By Sylvester Thompson
Abuja, Sept.28, 2020 Dr Rose Gidado, Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), says Nigeria can avert malnutrition by using genetic modification technology to develop nutritious foods.
Gidado who is also the Deputy Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), told journalists, on Monday in Abuja that malnutrition is another negative effect of COVID-19.
She said that malnutrition and immunodeficiency amplify and intensify the impact of diseases, including measles, malaria and the deadly COVID-19.
She said that measures which would ensure nutrition security in Nigeria were important in curbing the negative impacts of the deadly coronavirus.
According to Gidado, food is therapy and good food means good therapy, hence adopting technology, one of which is genetic modification technology has become very necessary.
“With this technology, highly nutritious foods containing essential vitamins and minerals can be developed to have foods rich in iron, zinc and vitamin A.
The scientist clarified that a perfect example of how the application of plant genetic modification could solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition was Golden Rice.
“Golden Rice contains three transgenes which helps it to produce pro-vitamin A.
“Currently, vitamin A is a global health challenge, adding that the total number of children in low income groups that are deficient in Vitamin A have been estimated at 140 million.’’
Gidado hinted that the figure spread across 118 countries, with Africa and South-East Asia taking the lead.
She said that a report from the WHO estimates that 500,000 vitamin-A deficient children become blind every year with 250,000 of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
“The mass distribution of the genetically modified rice in such low-income countries can put an end to night blindness and alleviate COVID-19,’’ Gidado said.
She maintained that dietary supplements with multivitamins, bioactive lipids, flavonoids and herbs may be tools to support the human immune system against COVID-19.
Yet, such nutrient dense foods are often not accessible by poor and rural inhabitants due to cost and ignorance.
“The deployment of biotechnology tools can enable plant breeders engineer plants, most especially, staple crops such as rice, corn, cassava and others to produce such vital micronutrients.’’
According to her, these vital nutrients are necessary in boosting the immune system while also reducing cost and making it available to everyone.
Gidado restated that biotechnology is a promising way for mitigating the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic on food security.
She said this could be achieved through the production of foods with longer shelf life, higher yields, increased nutritional content, shorter harvest time, disease and pest resistance and stress tolerance.
“The application of agricultural biotechnology to create more fertile and resistant plant resources has been used to achieve food security in some advanced countries,’’ the OFAB country coordinator stressed.