The United Nations estimates elaborated by Worldometers (the world statistics website) states that the World’s population currently stands at 7.5 billion and an alarming growth rate of 1.13 percent per year, United Nations projects World population to reach 10 billion by 2056.
According to World Bank reports, Nigeria has a population of more than 170 million people ascribing her as the most populous African country with 47 percent of West Africa’s total populations.
The consistent growth in population therefore leads to a proportional increase in food consumption for food both at the Nigeria and the World at Large, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the world will have to grow 70 percent more food by 2050 just to keep up with population growth, literally increasing demand coupled with the introduction of measures to meet the ever increasing needs of the growing populace. One of such measures is the invention of Genetically Modified Crops (GMOs).
The World Health Organisation defines Genetically Modified Food as “foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally”. Using genetic engineering techniques, scientists modify the DNA of these crops by introducing new traits to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. These traits usually promote higher crop yield, more nutrition availability, higher resistance to bacterial and fungal disease, drought tolerance among others benefits. Asides these benefits and tendencies of Genetically Modified crops lasting for a longer period of time, GMOs help feed people globally.
Reports by David Freedman from Scientific American Magazine, notes that globally, only a tenth of the world’s cropland includes GM plants, four countries—the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina—grow 90 percent of the planet’s GM crops. In America for instance, GMOs have fed more than 300 million Americans, with the global population which stands at 7 billion – of which 1 out of 8 suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Recently the federal government approved the growth of GMOs in Nigeria.
Despite the benefits this technological innovation offers both at the national level and the global scene, GMOs still face lots of criticisms. Critics argue that the genetic modification of plant DNA is unnatural, creating in the laboratory what could never happen in nature. Even though proponents of GMO have maintained that there is no evidence to suggest that GMO foods harm human health, critics still insist that GMO foods should be proven safe before it is marketed.
According to Eric Sachs, Strategic Engagement Lead for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and a leading developer of GMO products, “transgenic products go through more testing than any other foods we eat, we screen for potential toxins and allergens. We monitor the levels of nutrients, proteins, and other components to see that the transgenic plants are substantially equivalent to traditional plants”. Undoubtedly, if embraced, GMOs could impact food security, contribute to food production increases and thus improve the availability of food in Nigeria. It could affect food safety and Food quality, and influence the economic and social situations of farmers. Food security will continue to be an increasingly complicated and important issue plus more food will be needed to feed more people and to preserve vital biodiversity site with the world population expected to double by 2050.
Although the potentials of GMOs seem impressive, the assurance of whether they would measure up on their promise of tackling food security and contribute positively to the lives of the people is yet to be ascertained as they still come along with some risks. Hence, Research and development in bioengineering must by matter of necessity, adapt and include the crops grown by farmers in Nigeria. Also, developing countries like Nigeria should thread with caution in embracing this trend.