How GM crops can save the environment, ensure food security

Private sector driven seminar on rural agriculture development to hold OctoberTHERE has been a long debate on how safe Genetically Modified (GM) crops are to the environment and humans, following the processes involved in developing the crops and the perceived ‘danger’ it may poses.

Meanwhile, many studies have revealed that contrary to the claims by the anti-GMO activists, the GM crops have been proven to be more environmental friendly compared to the conventional crops.

The reason for this is very simple, some GM crops have been developed to resist pests and herbs attack, which by implication means that the need to spray pesticides and other chemicals to control pests or weeds may not be necessary.

Chemical pesticides are known to pollute the environment. While their intended effects are often short-lived, studies have shown that chemical pesticides linger in the atmosphere, the ground and in our waterways long after the job is over.

Various studies have also shown that continuous spray of pesticides and chemicals on plants does not only affect the targeted pests or weeds but it also pollute the environment (water, climate etc), and also have a long term effects on man.

According to a study by The Royal Society, it stated that “Crops do not damage the environment simply because they are GM. Some farming practices, such as the overuse of herbicides resulting in the excessive eradication of wild plants from farmland have been shown to harm the environment. These problems are similar for non-GM and GM crops.

“The use of GM crops resistant to insects through introduction of the gene for Bt toxin has environmental benefits. For example GM insect resistant cotton has substantially reduced the application of more environmentally damaging insecticides, with consequent environmental benefits and health benefits for cotton farmers”.

The above study clearly reveals that excessive use of herbicides to control weeds and pesticides to control pests in the farm could pose a serious environmental risk which will eventually affect man in the long run.

But when GM crops which are resistant to pests and herbs are planted in the farm, the need to spray herbicides or pesticides may not arise, thereby saving the environment from the risk of using those chemicals.

Also, a study by GMOs and And the Environment, noted that through planting of GM crops, farmers can actually increase productivity to meet the demands of our growing population, without polluting the environment.

“By making targeted improvements to crops through genetic engineering, farmers can raise more food for a growing world population while reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

“Whether it is less time spent on a tractor tilling soil, which helps to reduce carbon emissions, or applying fewer insecticides, GMOs help farmers to reduce their environmental footprint in many ways.

“Additionally, genetically modified crops enable farmers to grow more crops using less land while applying fewer chemicals and conserving water and energy allowing farmers to be more productive and efficient.

“A major advantage for over 18 million farmers globally who plant GMOs is the ability to successfully grow crops with fewer inputs, including reduced pesticide applications and the fuel needed to operate tractors to till soil.  Insect resistant genetically modified crops, for instance, have led to 1.4 billion pounds less active ingredient of insecticide used in the United States between 1996 and 2015. Over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide applications 8.1% and helped increased crop yields by 22%.

“GMOs help farmers to grow more crops using less land. Genetically modified traits such as insect and disease resistance and drought tolerance help to maximize yield by minimizing crop loss to pests, diseases and adverse weather conditions”

Nigeria population is over 180 million, and it is estimated that in the next 35 years, Nigeria will be heading for 500 million population, which is 5 per cent of the world’s population, by implication, it means that Nigeria will require increased agricultural activities to feed its populace.

It is pertinent to understand that increased agricultural activities with conventional seeds or through our normal agricultural practices, means increased usage of chemicals and pesticides on crops which has been proven harmful to both man and the environment.

With GM crops, the hectarage in use for agriculture will reduce, because the productivity per hectare will increase, so, farmers don’t need more lands to produce more food, what they need is GM seeds to be used to produce more food, use of harmful chemicals and pesticides on the farm to control pests and herbs will be reduced or eliminated completely, thereby saving the environment from pollution.

The quest to achieve food security in Nigeria, has been on the top burner of the Nigerian government plans, but basically all options have been explored by the government, but it appears as if little or no progress is been made.

The only option that is yet to be explored by the government is the adoption of biotechnology to advance agriculture, which has been adopted in several countries and have been proven to be the solution to food security.

Few years ago, there was an attack on Maize by Armyworm, these attacks led to shortage of Maize supply to industries, and the government earmarked over N2 billion to fight the pest.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, which is a Public Private Partnership that started since 2008, to develop and deploy royalty-free, African drought tolerant and insect-pest  protected (climate-smart) white maize varieties for small scale farmers, has proven to be resistant to Armyworm attacks.

This Maize variety which is developed by the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), has been used to improve Maize production in some African countries. The Maize variety have been proven to be drought tolerant and resists the attack of Armyworm.

Instead of budgeting billions of Naira annually to fight Armyworm, the government can actually embrace WEMA, distribute to farmers, it will not only fight Armyworm, it will also increase the yield of Maize, and the dream of food sufficiency will be achieved.

In a study by Samantha Jakubosk, published in Green Science, it reveals that though pesticides are sprayed on land, it makes its way to water sources and eventually contaminates the waterways.

The study stated “ even though pesticides are sprayed on land, many times, they can make their way into a water source, such as a river, ocean, or pond. For instance: Pesticides from an orchid may end up in a nearby stream due to runoff. If a body of water becomes contaminated with the chemicals, many fish and other animals may die and get sick. This can throw the whole ecosystem off balance.

“Pesticides can also affect groundwater by a process known as leeching. Many people depend on groundwater for their drinking supply, yet, if that water has pesticides in it, it is unsanitary and harmful for the people to drink.

“Another way pesticides can spread and cause potential harm is by volatilization. Volatilization occurs when a pesticide turns into a gas or vapor after it has been sprayed, allowing it to travel through the air and spread to different pieces of land”.

According to the Principal Investigator PBR Cowpea Institute of Agricultural Research, (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea, was developed to resist Maruca Virata, which is a pest that attacks Cowpea on the field.

His words: “We are working towards reducing insecticide spraying in this new variety when it is reduced from around eight to a maximum of three sprays, that’s going to be a tremendous reduction in the application of insecticide in the growth of cowpea.

“Cowpea that is not improved require about eight sprays of insecticide. Hopefully, we plan to reduce the amount of insecticide so that farmers can save money from that, not only that, this new variety of cowpea has the potential to produce between 100 to 150 per cent more yield increase at the end if the day.

“For every one hectare a farmer sprays, he needs to spend at least N5400 for buying insecticide along, not to talk of paying those who will spray the farm, water and others, but with this new variety, the farmer can spend about N1000 or N2000 per hectare, the reduction of about N3400 will make huge difference for the production”, Professor Ishiyaku noted.

Now, if PBR Cowpea can resist the attacks from Maruca Virata, it means the use of pesticides on the farm will be drastically reduced, which implies that the environment will be protected from pollution, and Cowpea yield will be increased.