Recently a number of journalists from northern Nigeria converged at the research institute in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to monitor how the bio-tech research institute operates in the quest to ensure the availability of food production and meeting up with the transformation agenda in terms of serving the need of common man in Nigeria.
It is obvious that Nigeria is ranked 80th in the global food security index despite being among the top countries that produce protein based food crops.
It also ranks third in the production of groundnut after India and China, but yet that does not serve as a generator of revenue for the nation to the detriment of farmers in the country.
Even though little is done on the part of the government in that regard, institutes are striving hard to ensure that the agricultural sector gets the necessary boost that it deserves.
According to Dr Ahmed Falaki, the Executive Secretary of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) in Zaria, Kaduna state, the organization has so far developed and supplied improved varieties of crops to farmers across the country. While addressing a group of journalists that visited the institute, he listed the improved varieties of crops as cow-pea, cotton, groundnut, maize and sorghum. But it remains to be seen how much commitment is there on the part of the federal government to the effort of the institute.
In an interactive session with scientists, he explained that the research took them eight long years to compile yet without proper and adequate measures to ensure their labour is being complemented by providing a conducive and well planned environment that will suit the needs of the research.
He said what they need is the approval by the law which will give them right to publicize their findings and even use them for farmers across the nation.
It could be remembered that in his first few months in power, President Goodluck Jonathan, stressed that his administration’s transformation agenda will facilitate reforms on Ministry of Agriculture spanning agricultural policy, institutional reforms, transformation of several crops, and international donor support for the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in addition to stamping out corruption in fertilizer distribution, and the initiation of growth enhancement programmes to support overall agricultural production.
In another recent move, the federal government announced the distribution of GSM mobile phones for farmers in a bid to help boost farming activities in line with global practices.
During the tour, a lecturer at the Department of Bio Tech, Dr Usman Alhassan urged President Goodluck Jonathan to have a clear vision and to accept the National Bio-safety bill passed by the Senate for a better production and smooth running of their research. He observed that the future of the research they are embarking on will remain almost impossible to achieve if the bill passed was not strictly adhered to.
Dr Usman further explained that the bill will provide a framework to ensure the development and use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that negatively affect plants, animals and human health or the environment.
The IAR has also developed some crops in collaboration with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) seven varieties including millet; eight varieties of wheat in collaboration with the International Centre for Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT); tomato (7 fresh market, nine processing and four heat tolerant varieties), onions, pepper, grape and kenaf varieties.
Interestingly among the varieties produced by the institute, one amazing finding is that red sorghum has been proven to be medicinal to the bedeviling disease of sickle cell anaemia. It may not be so surprising any more but for the obvious fact that technology has the potential to work miracles! The distressing fact remains as why the federal government is sluggish towards seizing the advantage to agree and sign the National Bio-safety bill passed by the Senate for the betterment of Nigerians and those affected by the killer disease sickle cell anaemia.
People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that contain mostly Haemoglobin S, an abnormal type of haemoglobin. In most cases these red blood cells become shaped like sickle/crescent and have difficulty passing through small blood vessels.
When sickle-shaped cells block small blood vessels, less blood can reach that part of the body. Tissue that does not receive a normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged. This is what causes the complications associated with sickle cell disease. There is currently no universal cure for sickle cell disease.
With the outcome of the IAR research, laboratory work on the red sorghum has shown that it contains some amount of the red blood cell and that suggests that these medicines may help to ease the symptoms of sickle cell disease. Unfortunately, there has not been any systematic appraisal to that effect from the federal government by signing the bio-tech bill as proposed by the Senate.
As such, people with sickle cell disease remain a vulnerable group and could be at risk from remedies that they may resort to. These remedies may include traditional concoctions or herbal remedies, which may have true benefits or risks that might go unrecognised by the classically-trained medical fraternity.
To fill up this gap, the IAR if adequately supported will go a long way in minimising their suffering.