April 22, 2024

Oronsaye report: Merging NABDA with NACGRAB portends danger for Nigeria’s Biosafety, HOMEF tells FG


Nathan Tamarapreye, Yenagoa

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on Wednesday urged the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to review plans to merge the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB).

HOMEF’s reaction is contained in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Dr Nnimmo Bassey.

The Civil Society Group highlighted concerns about conflicting roles of the agencies as justification for its position.

The Orosanye report recommended that the two be merged as National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency (NBRDA).

It will be recalled that  FEC, to enhance efficiency in public service and reduce the cost of governance, decided to implement the recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye panel on the restructuring and rationalisation of Federal agencies, parastatals and commissions.

The implementation involves merging, subsuming and scrapping agencies with similar functions.

HOMEF, an ecological think tank, applauded the government’s effort at restructuring and rationalisation of federal agencies and others which will address the long standing issues of regulatory overlaps and foster implementation and accountability.

However, the group noted that the functions of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology do not overlap.

It explained that NABDA was established under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in 2001 to implement the policy that is aimed at conducting research, promotion, coordination and development of biotechnology for Nigeria.

While NACGRAB was established in 1987 by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology with a mandate to collect and conserve valuable genetic resources for food and agriculture and ensure that they are used sustainably with a genebank located in Ibadan,  South-West Nigeria.

Furthermore, data at the NACGRAB’s website states: “The Centre, backed by Decree 33 of 1987 regulates the seed, livestock and fisheries industries through its Varietal Release Committees.”

Bassey highlighted that the NACGRAB has a robust and distinctive role to regulate the seed, livestock and fisheries industries.

According to him, the proposed merger will create a conflict of mandates with NABDA.

HOMEF said that also, the NACGRAB coordinates the activities of the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breed and Fisheries.

“How then would the proposed NBRDA for example, ensure the development of new varieties of crops through genetic manipulation (part of NABDA’s  role) and approve the same for commercial release (as NACGRAB)?,” Bassey asked.

He insisted that NABDA is one agency that should be scrapped.

Bassey further stated that in the implementation of the Federal Executive Council decisions of Monday 26 February, there is need for a critical review of the current mandate of all agencies, parastatals and commissions to be merged.

The review, according to him, is to ensure adequate institutional support, including budgetary allocations and concrete implementation plans.

“Where a merger is required, it is important for the operational details of the new agencies to be clarified and made public”, he added.

Joyce Brown, HOMEF’s Director of Programmes noted that although both agencies have a research mandate, the focus of research is different.

Brown recommended that instead of a merger with NABDA, NACGRAB should collaborate with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) with a similar regulatory role in this case to “regulate modern biotechnology activities and the release into the environment, handling, and use of genetically modified organisms which are products of modern biotechnology to prevent adverse impact on the environment and human health.

“Better still, the NBMA can become a unit under the NACGRAB which will ensure institutional support and oversight for the NBMA to address the current lax biosafety regulatory system. However, within the NACGRAB, there needs to be a clarification of mandate – It is ironical that a center that prides itself in its commitment to the conservation of the rich Genetic Resources of the nation is the same in charge of approving the release of genetically modified varieties which threaten this very mandate”, she added.

HOMEF’s statement quoted, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje,

Food Sovereignty Activist and Deputy Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, as supporting the call by HOMEF.

According to Bassey-Orovwuje, the proposed merger is rife with conflict and sets the stage for NABDA to swallow up whatever little traces or semblance of regulation of its activities that remains.

She noted that already,  NABDA  ‘the regulated’ acts more or less like ‘the regulator’ and exerts its influence.  If this merger pulls through, we can as well say goodbye to any form of GM regulation in Nigeria, which will be a recipe for disaster.

Bassey-Orovwuje, however,  calls for the government at this time to consider setting up a policy on agroecology which is proven to address food insecurity, strengthen our local economy, and ensure climate change adaptation.

HOMEF noted that in addition to reducing governance cost, a critical review of the mandates of these food related agencies and establishing linkages as well as clearly defined operational details will go a long way in ensuring biosafety, biodiversity conservation and food sovereignty for our nation.

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