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23 Oct 2017

Genetically modified foods ; The myth and truth of the unending debate.

Man ever since creation has evolved and survived well chiefly because of his instinct for survival which has hitherto driven him towards knowledge and research to fulfil his basic needs;  Food, cloth and shelter and also to improve his environment and life generally.
For centuries, there has been scientific researches and projects aim at improving and increasing food supply to meet the food demand of the ever increasing world population. Earlier researches aim at achieving this include selective breeding involving artificial and natural selection as well as mutation breeding. With more advancement in knowledge and scientific research, there was the development of the most recent method of plant and animal improvement; genetic engineering or generic modification which is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms called genetically modified organisms.
Over the last few decades there has been serious debate on ethics, acceptability and potential risk attached to making use/consuming genetically modified organisms. The argument for and against GMO has been overwhelming, and seems endless. If the world is to move on from the debate, benefit from GMO and reduce its risk, there have to be a non bias approach towards striking a logical mid point on the subject matter.
The earlier methods of plant and animal improvement; Selective breeding and mutation breeding.
In selective breeding the aim is to use animal breeding and plant breeding to selectively develop particular phenotypic traits (characteristics) by choosing which typically animal or plant males and females will sexually reproduce and have better offspring otherwise knows as crossbreed and hybrids in animal and plant respectively. It is largely artificial, but could be natural atimes.
Mutation breeding , sometimes referred to as ” variation breeding”, is the process of exposing seeds to chemicals or radiation in order to generate mutants with desirable traits (or lacking undesirable ones) to be bred with other cultivars . These knowledge was developed right after the 2nd world war in  a concerted effort to find ‘peaceful’ uses for atomic energy . This was the second old order of plant improvement , after selection and From 1930 to 2014 more than 3200 mutagenic plant varieties were released.
The  recent method of plant and animal improvement; Genetically modified organisms 
According to the World Health Organization, “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called ‘modern biotechnology’ or ‘gene technology’, sometimes also ‘recombinant DNA technology’ or ‘genetic engineering’. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods. Genetic engineering techniques allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.

Advantages of genetically modification of organisms and results gotten so far. 
The first crops to be realized commercially on a large scale provided protection from insect pests or tolerance to herbicides. Fungal and virus resistant crops have also being developed or are in development. This make the insect and weed management of crops easier and can indirectly increase crop yield. GM crops that directly improve yield by accelerating growth or making the plant more hardy (by improving salt, cold or drought tolerance) are also under development.
• Salmon have been genetically modified with growth hormones to increase their size.
• Genetically modified soybean has been modified to tolerate herbicides and produce healthier oils.  In 2015, 94% of soybean acreage in the U.S. was genetically modified to be glyphosate-tolerant.
• Corn used for food and ethanol has been genetically modified to tolerate various herbicides and to express a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills certain insects.
GMOs have been developed that modify the quality of produce by increasing the nutritional value or providing more industrially useful qualities or quantities.
• The Amflora potato produces a more industrially useful blend of starches.
• Cows have been engineered to produce more protein in their milk to facilitate cheese production.
• Soybeans and canola have been genetically modified to produce more healthy oils.
• The first commercialised GM food was a tomato that had delayed ripening, increasing its shelf life.
• Papaya was genetically modified to resist the ringspot virus PRSV. New York Times stated, “in the early 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya industry was facing disaster because of the deadly papaya ringspot virus. Its single-handed savior was a breed engineered to be resistant to the virus. Without it, the state’s papaya industry would have collapsed. Today, 80% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered, and there is still no conventional or organic method to control ringspot virus.
• As of 2005, about 13% of the Zucchini (a form of squash ) grown in the US was genetically modified to resist three viruses; that strain is also grown in Canada.
• In 2011, BASF requested the European Food Safety Authority ‘s approval for cultivation and marketing of its Fortuna potato as feed and food. The potato was made resistant to late blight by adding resistant genes blb1 and blb2 that originate from the Mexican wild potato Solanum bulbocastanum.
• In 2013, the USDA approved the import of a GM pineapple that is pink in color and that “overexpresses” a gene derived from tangerines and suppress other genes, increasing production of lycopene .
• In 2014, the USDA approved a genetically modified potato developed by J.R. Simplot Company that contained ten genetic modifications that prevent bruising and produce less acrylamide when fried.
• In February 2015 Arctic Apples were approved by the USDA, becoming the first genetically modified apple approved for sale in the US. Gene silencing is used to reduce the expression of polyphenol oxidase (PPO) , thus preventing the fruit from browning.
Plants and animals have been engineered to produce materials they do not normally make.
• Cows and goats have been engineered to express drugs and other proteins in their milk, and in 2009 the FDA approved a drug produced in goat milk.
•  Golden rice is a variety of rice (Oryza sativa ) produced through genetic engineering to biosynthesize beta-carotene , a precursor of vitamin A , in the edible parts of rice
• Golden banana, a version of the golden rice has also been recently produced.
Issues against genetic modification of organisms and proposed risk of GMO as argued by the Anti GMO groups.
Critics have objected to the use of genetic engineering on several grounds, that include ethical, ecological and economic concerns. Many of these concerns involve GM crops and whether food produced from them is safe, whether it should be labeled and what impact growing them will have on the environment. These controversies have led to litigation, international trade disputes, and protests, and to restrictive regulation of commercial products in some countries.
Accusations that scientists are ” playing God ” and other religious issues have been ascribed to the technology from the beginning. Other ethical issues raised include the patenting of life , the use of intellectual property rights, the level of labeling on products,  control of the food supply and the objectivity of the regulatory process.
Gene flow between GM crops and compatible plants, along with increased use of selective herbicides , can increase the risk of ” superweeds ” developing. Other environmental concerns involve potential impacts on non-target organisms, including soil microbes , and an increase in secondary and resistant insect pests. Many of the environmental impacts regarding GM crops may take many years to be understood are also evident in conventional agriculture practices. With the commercialization of genetically modified fish there are concerns over what the environmental consequences will be if they escape.
There are three main concerns over the safety of genetically modified food; whether they may provoke an allergic reaction, whether the genes could transfer from the food into human cells, and whether the genes not approved for human consumption could outcross to other crops.
There has always been noise from some quarters about side effect of GMO on non GMO products.  there is the risk of losing the natural crops/seeds banks as GM seeds may gradually take over the entire seed market in the future and send our natural seeds to extinction due to neglect.
The key areas of controversy and disadvantage related to genetically modified food (GM food or GMO food) are whether such food should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the objectivity of scientific research and publication, the effect of genetically modified crops on the environment, and the effect on pesticide resistance.
Specific concerns include mixing of genetically modified and non-genetically modified products in the food supply, the rigor of the regulatory process,  and consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs.
There is also concern that risks have not been adequately identified and managed, and the regulatory authorities has been questioned on objectivity.
Counter arguments and striking a balance on GMO debate.
A 2003 EMBO Reports article reported that the Public Perceptions of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe project (PABE) found the public neither accepting nor rejecting GMOs. Instead, PABE found that public had “key questions” about GMOs: “Why do we need GMOs? Who benefits from their use? Who decided that they should be developed and how? Why were we not better informed about their use in our food, before their arrival on the market? Why are we not given an effective choice about whether or not to buy these products? Have potential long-term and irreversible consequences been seriously evaluated, and by whom? Do regulatory authorities have sufficient powers to effectively regulate large companies? Who wishes to develop these products? Can controls imposed by regulatory authorities be applied effectively? Who will be accountable in cases of unforeseen harm?” PABE also found that the public’s scientific knowledge does not control public opinion, since scientific facts do not answer these questions.  PABE also found that the public does not demand “zero risk” in GM food discussions and is “perfectly aware that their lives are full of risks that need to be counterbalanced against each other and against the potential benefits. Rather than zero risk, what they demanded was a more realistic assessment of risks by regulatory authorities and GMO producers.”
Although doubts have been raised, economically most studies have found growing GM crops to be beneficial to farmers and that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, It will interest you to know that so far for over 30 years the anti GMO campaign has been on, the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science say that there is no scientific evidence of harm by GMO and therefore, even voluntary labeling is misleading and will falsely alarm consumers
Another argument people like me always put forward is the potential of we losing our natural seed bank and with further research I found that impossible, IRRI alone has 120million rice gene, in its gene bank.  Norway has a gene bank for as many as possible species they can collect and there is the biodiversity center in Italy.
Several organic food and seed companies promote and sell certified organic products that were developed using both chemical and nuclear mutagenesis.  Several certified organic brands, whose companies support strict labeling or outright bans on GMO-crops, market their use of branded wheat and other varietal strains which were derived from mutagenic processes without any reference to this genetic manipulation. These organic products range from mutagenic barley and wheat ingredient used in organic beers to mutagenic varieties of grapefruits sold directly to consumers as organic. These shows that earlier methods of plant improvements also involved gene manipulation.
It is worthy of note however, that GMO foods can not just be introduced and adopted blindly, in nations that GMO has been highly adopted, there has never been a free passage, but there has been tests. GM foods were tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction.
World population is projected to hit 9.0 billion people by 2050, with larger portion of this population coming from  Africa and south east Asia. These 2 regions should get ready to feed it population , and the world should also braise itself up, else we may lose a sizeable part of the population to famine and starvation.
Far from being a pro GMO, as a matter of fact, I have been an advocate against it long ago as I belong to the pro organic farming group. However, with the  world hunger and poverty rate,  there may be need for reorientation especially in developing nations to not completely turn deaf ear to whatsoever have the potential of bringing about food security to the world. It is high time the world stepped down the campaign against GMO a little and focus more of our energy on an open minded research on GMO, with the aim of analyzing it side effect and health hazards, and with the purpose of determining its potential ability to solve world hunger problem, its practicability and sustainability.
There is no gain saying that there might be disadvantages and controversial issues of health safety attached to consumption of GMO, but it is not enough for us as Africans especially Nigerians to just by bandwagon join the list of nations that has outrightly rejected the GMO without first carrying out thorough research on case-to-case tests on GMO products.
On a final note, there must be an increase in  public sensitization and awareness on GM products before introduction in any nation, as survey pointed out that rejection of GMOs have more to do with ignorance of the people about the product and process that what they know.  Increase awareness will help improve the scientific knowledge of the public and will increase the sense of accurate judgment to either reject or accept the product without ignorance and or bias mind.
Aliyu Ahmed Olanrewaju
Researcher, Agribusiness consultant.
23 Oct 2017


Recently a client engaged me to set up her 7 hectares cassava  farm, she was clear about what she wanted and what she does not want.
“I already have a cleared land, all I need from you is just technical back up, to get me a good variety of cassava, fix on the soil , bring in fertilizer and help me do routine check up till it is ready for harvest”.
It wasn’t my 1st time a client will  be describing an 8-12 months job in just 8-12 minutes, ofcourse it is always a pleasure listening to clients farm with mouth!
On what she does not want she said
“I have planted maize this year on the same land and I suffered a great loss, so poor, I could not even recouped half of the money spent talk more of profit, I felt so discouraged.” I said to myself, “familiar story”, often people have garbaged in to agriculture like that and hit their head hard on a rock. It can be so painful.
We proceeded to her “cleared” land and I got the shock of my life. It was nearly as worst as a virgin land, what is on the “cleared” land is beyond just super weeds, with great heights, one can see left over stumps already growing back to trees. I turned back to the client and said to her;
“we may have a clue as to why your loss on the maize was enormous, your land preparation was bad and under 4 weeks, weeds outgrew your maize and you lost the control of your farm to the weeds.”
How did you know that,she said and I replied,your land look to me like nothing has been cultivated on It this season. It showed you might have run to problem with weeds during your maize cultivation. And Maize! I have never planted any crop lower in tolerance for poor land preparation. This is because maize can not tolerate one of the major consequences of poor land preparation which is strong weed outgrowth. I have once been a victim. Make no mistake, the effect is the same for almost all crop types.
What is land preparation.
Land preparation can be defined as the process of getting the soil ready for planting, to provide a soil environment favorable for plant germination and/or growth. Land preparation covers a wide range of practices from zero-tillage or minimum tillage which minimizes soil disturbance through to a totally ‘puddled’ soil which actually destroys soil structure.
It typically involves (1) plowing to “till” or dig-up, mix, and overturn the soil; (2) harrowing to break the soil clods into smaller mass and incorporate plant residue, and (3) Ridging or leveling the field.
Initial land preparation begins after last harvest or during fallow period. This is important for effective weed control and for enriching the soil. Generally, it will take 3−4 weeks to prepare your land before planting.
It is important that we don’t mix land clearing up with land preparation. Land clearing is a single operation under the wilder concept ; land preparation.
Details of sequential stages in land preparation.
1. Removal  of trees/Land clearing :-
This is done mainly for a virgin land, and the major machine used here is Bulldozer.
2. Removal of stumps :-
This is always done manually, as no machine precisely and completely  takes out the stumps. If stumps are not removed from fields, ploughing becomes difficult, plough frame and disc may spoil, you also risk damaging tractor tyre.
3. Soil testing :-
Important part of soil preparation entails testing soil to determine its current nutrient levels to determine fertilizers to be used to balance deficiencies.
4. Ploughing :-
This is the process of cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting to loosen or turn the soil. Ploughs were traditionally drawn by working animals such as horses or cattle, but in modern times are drawn by tractors.
The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds and the remains of previous crops and allowing them to break down. Ploughing sets the stage for the next phase of land preparation which is harrowing.
5. Harrowing :-
This is the breaking up and smoothing out the surface of the soil. It is distinct in its effect from ploughing, which is used for deeper tillage. Harrowing is often carried out on fields to follow the rough finish left by plowing operations. The purpose of this harrowing is generally to break up clods (lumps of soil) and to provide a finer finish, a good tilth or soil structure that is suitable for seedbed use.
6. Ridging :- making of hips by a reverse plough or single direction plough system. This is not recommend for all crops.
Importance of land preparation 
for planting, a well-prepared field controls weeds, recycles plant nutrients, and provides a soft soil mass for transplanting and a suitable soil surface for direct seeding.
Whether growing lawn grass, ornamental flowers or garden vegetables, preparing the soil before planting is essential. Soil needs to allow water to enter the ground efficiently so that it may be drawn up and used by developing plants. The following are the specific importance of thorough land preparation.
Water Efficiency
In good growing conditions, soil allows plants to take up and retain the necessary amounts of water to sustain growth while permitting excess water to drain efficiently.
Weed Control
Better weed control is another important reason to prepare soil thoroughly before planting. Weeds that are not removed in advance of planting continue to grow and spread, competing with the intended plants for critical water and nutrient resources.
Addition of Nutrients
Helps mix harvest residue, organic matter (humus), and nutrients evenly into the soil.
Growing plants can quickly deplete garden soil’s existing supply of essential nutrients. Therefore, an important part of soil preparation entails testing soil to determine its current nutrient levels and then adding fertilizers to balance deficiencies.
Production maximization
Using a thorough land preparation procedure  to prepare soil helps to maximize crops’ production.
Others include
Loosens and aerates the top layer of soil or horizon A, which facilitates planting the crop
Dries the soil before seeding (in wetter climates tillage aids in keeping the soil drier)
Poor land preparation can lead to poor, uneven or weedy stands. Soil crusting can reduce seedling emergence (especially in soils high in clay and silt). Soil testing ensures you know the right quantity of fertilizer and nutrients your soil requires. The advantages of land preparation are numerous likewise the side effect of poor land preparation can be devastating and capable of chasing you off farming. The choice is always yours!
At Agritreasure, we ensure your lands are properly prepared and we are ready to monitor all operations for you ,from clearing to harvesting.
Aliyu Ahmed Olanrewaju
Researcher/Agribusiness consultant.