WHAT CAN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY DO FOR A DEVELOPING ECONOMY?

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As a graduate of biotechnology and genetics I am poised to write to authorities in the agriculture sector, policy makers, sister and supporting Ministries departments and Agencies, opinion leaders, well spirited individuals, private sector and students to describe the usefulness and applications of this novel field of agricultural biotechnology and show how it can contribute to the agriculture sector as well as the economy of a developing country like Nigeria. I think these authorities will be interested to know the achievements of this field, the potential estimated market volume, the demand from agriculture and the role of Agricultural biotechnology in meeting this demand, and its impact on National development. Although some in-depth studies have been performed on this topic and literature documented, it is pertinent that I bring some salient features to light. Using information available from other findings, this write up is aimed at bringing the science of Agricultural biotechnology to the attention of busy stakeholders in the agriculture sector and other related sectors in the country and encourage them to understand the potentials that lie fallow in this novel science.

Briefly, agricultural biotechnology is the manipulation of Crops and Animals or their parts for the production of value added goods and services for man use.

APPLICATIONS/ ACHIEVEMENTS OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY

Ever since the dawn of time, man kind has been in constant practice  of agriculture as the most fundamental means to satisfy the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. This need therefore calls for a proper understanding of the underlying principles of agriculture so as to exploit them for maximum productivity. Thus this field has been subjected to series of reassessment of its practices and innovations not only to achieve its immediate benefits but to carter for the rapidly growing population.

In the early years of agriculture, from 10th century BC man started exploiting crops and livestock using informal and crude practices which involve the reliance on the biological methods of pest and weed control, shifting cultivation, bush fallowing etc. down to the formal era of inputs such as herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and to the classical breeding era of hybridization, evaluation, and selection. These practices though helpful had shortcomings in terms of inadequate food production to meet the demands of the growing population and destruction of the natural ecosystem and biodiversity. In the quest to carter for these shortcomings came the birth of the science I describe as the best of the epoch, a science with impetus for more agriculture research and that which has all the potentials to unlock the mechanisms of living machines “Recombinant genetics and biotechnology”

A few of its applications and achievements are discussed below;

 Insect resistant crops: These crops have been engineered to express a self-defense for insect pest so as to enhance productivity and reduce crop losses for e.g. Bt cotton (Bacillus thuringienesis). This cotton has DNA (genetic material) from the soil microbe Bacillus thuringienesis incorporated into its genome (Entire genetic make up) which enables it to express resistance for insect pest. This cotton was adopted by Indian farmers and it increased their average yield by 70% between 2001 and 2008 and half of this increase is attributed to the Bt cotton adopted by Indian farmers (James 2009), this also suggest why India is presently the highest exporter of cotton. A decrease in cotton boll insecticide use by 56% between 1998 and 2006, which is cost saving for 6million Indian farmers who grew Bt cotton in 2009 (James 2009). In 2009, 7million Chinese farmers also grew Bt cotton and yield was increased by 10% and insecticide use decreased by 60% (James 2009) other engineered insect resistant crops include Bt corn, rice, etc.

 Herbicide tolerant crops:  These are crops that have been engineered so that their growth and development is not significantly affected by herbicides used on the weeds growing around them. This will enhance crop yield, reduce wastage, reduce cost and as well help in maintaining biodiversity. Crops such as maize, wheat, sugar cane, rice, onions etc. have been genetically modified to express this trait.

 Protein enhanced sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes is known for its carbohydrate rich content, recently scientist have developed a protein rich sweet potatoes by isolating a gene AmA1 rich in lysine from the amaranth plant and incorporating it into the genome of sweet potatoes and it is well expressed. This protein AmA1 is not known to be an allergen.

 Cheese Making: Because of the insufficiency in rennet production from animals, and other natural sources, rennet which is an enzyme which produces chymosin which curdles milk in cheese production is now been mass produced by isolating the gene for rennet production from animal stomach and insert them into certain bacteria, fungi to make them produce chymosin during fermentation. The genetically modified microorganism is killed after fermentation and chymosin is removed from the fermentation broth so that the fermentation produced chymosin does not contain any GM component or ingredient.

ESTIMATED MARKET VOLUME

Due to empirical facts that biotechnology products are safe to use, and the promise biotechnology holds to bring more innovation to agriculture; producing more food to meet the growing demand while maintaining the biodiversity. The market potential is estimated with respect to the growing population, availability and acceptability of products. Presently some biotechnology products have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and are on shelves, they experience a high demand and have not been reported to have any negative effect on consumers. It is anticipated that as more products receive approval of regulatory bodies and come into the market in the near future so, will the market demand increase, hence its volume. Recently Genetically Modified Salmon was approved in the US and is already being consumed by many people.

Why have some countries accepted GMO? Why the misconceptions? Is this technology truly beneficial and how? The next part of this article will tell us

Written by Opuah Abiekwen(abeikwen@yahoo.com) Graduate of Biotechnology and Genetics, University of Calabar

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