Importance of deploying new technologies to boost food production

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By Sylvester Thompson

The World Economic Forum, in an article published on March 3, 2018 listed threats to global food production as poor harvests, droughts, floods among others. It suggests that the best way to boost food security is by investing in new technologies.

The Forum noted that small holder farmers and rural dwellers normally rely on their personal networks for information to help them overcome weather crises, improve productivity, and limit crop losses.

But these personal networks are not paying off as poor harvests and other variables, are still unsettling farmers.

Experts stressed that the way out is for farmers to adopt new technologies to enable them increase their yield per hectare as well as connect with information and institutions which enhance their knowledge and marketability.

They say that without appropriate technologies, food produced by small holder farmers through conventional farming practices would not ensure food security.

To ensure food security they emphasized that agricultural technology should be adopted and domesticated in order to boost food production and ensure food security during and after the pandemic.

For Nigeria, increased food production is very important because of the fast growing population.

Nigeria’s population going by the latest United Nations data, stands at 206 million, this figure is about 2.64 per cent of the total world population.

Experts say, that a country as populous as Nigeria, needs to adopt appropriate technologies, especially in COVID-19 pandemic era, to enable it boost food production and ensure food security.

Indeed the Agriculture Promotion Policy (2016-2020) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, was designed to boost food production.

It states clearly President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision and approach toward transforming the agricultural sector to boost food production.

In the policy document, the National Agricultural Research System (NARS), is charged with the responsibility to generate and commercialise new technologies in order meet local market needs.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology, on his part, advised state governments to set up ministry of science and technology in order to popularise adoption of technology to boost food production.

Speaking about technology in agriculture, Onu said over 90 per cent of agriculture involved technology, adding that technology must be deployed to ensure food  sustainability and food security.

Alhaji Sabo Nanono, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, while addressing a webinar on July 22, said biotechnology had a crucial role to play in boosting food security in Nigeria.

He hinted that with biotechnology, even the long shelf life of vegetables would help resuscitate the food sector.

Prof. Alex Akpa, Director General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), addressing a webinar on July 9, said technology, especially biotechnology was a powerful tool in boosting food production and security, malnutrition, disease outbreaks among others.

Akpa stressed the urgent need for Nigeria to adopt and domesticate global technologies to boost food production and food security in post COVID-19 era.

Speaking on the adverse effects of the pandemic on the food system, he noted that the agricultural sector was mostly affected.

“But with technology in agriculture, we can leapfrog our production, have better quality produce and high yields, reduce drudgery, and improve resistance to pest and diseases.

“Our present focus is food security which is achievable through enhancement of agricultural yields, commercialisation of new and improved seeds and value addition to farm produce through sound agro-processing and entrepreneurship,’’ he said.

Akpa gave examples of Biotech(BT) cowpea and BT cotton which he said were high yielding, moving  from 250, 270 traditional kilogrammes per hectare to 4.2 to 4.5 tonnes per hectare.

He said the two BT varieties were high yielding because they are able to survive the devastating insect pests of maruca which attacked cowpea and the cotton boll-worm, insect pest of cotton

Dr. Rose Gidado, Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB), Nigeria chapter, also appealed to  governments and agricultural stakeholders to declare emergency on  food production by adopting appropriate technologies.

Gidado advised that Genetic Modification Technology(GM), should be adopted during and after the pandemic to ensure food sustainability.

She said the technology of genetic modification of crops was a promising tool in mitigating food crisis.

The scientist clarified that the technology involved the manipulation of genes in a living organism to make or modify biological product or to improve the organism for specific uses.

“It enhances food security through the production of foods with longer shelf life, higher yields, increased nutritional content, shorter harvest time, disease and pest resistance as well as stress tolerant,” she said.

Gidado also said that climate smart GM seeds that would reduce the need for routine farm practices while ensuring higher yields should be adopted by the government and other stakeholders.

Another technology she hinted needed to be adopted and domesticated was remote sensing and satellite imagery for agricultural activities.

“This will help in monitoring crop status, diseased or distressed, estimate crop yield, identify fertilisation and pesticide needs as well as early warning for insect attacks,”the scientist said.

She also advised governments to look into the establishment of an irrigation regime, which was an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and agricultural drones.

“It is better we adopt appropriate technologies and localise them for use to develop our indigenous crops,” she said.

According to her, the US, Japan, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, India, and South Africa among others, who are termed food sufficient countries, became so by adopting other countries’ technologies.

She noted that it was stressful for farmers to carry chemicals on their back to spray a 400-hectare farmland when technology had help in reducing such labour, cost and health risks.

“We cannot remain stagnant and continue to stick to our `olden days’ tools as our population grows geometrically; we need to use any technology that we know can help us feed the teeming population,” Gidado stressed.