Biotech in Nigeria: The journey so far

IITA scientist in Biotech Lab. Photo by O. Adebayo
IITA scientist in Biotech Lab. Photo by O. Adebayo
Nigeria, the world’s largest grower of cassava, producing over 40 million tons per year, is seeking to adopt the use of modern biotechnology tools in agriculture, but efforts are stymied by the absence of a biosafety law.

The passage of the bill by the Nigerian Parliament will launch the country into the production and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMO) with the capacity to increase crop production, ensure food security, and improve rural livelihoods.

“The passage of the bill will be great,” said Dr Oyekanmi Nash, Program Director, West African Biotechnology Workshop Series. “Biotechnology holds the key to some of our problems in agriculture and health, and the earlier we tap into it, the better,” he added.

Currently, Nigeria’s population of more than 140 million with an annual growth rate of 2.9% demands increased agricultural production to guarantee food security.

This means traditional agricultural practices, characterized by the use of poor seedlings, must give way to modern tools to allow agriculture to grow by double digits from the current average of about 6%. Such a growth will conserve government revenues from being used in importing food items.

According to government figures, the country spends about US$3 billion annually on food importation. The situation was worse in 2008 when food prices hit the roof, aggravated by the negative effects of severe drought on agricultural production in the northern parts of the country, and high energy costs when crude oil reached $150 per barrel.

“With the turn of events now and for us to meet our food demand in the future, we should apply modern biotech in crop production,” Nash said.

He commended IITA for setting up a modern biotech laboratory in Nigeria, saying that the establishment of such a multimillion dollar laboratory in Nigeria was a reflection of the institute’s commitment to fight poverty in Africa and improving rural livelihoods.

Fluorescence-based genotyping for DNA fingerprinting of plants and pathogens. Photo by IITA
Fluorescence-based genotyping for DNA fingerprinting of plants and pathogens. Photo by IITA
Challenges in introducing GMOs
If the biosafety bill is passed, Nigeria will join other African nations, such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa in cultivating GMO crops.

It is expected that the entrance of GMOs will increase crop productivity, lower the cost of production, guarantee food security, and improve both the health and livelihoods of resource-poor farmers who make up more than 70% of the rural population.

The absence of a biosafety law is the problem. In addition, research and development in GM crops are indeed in their infancy in Nigeria as very few establishments in the national agricultural research system have developed the critical mass of human capacity and the infrastructural requirements that would lead to the accelerated development of transgenic materials.

A communiqué issued last year by stakeholders, including the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that other limitations in the commercialization of GMO crops included poor capital equipment, irregular energy, inadequate water supply, and ineffective use of information and communication technology, among others.

The meeting further noted the obvious deficiencies in both the teaching and learning curricula at all school levels and accordingly recommended vibrant and dynamic curricula to generate appropriate labor to meet research and development needs in biotechnology activities.

biotech-milestonesBiotech and Nigeria’s vision 2020
In the next 11 years, Nigeria intends to be ranked among the top 20 economies of the world. Achieving this goal requires adopting policies and options that will lead to improved agriculture and food security among other benefits.

For Nigeria, experts say this will include genetic improvement in the priority crops such as sorghum, cassava, cotton, yam, banana, plantain, maize, wheat, gum arabic, cowpea, and soybean that are of critical importance to the nation.

Prof. Bamidele Solomon, Director-General of NABDA, which has the mandate to promote, coordinate, and regulate biotechnology across the country, said his agency would ensure that the cutting-edge technology of biotech promotes a healthy environment, ensuring national food security and providing affordable health care delivery as well as the alleviation of poverty.

While 2020 appears rather far away, not taking proactive steps toward tackling the present challenges facing the full implementation of biotech will certainly make Vision 2020 a mirage, as far as food security is concerned. This is indeed a wake-up call. The earlier we act, the better.

22 thoughts on “Biotech in Nigeria: The journey so far

  1. I am researcher of Cowpea in Bangladeshl. I need Dr. B.B. Singh's e-mail address. Please send his e-mail address in my e-mail no (

    I am a researcher of cowpea. I need some information from Dr. B.B. Singh, Please supply me the Dr. Singh e-mail address in my e-mail address (

  2. It is really sad that this Bill is still pending despite the hard work of Dr. George Thottappilly (DSc)- known as the Africa’s father of biotechnology, since the early 90s!

    Nigeria… let’s wake up. To be a giant is more than mere “hot air” from the mouth

  3. my comment is currently on the recent catastrophic situation of my nation of lack of food,despite the huge amount of fund wastege in bringing peace and harmony in niger delta.we the entire masses of nigeria we urge the senate to do anything positive for food security bills.

  4. Good Development though somewhat slow,
    I worked for Biotech for a few years at the commencement of the program in Nigeria at IITA, I can not wait to see Nigeria; myself, benefiting from the dividends of Biotech in full.We should move fast.

  5. I want to is there biotech any is done in cowpea. If it has done, Please inform me with e-mail address of that researchers.

  6. A rush into ratifying GM food for the Nigerian populace should be done with caution and possibly managed through a staged process. Agreeably, gene manipulation occurs naturally even without human intervention. However delibrate genetic manipulations (in the laboratory) to produce organisms that end up in the food chain without adequate risk assessment and management will be unwise. In every decision along this line let us be sure that (i)the benefits outweigh the risks (ii)trade, especially in relation to our local farming community and/or agricultural export, is no jeopadised (iii)no risks are posed to consumers and the environment and(iv)we’ve got all the claims on efficacy right.
    These may sound like a tough ask, but if examined well, they are vital and will lay an intelligent foundation for the future of GMO in Nigeria.

  7. Pls send me informations on methods to determine/identify the transgene in genetically modified cowpea. I need it is so quick to complete my Diploma programme.

  8. The development is tremendously welcomed and should be appropriated on time.This will also solve problem of unemployment for biotechnology graduates and related feilds.We are tired of wasting the skills acquired.pls,our leaders should help situation.

  9. just can’t wait to be part of such an innovation, it will be a dream come true for every nigerian. nigeria is a country where progressive change seems impossible and for which our pioneering fathers worked so hard for. Our legislators lack focus and direction. change, i believe, will surely come. go nigeria and god bless IITA. am proud of IITA.

  10. thanks for this educative page. i am a M.Sc student in Food Microbiology and Biotechnology.

  11. This is exciting and I want to be part of it. Please, I want to know about the success of interspecific hybridization in Vigna.

  12. This is a wonderful piece. It is quite educative even for nonspecialists like me.

  13. Am very happy seeing this kind of write-up. i am an undergraduate student of biological science and my project is on the contribution of biotechnology to Nigeria’s development. Kudos to IITA.

  14. this is a very great piece and it couldn’t have come at a better time than now that Nigeria is in its tranformation state after subsidy removal. My prayer is that the Nigerian government would give science and technology a chance to thrive for once.

  15. Dear Friends,

    Dr.George Thottapilly (DSc)- known as the Africa’s father of biotechnology, since the early 90s!- Passed away 23rd April 2012 morning. Funeral ceremony of Dr. George Thottapilly at St. Mary´s Rosary Church, Karoor, Kerala , India on 27th April 2012 AN (IST)

    We all know he meant a lot for Biotechnology Sector.May his memory be eternal.I want to Share my heartfelt CONDOLENCES with you. Let his soul rest in PEACE in the feet of ALMIGHTY

  16. This great kindly put me in your mailing list for updates and invitations for seminars/workshops/training

  17. Nice write up. Thank God biotechnology is becoming alive in Nigeria. By his grace we shall get there soon. I have a in Biotechnology, please put me in your mailing list for updates and invitations for seminars, workshop and training.

    Ebere. O.

  18. I’m a student of biotech in ebsu and writting a seminar on food challenges in nigeria;biotechnological rescue. Please I need guideline and links to journals or other materials. You can email me with links or write-ups; or

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