Monday, November 21, 2016

Use GMO for electricity and gas not food

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 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 was to realize that as a matter of fact, that the matter of the Sun collaborating with the green leaves of plants was not as simple as I could ever imagine. But I accepted that indeed without the sun making a significant input, it would be impossible to have breakfast.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, discussing with market meat sellers
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.
An uprooted tree to make way for 'development' at the FCT, Nigeria
Now, because there is something in the superstructure of the plant which has been altered, scientists and the world at large are not very certain whether or not 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 GMO, 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.

Fries maybe from GMOs
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 read here is 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.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku having a discussion with a market seller
Photos by Author
We will not be focusing 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?
A typical market scene in Nigeria - photos by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku ANEEJ

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, communications manager, ANEEJ, Benin city.