Biotechnology gaining acceptance at grassroots level- NABDA boss
By Hadiza Ndadama
The Director General National Biotechnology Development Agency, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha has said that there is a growing appreciation of Biotechnology’s capabilities to enhance food security and improve livelihoods at the grassroots level in Nigeria.
He said this when he briefed journalists on the achievements of the agency for the year.
Prof Mustapha said that the NABDA Act which was signed into law early this year has allowed for Nigeria to have a legal framework that regulates research and development activities in the field of biotechnology as well as governs the business ventures of bio-entrepreneurs.
“Our sensitization interventions at the grassroots aimed at democratizing knowledge and access to innovative biotechnology solutions are revolutionizing the farm practices of small holders in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. For example, Farmers who have planted and harvested our improved variety of Bt cowpea have attested to improved yields, reduction of pests, cost efficiency resulting from near zero use of pesticides and enhanced livelihood. Due to their experience, these farmers have become biotechnology advocates, spreading the word in their respective communities,” he said.
The DG also spoke about the Bio-methanisation system for Biodegradable Organic feedstock, an innovation of the agency designed for waste to Energy generation.
He added that the Innovation converts biodegradable organic waste stream to biogas for heating, lighting, electricity generation and bio fertilizer.
“The bio digester which is available in different sizes, was conceived, developed, fabricated and patented with many materials sourced locally. With the epileptic power supply being experienced across the country, households can acquire the small units of bio digesters for use with reasonable amount of electricity generation for small domestic appliances.”
He called on interested stakeholders to adopt the mass production of the bio digesters for commercialization.
Part of the achievements of the agency the DG said was the grant received from the Rural Electrification Agency which he said was in recognition of its Anaerobic Digestion Technology to the power sector.
Another project of the Agency the DG mentioned was the genetic transformation of livestock through artificial insemination for milk and meat improvement.
“For the project, 250 cows were identified and 152 were successfully inseminated. While we wait for the first generation this year, we are targeting 2500 cows next year across the country. NABDA is poised to make this initiative a success story, such that the genetic transformation of our local livestock will produce improved variety of livestock capable of producing 15 liters of milk per cow daily”. He said.
On the agency’s contribution in the health sector, Prof Mustapha said that NABDA has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with RAHAD Industries and Mesencell Biotechnology to enhance Nigeria’s preparedness in rolling out regenerative medicine and accessing top-notch stem-cell- technology-based treatment.
He said the initiative which will take off as soon as partners have the necessary license from the Ministry of Health and the agency’s facilities upgraded, will improve the treatment of cancer and other degenerative diseases in Nigeria.
“These partnerships are strategic to national development as they come with opportunities for human capacity development and technology transfer. Very shortly, some staff of the Agency will undergo hands-on training in stem cell technology. This training will lead to the domestication of the technology in Nigeria,” he said.
As part of efforts to eradicate Lassa fever disease in Nigeria, the NABDA Boss revealed that the agency in collaboration with other stakeholders identified three candidate drugs to be repositioned and repurposed for the treatment and eradication of Lassa fever.
“In March this year, eminent scientists, researchers, medical practitioners and technology experts, including researchers in NABDA, held a meeting in Abuja to review the Lassa virus evolution in the last 50 years, outgoing treatment options and gaps, discussed the methods and processes of putting the drugs on clinical trial towards meeting plans to completely eradicate Lassa fever in Nigeria. This week, we will have a Lassa Fever Meeting on Candidate Drugs in Lagos to measure progress and chart a way forward on the clinical trial,” Prof. Mustapha said.
The DG gladly informed that NABDA is at the forefront of innovation in the sub region. As a result, many African countries have visited the Agency to glean knowledge on how they can drive development in their nations, through the ethical use of biotechnology.
“The Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee in the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) Ghana, Dr. Emmanuel Marfo, visited NABDA in April with a delegation of biotechnology and biosafety team members. Similarly, the President of the Ethiopia Society of Biotechnology, Prof. Firew Mekbib, led a delegation from Ethiopia to NABDA. Also, a delegation from Mozambique visited NABDA to learn from Nigeria’s biotechnology experience to boost food production and nutrition in their nation”.
The NABDA boss also disclosed that the African Union has identified Nigeria’s role as very crucial in the creation and sustenance of biotechnology as a blueprint for Africa’s development.
“The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) in partnership with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) is developing an initiative to advance science, technology and innovation in Nigeria through the promotion of genome editing technology. The project will strengthen institutional linkages in Genome Editing, optimize agriculture, as well as develop the baseline to enhance research and development. In furtherance of this initiative, a three- day genome editing (GE) intervention meeting was recently organised to create a platform for engagement with high level officials towards the buy-in of the Genome Editing tool, held in the six pilot countries: Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Eswatini and Zambia” Mustapha said.
He Informed that there will be a follow-up meeting this month, to create a forum to connect state and non-state actors in policy, science, practice and the media to strategize and garner support for the effective domestication and use of biotechnology and genome editing tools to help transform agriculture in Africa.
Professor Mustapha who re-states that NABDA remains an open and accountable public institution further reiterates the Agency’s commitment to deploying knowledge-based, innovative biotechnology solutions to drive Nigeria’s sustainable development.