Nigeria’s Oguntunde: “Science holds the solution to our food security”

By Nkechi Isaac

April 16, 2018

Despite the uncertainty caused by the influx of Shiite sect members into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nigerians trooped out in numbers to join more than 1 million people in over 600 locations across the world marching in support of science.

Enthusiastic scientists, farmers, civil society groups, lawyers and journalists took to the streets in Abuja to stand up for science and sensitize Nigerians on the importance of science and its role in the overall socio-economic development of the nation.

The science enthusiasts spoke with one voice and delivered a unified message: science is a game-changer that can jump-start rapid development and revolutionize all sectors of the economy. They emphasized its potential to improve health, through the development of vaccines; the environment, by tackling climate change; and agriculture, by adopting and applying scientific tools such as biotechnology that can enhance food security.

The Nigeria March for Science 2018, themed “Science and technology: An agent for economic development,” was organized by the Ministry of Science and Technology; the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA); the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter; and the Cornell Alliance for Science (AfS).

In welcoming participants, Abayomi Oguntunde, the overseeing director-general of NABDA, said the rally sought to create awareness among the populace on the many ways science serves our communities and our world, as well as to encourage the public to value science, treasure science, respect science, invest in science, and appreciate and engage with science.

“The life of every one of us is highly dependent on scientific inventions, innovations and modern-day technologies,” Oguntunde said. “Science has changed the lives of people largely, and has been deployed in every aspect of modernization and in sectors like agriculture, medicine, environment, education, industry, electricity, aviation, information, etc. for both developing and developed nations. Modern science in Nigeria is awakened by the continuous and hard efforts of the outstanding scientists and researchers who attempt scientific advances of highest international caliber.

“Just like other scientists across the world, Nigerian scientists have developed various scientific tools, which the public has not been made fully aware of, that can help in the areas of food security and combating climate change. This march for science therefore has provided yet another opportunity for science supporters to come together and join voices to amplify available science-based solutions the nation can adopt to ensure food security.”

According to Oguntunde: “At the current population of over 180 million people and projected population of 400 million people by 2050, Nigeria is faced with the risk of decreased farming population due to age; decreased arable land; poverty; malnutrition, and hunger because the conventional methods of agriculture can no longer meet up with our demand. Science holds the solution to our food security.”

Oguntunde, represented by the agency’s chief scientific officer, Osino Christian, restated that science is revolutionary and holds the key to addressing climate change, food shortages and challenges in medicine.

Farmers, marching under the aegis of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), said they had given their staunch support and active participation to the march because the work of scientists in the lab has the potential to change the fortune of farmers.

“Scientists cannot do their work without the farmers,” said Chief Daniel Okafor, AFAN’s vice president. “Farmers must be involved because they are direct beneficiaries of biotechnology. For instance, when you go to countries like Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Argentina, farmers are in the forefront of agricultural biotechnology. Biotechnology has the potential to lift farmers.”

He also urged government to fund science so scientists and researchers could come up with more research breakthroughs that can positively affect the populace, and invariably the entire nation.

Earlier in the event, Dr. Rose Gidado, country coordinator of the OFAB Nigeria chapter, said one goal of the march was humanizing science, since science is first a human process. She said that Nigerians viewed science as abstract and did not know there are scientists in Nigeria. Citizens need to support scientists by speaking up for them and amplifying their voices, and scientists need to partner with the public by engaging the communities in the research process.

She said the objectives of the march were to build capacity, gain publicity, and demonstrate strength and solidarity in science to decision-makers; re-emphasize the role of science in national development; create open and honest science communications and inclusive public outreach; and affirm science as a democratic value, describing it as a vital feature of a working democracy.

Gidado emphasized that the sensitization effort would not end with the march, pointing out that the agency would continually engage the public year-round on the enormous potentials available in science.

In his message, Nigeria’s Science Ambassador and Nollywood superstar Paul Obazele said science is not fiction and likened it to what is done in the movie world, pointing out that it follows established processes to a logical conclusion. He stressed the need for enhanced public awareness of science and its potentials, adding that most Nigerians are ignorant about science and the amazing potential it holds for revolutionizing the nation.