In my days in secondary school, one of my best subjects was integrated science. That subject had Biology, Physics, and Chemistry all fused in one even though we didn’t know it then. I developed an unusual interest on one topic then – Photosynthesis – not just because of the name but also because of the story behind the definition of Photosynthesis.
We were told that plants ‘manufactured’ their food with the help of the sun. To tell you the truth, I did not understand what that strange story meant, but the idea that everything we ate as food came with the help of the sun made the interest in Photosynthesis all the more interesting. But as I grew up, I came to realize that as a matter of fact, the matter of the Sun collaborating with the green leaves of plants was not as simple as I could ever have imagined. But I accepted that indeed without the sun making a significant input, it would be impossible to have breakfast.
Over the years, this has been what has been taught in schools. But certain scientists have tested that precept, and have gone ahead to prove that human beings can actually contest the power of the Sun, and influence how we ‘manufacture’ our food. Using a technique known as biosynthesis, and which radically departs from the photosynthetic hypothesis, scientists can actually perform surgical operation on a seed like maize or yam or sorghum.
I have seen them do it. What they do is this: they open up a seed which naturally has a bad gene and which cannot produce much. Then they open up the cells of another living organism, like a fly or a maggot or even a rat and replace the unproductive gene or cell of the plant with the most productive gene of the housefly, maggot, or rat. As soon as they are done, the plant is introduced to the soil. The result is what we often refer to as genetically modified organisms, GMOs.
Now, because there is something in the superstructure of the plant that has been altered, scientists and the world at large are not very certain whether or not the consumption of these GMOs may have side effects. Well, yes, there’s been a back and forth on that topic but that’s not our focus right now. What I am interested in is what those scientists have done with the GMOs.
Instead of out rightly consuming those GMOs, they use about 95% of it for gas and for electricity. How? Local authorities in places like Germany have built special silos with a network of underground pipes crisscrossing their community. They mix these grains, rice, millet, sorghum with cow, goat and pig dung and the effervescence of gas which takes place during the chemical reaction from that mishmash is what passes through those pipes to homes, offices and industries.
In the past 8months in Benin City, I have relied exclusively on power generators for my energy needs. Businesses along the airport road have nearly all shut down, and most of us cannot sleep in our homes for the heat and the mosquitoes. What you are reading here is a very expensive piece of writing: I go the hog to get very expensive but dirty fuel to fill my power generating set. But the tragedy in all of this is not in the expensive and dirty fuel we are using to power our generators.
The tragedy is contained in two documents: one a report by Public Eye – Dirty Diesel: How Swiss Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuels and another credited to the World Economic Forum which stated that four of the 20 cities in the world – Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna and Umuahia – with the worst air quality are in Nigeria. World Bank Reports indicate that an estimated 5.5 million lives were lost in 2013 to diseases associated with outdoor and household air pollution, causing human suffering and reducing economic development.
We will not focus on the fact that certain Swiss companies – Trafigura, Vitol, Glencore, Addax & Oryx and Mercuria – deliberately produce fuel of a ‘sulphur level of up to 27 times the European standard for gasoline and close to 400 times the European standard for diesel’. We will however focus on two things: one, on getting the people in the Netherlands who allow such poisonous fuels to be produced in their country to be sold for a profit in the West African Sub-region to stop.
Our governments in the sub-region have to do something as well, and that is why we hope that the regional meetings being slated by African governments on issues of our environment will at least insist on acceptable fuel quality standards for diesel and gasoline entering the region.
The second issue we should be focusing on is the need to channel our energies on developing our GMO technology to produce GMO rice and other cereals like maize, sorghum, and millet for power. I am not very interested in the food right now. And this is because we currently spend about $2.4billion importing rice and other allied foodstuff, some of which we are not so sure aren’t genetically modified and probably unsafe for human consumption. What then can be wrong with using biosynthesis for power and using that to mitigate climate change?
In a related development, the National Biotechnology Development Agency has said that genetically modified beans would be available in commercial quantity across Nigerian markets on or before 2019. The NABDA Director General, Prof Lucy Ogbadu, who said this on Wednesday November 23, in Abuja at the November edition of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), revealed that Nigeria would soon witness abundant beans as the GM cowpeas (or beans) would be released into the market in large quantities in two or three years’ time.
She said the cowpea, which is currently undergoing field trials, is safe and wouldn’t pose any health risk to Nigerians. “Rules are being followed in its production. Our Ethical Committee is working day and night to ensure that no rule is breached. Nigerians should be rest assured that the GM beans and other crops which will be available later in the country would be safe for consumption. In 2-3 years’ time, cowpea should be ready in commercial quantity in the country”, Prof Ogbadu said.
She dismissed “the insinuation” that GM foods are unhealthy; saying that over 100 Nobel Laureates had signed a petition to guarantee its safety.