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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Optimising biotech with ‘pure water’ science


Looking inwards is part of the efforts of making scientific discoveries. REMMY NWEKE canvasses that there could be a better way of harnessing the Benue ‘pure water’ using scientific methods than outright ban on the product.


“Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security,” (A White House memorandum on scientific integrity, March 9, 2009).


Recently, the Benue State House of Assembly reportedly passed a bill on prohibition of locally made gin, otherwise called Ogogoro, but what many Nigerians including some of those in the corridors of power unaware of is that this product is a bio technology produce, which has since been christened ‘pure water’ due to its easy access, which could actually be optimized.

A definition by experts at whatis.techtarget.com, showed that biotechnology is the use of biological processes, organisms, or systems to manufacture products intended to improve the quality of human life. Before now, biotechnologists were basically farmers who developed improved species of plants and animals by cross breeding.

Nowadays, biotechnology has expanded in sophistication, scope and application.

However, the experts explained that the science of biotechnology could be simplified through sub-disciplines known as red, white, green and blue. For the Red biotechnology, which involves medical processes such as getting organisms to produce new drugs, or using stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues and perhaps re-grow entire organs. While the White often referred to as ‘gray’ biotechnology entails industrial processes such as the production of new chemicals or the development of new fuels for vehicles, which the local ‘pure water’ could be said to be part of.

In addition, experts at www.whatis.techtarget.com said that Green biotechnology pertains to agriculture and involves such processes as the development of pest-resistant grains or the accelerated evolution of disease-resistant animals. Just as Blue biotechnology is talked about seldomly, through it comprises processes in marine and aquatic environments, such as controlling the proliferation of noxious water-borne organisms.

Definitely, biotechnology, like other growing technologies, has the budding for abuse. Therefore, it could be said that it was the concern against the abuse that led to legislations such as the one by Benue State House of Assembly, few months ago.

Hence, it was not out of place to found the news that producers and consumers of the local gin ‘Ogogoro’ in Benue State, alternatively took to some criminal inventiveness to dodge the law banning the sale and consumption of this produce, thereby shunning arrest and prosecution by law enforcement organizations.

ITRealms Online, gathered that the law banning possession, sale and consumption of the product was signed into existence on July 17, 2009. This law also empowers the Police, the Nigeria Civil Defense Corps, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), vigilante and traditional rulers to make certain enforcement and compliance with the law within their areas of jurisdiction.

Also recently, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reported that aside from ‘code naming’ the product ‘pure water’ and in some cases ‘sapele water,’ enthusiasts of this brand of local gin went on to put it together in form of sachet water, to make it easy for distribution without any hindrance on the streets and communities reputed for its consumption and as matter of fact easier for its consumers.

As such, a consumer was quoted as saying, “Now that the product is being packaged and dispensed as sachet water, we can readily say that there is a relative sense of relief, particularly from constant harassment by law enforcement agencies.”

But in his reaction, Commander, NDLEA Zone 12, Makurdi, capital of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Azige, informed that officials of the agency and other sister organisations have to join forces to make certain the compliance in the State.

For Azige, the public has been sensitized on the essence of avoiding production, sale and consumption of the alleged illicit gin, stressing that the basic challenge here is that his agency is handicapped by the lack of logistics to effectively enforce the law.

Though it sounds disheartening to note that over 7 million Nigerians suffer from sickle cell anemia, which paved the way for the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) by the Federal Government, to facilitate a change among other things.

However, for the Egyptian’s Agriculture Minister, Amin Ahmed Abaza in a recent chat with Daily Champion, while on official visit to the country, said the 21st century is the African’s century and it is largely believed that what is going to change the continent is a revolution in agriculture.

It is, therefore crucial for this government under the current leadership of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, alongside the Governor’s Forum, to take a closer look at the nation’s science and technology policies with particular interest in biotechnology development bearing in mind the assertion of the Egyptian Minister Abaza and United States’ Memorandum of 2009 if Nigeria is to transform her biotechnology dreams into realities, with regard to optimizing the Benue’s experience and mass production of ‘pure water’ for scientific gains.

This is because it is not enough to ban the production of this local brand and invention which has been there since time immemorial, and even existed beyond Benue State, rather, what one expects the government at all levels to do is to tap into the ingenuity of these citizens by transforming the mechanism and methodologies of manufacturing these products, may be, in a better reformed manner to not only become a revenue earner, but expand the knowledge base of such individuals that could be involved in this exercise.

This is considerate, particularly taking note of the fact that no raw material existed without supposedly ‘dangerous’ experiment.

so, it is understandable that NAFDAC and other related agencies were concerned and have expressed same in trying to live up to their expectations, but we must realise that if for instance the substance could be adequately manufactured, it could become an alternative energy supply for a given community and the bigger the required quantity is made available or produced depending on the availability of other collaborating chemicals, the better.

In other words, those involved in this act, when well harnessed could become employers of labour, thereby reducing the number of unemployed Nigerians, especially the youth.

Like the saying goes, a stitch in time, saves nine, therefore, the earlier we start looking inwards, the better we handled the darkness of today for tomorrow’s brightness, before then, maybe we should start with the updating of the biotechnology page at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology’s website, http://www.fmst.gov.ng/biotechnology_policy.php. After-all, charity begins at home.

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