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Buhari’s Agricultural Policy Working Well For Nigeria – BIOSAFETY AGENCY DG

DR. RUFUS EBEGBA 

BY MICHAEL JEGEDE

ABUJA, NIGERIA - The Director-General/Chief Executive Officer of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s agricultural policy aimed at diversifying Nigeria’s economy was working well for the country.

The NBMA boss who made the remarks in an interview, called on Nigerians to continue to give Buhari the needed support in his determined effort to improve the nation's economy through agricultural innovations.

“The agricultural policy we have in this country is evolving. It is not something that you can just see the result at a time. 

"Part of the agricultural policy is what has led to the increase in rice production. You will agree with me that a lot of farmers are going into rice production right now. 

"And also the issue of smuggling of food, government is also working on it. And the issue of removing subsidy or removing support to the importation of food is to enable us have sustainable agriculture, have food security in our country. 

"Any nation that keeps importing foods such a nation is bound to run into problem, especially if in future it has diplomatic issues with that country from where it is importing. 

"But when we have sustainable agriculture within the country, we will be able to produce enough for domestic consumption and for exports which also leadS to foreign earnings. 

"I can also tell you that with the progammes that the federal government has, I think over time, Nigeria will be better for it. 

"The federal government is looking beyond conventional agriculture. It is also looking at modern agriculture. 

"The creation of the National Biosafety Management Agency is also geared towards ensuring safety of agricultural products that are derived from modern biotechnology,” Ebegba explained.

According to the DG, the Biosafety agency, which was established in 2015 to provide regulatory framework to adequately safeguard human health and the environment from the potential adverse effects of modern biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), has made significant strides in the actualization of its mandate.

Hear him: “In the past four years, we have made major strides in our mandate in ensuring that there is a holistic biosafety system in the country. 

"Within these four years, we have been able to review the policy that was adopted in 2006 to be in tandem with the Act of 2015. 

"No doubt, there must be some lacuna in a policy of 2006 and a law coming in 2015 that was debated in the National Assembly – that is about ten years difference. 

"There was therefore the need to align the earlier policy with the new law. So, there was a new policy which the agency proposed to the Federal Executive Council through the Ministry of Environment and we now have a new (biosafety policy). 

"That was in 2017.  We have also developed various guidelines, biosafety guidelines and sectoral guidelines. 

"We have been able to equally recruit staff and subject them to various trainings within and outside the country, increase their proficiency for them to be able to get both national and international best standards of biosafety regulations. 

"I want to tell you that we have been able to create a lot of awareness, even though we need to do more. We’ve also been able to identify various partners and come up with various memorandums of understanding with some agencies like the Nigeria Customs Service, Seed Council, NAFDAC, Standard Organization and others – and all these is to build synergies with cost effectiveness, efficiency in administration of biosafety and so on and so forth. 

"We had also during this period established a genetically modified organism laboratory for GMOs, for genetically modified organism detection analysis. 

"That lab is to enable us to determine whether any organism is genetically modified or not, and also to be able to profile the content of such organism, to find out whether there are materials that could be harmful to the environment or human health. One of the guidelines we have been able to draw up is the issue of risk assessment and risk management. 

'The pillar of biosafety is risk management, risk assessment and risk communication. So, we now have guidelines on risk assessment framework. 

"We also have biosafety communication strategy. These are part of the things we have achieved. We have also tried as much as possible to grant some permits. 

'We granted permits in the area of accrediting some institutions that will be going into Genetic Engineering. We have also granted permits for experimental field and we have granted permits for the commercialization of some crops specifically cottons and beans. 

"I will say within a short time Nigeria has been able to raise its head very high in the comity of nations. Currently we are the Chair of African Biosafety Regulators Forum. 

"All the biosafety agencies in Africa, Nigeria is the Chair. 

"We are also the Chair of West Africa. I can tell you we have been able to expand beyond our national boundary to international level. 

"And the issue of United Nations global activities on biosafety, Nigeria has always been in the forefront in Africa. 

"And one other thing I can also attribute to our success is the goodwill that we have received from the federal government. 

"I think through the agency the federal government has made major strides in the area of biosafety regulations in Nigeria.”

On the issue of challenges facing the agency in the last four years of its operation, Dr. Ebegba stated: "The issue of the challenges, yes, funding has been a major problem, not for only the agency, globally there has been more or less economic crisis all over the world. In the case of Nigeria, there are many agencies. 

"And being a new agency we are aware of the fact that we cannot get all what we need within a short time. The agency is evolving. 

"Though we have the political will, but funding has always been a major constraint. 

"We are hoping that every year the budget will increase. But I must tell you that the budget is quite lean. And we are also trying to work on other ministries and agencies, having collaboration so that we can be cost-effective in what we are doing. 

"Another challenge we think we have is the issue of accommodation. The agency has not been properly accommodated. We are squatting with the National Park Service presently. 

"Though efforts are being made. The Minister has also written to the President.”

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