need new and improved varieties to improve their livelihoods, ensure food security and contribute to economic development. .

“That is why we created the BASICS model, which links Cassava Breeding Programs with Early Generation Seed Companies like IITA GoSeed and Umudike Seed to multiply the foundation seeds that are passed on to cassava seed entrepreneurs who produce certified seeds for onward dissemination to farmers,” he said.

Present at the product launch were farmers, processors, and representatives from Kogi State Ministry of Agriculture, Kogi State Agricultural Development Program, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and other public and private sector stakeholders. IITA and NRCRI scientists were also in attendance.

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Agriculture

560 Rural Famers to Get Inputs in Kogi

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From Joseph Amedu, Lokoja

No fewer than 560 vulnerable rural farmers in Kogi State would benefit from the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF), aimed at cushioning the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on rural farmers.

The RPSF is an initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Value Chain Development Programme, supported by International Fund for Agricultural Development (FGN/IFAD-VCDP).

Speaking to newsmen in Lokoja, Prof. Aminu Suleiman, who led the team on a Supervision Mission to Kogi, said they were in the state to access the level of preparedness towards the implementation of the RPSF.

According to him, the RPSF is a grant given to rural rice farmers to cushion the shock of COVID-19 pandemic across the States of the federation including Kogi State.

Suleiman expressed satisfaction with the preparation on ground in Kogi, and commended the State Government for its commitment to supporting the IFAD programmes in the state.

He further applauded the State’s Programme Coordinator, Dr Stella Adejoh and her team for always put in all their best to see to the successful implementation of all IFAD-VCDP projects in the state.

On her part, Dr Stella Adejoh, State Programme Coordinator of IFAD/VCDP, said lots of people lost their means of livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic, and consequently faced with hardships.

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She explained that the IFAD decided that such vulnerable persons affected by the pandemic in the society should be helped in order to bring them out of their poverty situation.

She said the farmers would be provided with grant inform of inputs by IFAD such as fertilizer, certified rice seed, selective and non selective herbicides, among others.

She noted about 80 per cent of the farmers’ beneficiaries are women and youths who have been profiled and validated by a team of consultants from IFAD who came to the state in 2021.

She said a total of 560 rural farmers cut across the four rice producing local government areas of Lokoja, Ibaji, Ajaokuta and Kabba/Bunu, in the state.

According her, the inputs include: 1400 bags of NPK fertilizer, 461 bags of Urea fertilizer, 186 pieces of both selective & non-selective herbicides, and 340 bags of 50kg (17 tonnes) of certified Rice seed Faro-44.

Dr Adejoh added that the State Government provided IFAD with warehouse at Kogi ADP office where those inputs were being stored.

“We want to thank Kogi State Government who has provided the enabling environment for the IFAD/VCDP programmes to thrive in the state.

“I feel very excited because of the feedback we are getting and the support the programme is receiving from the Kogi State Government.

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“I am very happy and grateful to His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello, for always supporting Agricultural Development Programmes in the state,” she said.

She assured that IFAD is collaborating with the International Fertiliser Distribution Company, who would give support in the area of inputs’ distribution, monitoring and supervision to ensure proper utilisation the intended purpose.

“We will monitor the beneficiaries down to their farms for effective utilisation of the inputs,” Adejoh said.

Earlier, the team paid a courtesy visit to the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. David Apeh, where they thanked the State Government for fully supporting VDCP activities in the state.

Apeh assured the team of the commitment of His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello, to continue to give the needed support to the program for the benefits of Kogi rural farmers.

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Economist Urges FG to Focus More on Agriculture to Boost Economy

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An economist, Tope Fasua has urged the Federal Government to put more effort in the agriculture sector to address the global food crisis caused by the Russian Ukrainian war.

Fasua said this in an interview in Abuja yesterday.

the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said the Sub-Saharan African Region needs a careful policy response to address the challenges of the new economic shock caused by the war in Ukraine.

He, however, said that the African continent had been faced with an economic crisis long before the global crisis caused by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.Fasua said that before COVID- 19, we were not doing wonderfully well, particularly in Nigeria.

The economist explained that some countries in Africa were growing at a seven or eight per cent rate, adding that the entire growth trajectory of African nations was in question.“The shock is not that new, it may be a little more enhanced than it used to be but it is not particularly a new shock.

“Now, they are talking about Russia and Ukraine and how African countries depend on these two countries for food, grains in this instance, wheat for bread.

“In a country like Nigeria, a bit of wheat is grown here but if you look at the terrain, the typography from North to South, perhaps we can grow anything in this country.

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“What you cannot grow in the North, you can grow in the South.’’Fasua, a 2019 Nigeria Presidential candidate, said that Nigeria had used perhaps 30 per cent or less of its arable land, so the question was what was being done with the rest.

“Nigeria is a largely agricultural country, yet 62 years after independence we cannot t do better than grow rice.“We are also not growing the crops properly and we are not even growing enough numbers of crops, diversify across the board, not even the ones we need. ‘’“So, one place to start is to do more in agriculture and bring some science into agriculture, and recognise our luck, capability, capacity that we have inbuilt and go for it.

“We should also add value and stop exporting just raw things that are not giving us enough dollars for the kind of things we need for the rest of the world.’’

Fasua stressed the need for Africa to be in charge of its own growth and development narrative, adding that the teaching of economics must change as it pertained to Africa.

According to him, we do not have to tow the lines of people who perhaps do not care, why do we not care for ourselves by ourselves.

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He said that African countries should be growing at a double digit rate, especially a country like Nigeria.

Fasua said this was because robust growth rates and inflation at high levels were witnessed in the population of African countries.

“So, how do you cover for inflation plus population growth. Your economic growth every year must be higher than the combination of inflation and population growth and devaluation of your currency.“We have no choice but to target 15 per cent to 20 per cent,’’ he said. (NAN)

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