Tinubu Govt’s Approval of GMO’s Tela Maize In Nigeria Sparks Controversy Amid Safety Concerns


Controversies and Reactions
The adoption of Tela maize has sparked controversy among anti-GMO groups in Nigeria. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and other organizations condemned the GMO adoption, expressing concerns over the lack of a risk assessment before the release of Tela maize.

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HOMEF’s Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, criticized the government’s move, citing potential health risks and environmental impacts associated with GMOs. He called for independent long-term assessments before approving any GM crop.

Despite the controversy, NBMA Director-General Agnes Asagbra emphasized that Tela maize has undergone rigorous evaluations and has not yet been launched commercially. She assured that the country’s biosafety laws ensure that only safe and beneficial technologies reach farmers and consumers.

Nigeria Approves Commercial Planting of Genetically Modified “Tela Maize”
Amid concerns over genetically modified crops, the Nigerian government has approved the commercial release of four “Tela maize” varieties. This move makes Nigeria the second African country to adopt and commercialize these genetically engineered corn varieties, following South Africa.

A report from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) highlighted Nigeria’s new status: “In addition to South Africa, Nigeria has become the second country in Africa to approve the commercialization of genetically engineered corn.”

Tela maize has been engineered for improved insect resistance and drought tolerance, aiming to boost farmers’ yields per hectare and complement existing demand gaps.

The GMO Debate in Nigeria
For over a decade, the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has sparked intense debate among scientists, environmentalists, and food activists in Nigeria and globally. The discourse centers on the role GMOs should play in addressing agricultural, nutritional, and climatic challenges in developing countries like Nigeria. Concerns include the environmental and health impacts of GMOs, their effect on traditional farming methods, and issues around seed patents.

While some developing nations have banned GMOs outright, others have embraced the technology or sought a balance between the concerns and needs of all stakeholders. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 33 major food crops have been genetically modified worldwide. In Nigeria, four crops—maize, cowpea, cotton, and soybean—have been approved for commercialization, making Nigeria one of six African countries leading in biotech crop adoption.

Potential of Tela Maize
The USDA report noted that in the marketing year 2022/2023, Nigeria produced an estimated 12.7 million metric tons (MMT) of corn, with an average yield of 2.2 tons per hectare. The adoption of Tela maize could significantly increase this production capacity. According to the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), yields of Tela maize could reach up to 10 tons per hectare under good agronomic practices.

On January 11, Nigerian authorities officially commercialized Tela maize varieties. The Nigeria National Committee on Naming, Registration, and Release of Crop Varieties approved 23 new GM varieties for commercial planting, including four Tela maize varieties. Seed companies can now license the rights to produce and commercialize these new hybrids under their private brands from AATF.

The Tela Maize Project, initially known as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project, saw Nigeria join in 2019. The project aims to develop a high-yielding maize variety that is drought-tolerant and resistant to the Fall Armyworm pest (FAW), which devastated corn fields across Nigeria in 2016.

The adoption process for Tela maize began in 2021 after the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) approved the environmental release and field trials of the maize varieties. Nigeria’s Institute for Agricultural Research conducted national performance trials of the four varieties across ten states, showing average yields of three tons per hectare.

Expert Opinions
Experts are divided on the issue. Lateef Sanni, Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), supports the adoption of Tela maize, citing its potential to enhance food security. However, he urged local breeders to develop quality seeds for sustainable agriculture.

Conversely, Qrisstuberg Amua, Executive Director of the Centre for Food Safety and Agricultural Research, warned of the health and environmental risks associated with GMOs. He urged Nigerians to reject GMOs and advocate for the withdrawal of policies permitting their use.

The approval of Tela maize in Nigeria marks a significant step in the country’s agricultural development. While the technology promises increased yields and food security, the debate over its safety and impact continues. The Nigerian government and relevant stakeholders must address these concerns to ensure that the adoption of GMOs benefits the nation without compromising health and environmental standards.

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