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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

Six tips for Nigerian banks to help financing agriculture

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As I sat in the e-conference Hall of the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, the venue for the 2nd African Continental Briefing organized as part of the Fin4Ag Conference: Revolutionising Finance for Agri-value chains, I could not but help listen attentively as Esther Muiruri, the General Manager Marketing and Communications, from Equity Bank gave the presentation on “Banking Agriculture in the Eastern African Region”. As she spoke, all I could say to myself was “These are the things the banks in Nigeria should be doing to finance agriculture”.

Today I am going to share the 6 things done by the Equity Bank in East Africa, that in my view, I believe Nigerian Banks will find helpful if implemented both for them as a business and for the beneficiaries (players in the agric sector).

  1. Understand the client: the risks in agriculture are not perception, they are realities. As a matter of fact, there are some conditions that the farmers absolutely have no control over. Thus, it is important that bank understand the farmers, the peculiarity of their business, be it cropping or animal production. What this does is to enable the banks develop and offer products and services tailored to the need of the client.
  2. Know the kind of value chain the client is into: This helps the banks identify and know the players in the sector the client is. Who are the buyers? What is demand like? How effective are the other players in the chain.
  3. Recruiting Agric based employee: The Equity Bank, according to Esther Muiruri, ensures they employed people with agricultural knowledge base and this helps them to have people on the ground who can relate to the feelings of the farmers, and more importantly, build a relationship with clients (farmers/growers), that in turn, aid to serve as a risk mitigation strategy. These employees are of course trained in money management and finance.
  4. Offering trainings for farmers: these trainings help the banks to understand better the activities of the farmers in terms of their growing cycle and practices. It also help to get feedbacks and monitor the progress of the farmers and other value chain player throughout the season.
  5. Provision of financial training programme: The farmers are given financial education to aid their businesses and also encourage them to save so as to be able to have access to investment money from the bank.
  6. Partnership: To be able to serve their client well, the bank partners with relevant organisations like AGRA, IFAD, input dealers, commodity buyers and this enables them know the acceptable standards, new best practices and technology available.

To be able to finance the agriculture value-chain, fund providers must understand what goes on in the agricultural system. Sitting in offices and waiting for client will not help. Activities need to be on the ground. Banks need to be in the shoes of the farmers, growers and agribusiness owners to know and meet their needs. And the only way to achieve this is by building relationships and going all the way out to provide tailored services and products for farmers and relevant value chain players.

Will the Nigerian Banks take up this task and make changes that will help in revolutionising agriculture and agribusiness? Will they contribute in removing so many smallholders out of poverty helping them increase their income and be better player in agribusiness? Only time will tell..

Photo credit: C. Schubert/CCAFS

First Published here

Africa’s biggest maker of ethanol from cassava says IITA technologies are helping farmers to double yields

                                                                                                              

L-R: Godwin Atser, Communication Officer (West & Central Africa), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA);  Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General, Partnerships & Capacity Development, IITA;  Rajasekar Rajavelu, Director (Agro), Allied Atlantic Distilleries Limited, AADL; and an AADL official during a tour of the cassava-ethanol plant in Igbesa, Ogun

L-R: Godwin Atser, Communication Officer (West & Central Africa), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General, Partnerships & Capacity Development, IITA; Rajasekar Rajavelu, Director (Agro), Allied Atlantic Distilleries Limited, AADL; and an AADL official during a tour of the cassava-ethanol plant in Igbesa, Ogun

 

Allied Atlantic Distilleries Limited (AADL), , Africa’s biggest maker of ethanol from cassava, says improved varieties and best-bet agronomic practices in the production of cassav

a, which it obtained from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and passed on to farmers have almost doubled the yield of the root crop, making it possible for farmers to supply more of this raw material to the industry

than earlier expected.

Commissioned on 30 January (Thursday) in Lasada, Igbese community in Ogun State, the ethanol factory will produce 9 million liters per annum of extra neutral alcohol, requiring approximately 250 tons of cassava per day.

Already over 8,000 farmers located within 70-km radius of Igbesa covering Ogun and Oyo states, southwest Nigeria, have been engaged and the factory is providing more than 40,000 indirect jobs to people in the area, Mr Ola Rosiji, Chairman of

AADL said.

 “With the support of IITA, our farmers have doubled their yields from an average 12 t/ha to 22 t/ha; our farmers now earn double what they would have earned,” he added.

Commending the board and management of the company, Dr Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships & Capacity Development, representing Director General Nteranya Sanginga, said the inauguration of the factory was indeed a good opportunity for Africa, and especially cassava growers, who now have more markets for their produce.

 He said that the factory would create jobs, attract foreign investment, and create wealth for the people, adding that IITA is willing to partner with the private sector to lift 11 million people out of poverty and also reclaim and put into sustainable use 7.5 million hectares of degraded land.

   Collaboration between IITA and AADL, a subsidiary of the Lexcel Group, began in the early 2000s when the project was conceived and IITA provided inputs to the feasibility study of the investment. Also under the Cassava Transformation Agenda, which is being coordinated by Dr Richardson Okechukwu, IITA is again linking farmers to the factory. In addition, the Institute is also providing training and improved planting materials and technical advisory support to the firm.

HarvestPlus Country Manager Paul Ilona said the factory would change the outlook of cassava from the global perspective of “a poor man’s crop” to an industrial crop.

The Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun commended IITA for the good work it has been doing to improve the lives of people in Africa.

For more information, please contact: Godwin Atser, g.atser@cgiar.org; or Andrea Gros, a.gros@cgiar.org

AGRA plans policy, regulation reforms to transform agribusiness in Africa.

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), on Tuesday 10th December 2013 in Nairobi, announced a five-year project that seeks to increase incomes of smallholder farmers through the creation of an enabling policy environment in Africa.

The initiative –Micro Reforms for African Agribusiness (MIRA) – will identify, prioritize and reform specific agricultural policies and regulations
that currently deter or limit private investment in small- and medium-sized agribusinesses operating in smallholder agricultural value chains.

A release from the body said “Over a period of five years, AGRA aims to motivate at least 25 significant
policies or regulatory reforms in selected countries, leading to measurable increases in private sector
investment in local agribusinesses.

“The project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, is expected to increase the number of smallholder farmers accessing improved technologies supplied by agribusinesses operating in local staple food value chains. It will also help them access stable, predictable income generating market opportunities”.
According to the release “This enhanced access to input and output markets is in turn expected to lead
to increased smallholder productivity and incomes, and reduced poverty for smallholder farm- dependent families”.

Continuing AGRA President Ms. Jane Karuku said “We are very excited about this new initiative. It will help African Governments unlock agricultural potential in their countries by supporting their efforts to develop progressive agricultural policies that will attract increased private investment in smallholder agricultural value chains. The initiative aims reform retrogressive agricultural regulations that deter rather than encourage such
investment”.

According to Dr. Steven Were Omamo, AGRA’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, “The MIRA project will provide African Governments with access to high quality local and international technical assistance for identifying, prioritizing and reforming
specific agricultural regulations”. Current regulations often discourage private investment in small- and medium-sized agribusinesses that serve the needs of smallholder farmers.

The project will help build the capacity of African Government leaders and analysts to make better- informed, economically-robust assessments and
decisions about which regulations need to be reformed in order to facilitate increased private investment in smallholder value chains.

The MIRA project has four key objectives:
1. to strengthen African Governments’ demand for regulatory
reforms, by supporting efforts to identify and assess regulations that unintentionally limit private sector
investment in smallholder value chains;
2. to support African Governments’ efforts to reform regulations that limit private sector investment in smallholder value chains;
3. to promote reformed regulations to local and international private sector investors, in order to raise awareness about improved agribusiness-enabling environments in Africa;
3. and to enhance the capacity and commitment of African Governments to continuously review, assess and reform regulations that limit private sector investment in smallholder value chains.

It said that by the end of the project, three major outcomes are expected:
1. reformed agricultural policies and regulations creating more conducive
environments for private sector investment in local agribusinesses operating smallholder value chains
in five countries;
2. increased private sector investment in the “throughput capacity” of existing and new local agribusinesses – those supplying inputs to smallholders and/or purchasing farm outputs from them;
3. and at least 25 significant policy or regulatory reforms that induce measurable increases in private sector investment in local agribusinesses operating in smallholder agrifood
value chains.

Sourced from Vanguard News Paper.