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Agricultural practices can halt youths’ emigration – Minister

The Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation, Chief Henry Ikoh, has said that the adoption and commercialisation of modern agricultural practices, like the Genome Editing technology being championed by the African Union, will ensure food security, job creation and help to end the mass emigration of young people.

Speaking in Lagos on Thursday at the official opening of the African Union Development Agency/National Biotechnology Development Agency Genome Editing Communication and Policy Dialogue, Ikoh stressed the need for Africa to embrace new innovations in agriculture.

The ceremony, attended by representatives from Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Eswatini, was a sequel to a three-day workshop to develop a national communication strategy and action plan for the continental deployment of Genome Editing.

GEd entails the optimisation of the genes of a plant for maximum productivity. The event was organised by AUDA-NEPAD and NABDA.

Ikoh, who represented the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, said, “Genome Editing is a revolutionary technology with application in agriculture, health, environment and industry. Africa must produce for Africa for it to be great. If that happens, there will be food sufficiency, exports will increase and youths will be gainfully employed.

“With these, the issues of youths dying on the high sea or in the desert on their way to Europe will no longer be there. We have the capacity, men, resources, and land – largely untapped – if we synergise as a continent.”

The Supervisor, Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation, AUDA-NEPAD, Dr Olalekan Akinbo, said there must be a nexus between science, policy and practice. While highlighting the need to embrace the technology, Akinbo said if Africa refused to innovate, future prosperity would remain an illusion.

The Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, NABDA, Prof Abdullahi Mustapha, said the workshop and policy dialogue were aimed at fostering a broader understanding of Genome Editing as a tool to optimise agriculture in Africa.

Also, the Director-General, National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr Rufus Ebegba, said Nigeria was ready for the deployment of the technology, having built a strong national biosafety system. “In Nigeria, we are also building a strong national biosecurity system, to ensure that biotechnology is safe and that harmful biological agents do not cage us again like Covid-19,” he added.

In her remarks at the commencement of the workshop on Monday, the Acting Director, Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics Department, NABDA, Dr Toyin Solebo, said the essence was to tap into the wealth of experience of the participants to develop a strategy and action plan that could serve the stakeholders in Nigeria.

She added, “Genome Editing is a biotech tool that is revolutionary and promises to impact on our research and products, especially in agriculture. Thus, the six countries and the AU felt it was best to develop a very effective communication strategy that could help us to drive home the message, and that is why we have at the workshop and policy dialogue stakeholders like policymakers, academics, researchers, farmers and the media.”

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