Cablegate: Nigeria and Biotechnology Public Diplomacy

Published: Tue 24 Feb 2004 01:33 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
241333Z Feb 04
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary. The U.S. Mission in Nigeria would like to
propose several projects to expand biotechnology awareness
and acceptance in Nigeria; all are consistent with the
Mission's biotechnology collaborative efforts with the
National Agency for Biotechnology Development and Assistance
(NABDA) and broader USG objectives in the sector of economic
development. We propose three workshops for legislators,
government officials, and journalists in Nigeria and a press
tour in the United States for Nigerian journalists. Total
financing requested is $110,000. End Summary.
Biotechnology and Nigeria
2. The U.S. Mission's proposal for biotechnology aims at
dispelling the false impressions many Nigerians have
regarding biotechnology and the safety of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) by helping a broad cross-section
of government officials, members of parliament, and the
media better understand the benefits of biotechnology.
Nigerians have learned about GMOs primarily as a result of
the U.S.-European debate over GMOs and packaging
requirements. The issues of GMO safety for human
consumption as well as their possible threat to local
environmental diversity are issues that have received
treatment in the Nigerian press, and ones that could easily
retard acceptance of GMOs by Nigerian farmers. Nigerian
journalists who have participated in mission programs on
biotechnology as well as officials of the Nigerian Agency
for Biotechnology Development and Assistance (NABDA) have
suggested that anti-Western elements may latch onto
biotechnology and unnecessarily raise people's fears.
Nigerian audiences, based on their comparatively lower
educational levels than in the U.S., are less conversant in
scientific matters in general, let alone biotechnology. The
Internet is very popular in Nigeria, but Internet material
is often used to misinform - as much as inform - public
debate. Nigerian officials and other supporters of
biotechnology require training and further information in
order to explain biotechnology to the Nigerian public as
well as promote acceptance.
3. Nigeria is poised to take advantage of the potential of
biotechnology to improve agricultural productivity because
it has a supportive national biotechnology policy, a
biosafety framework, and the scientific capacity to conduct
and apply biotechnology research. There exist already
strong linkages with a number of U.S.-based institutions.
USAID/Nigeria is assisting Nigeria in developing its
biotechnology capacity through technical training to members
of the National Biosafety Committee, establishing
collaborative research projects with Ahmadu Bello
University, National Root Crops Research Institute and other
key Nigerian research institutes, and providing balanced
information on biotechnology to policy makers, the public
and other key stakeholders. The research goal of the Nigeria
project is to develop insect-resistant cowpea, which would
eliminate the need for farmers to apply pesticides, and
increase the yield of this staple food crop by 5-10 times.
The project is scheduled to debut in April 2004, but already
anti-GMO groups have been speaking out in Nigeria.
U.S. Mission Proposal
4. Biotechnology research in Nigeria is coordinated through
the NABDA, and USAID's program receives oversight and
support from a steering/advisory committee chaired by NABDA
and comprised of members of research and academic
institutions, relevant ministries, and the U.S. Mission. On
February 19, the steering committee met to discuss public
awareness and education issues, and the urgent need to lay
the groundwork for the introduction of the biotech form of
cowpea. One of the first steps, however, is to train
relevant segments of the Nigerian government who will be
called upon to present biotechnology and explain its
benefits to the public. To this end, three workshops are
-- A series of workshops/seminars for elected officials at
the Federal and State levels; i.e., National Assembly
members as well as State Assembly members, plus members of
the key ministries involved in biotechnology. We envision
about two weeks of programming (two- or three-day programs)
to cover approximately 200 people. Trainers from the U.S.
might include a biotechnology resource person (academic
researcher), a staff member of a U.S. state assembly who
could explain how constituents' concerns are handled in the
U.S. where biotechnology is concerned, and a public policy
specialist who can advise on strategies to assist Nigerian
elected officials in the public policy debate over
biotechnology in Nigeria. Estimated cost: $35,000
-- A series of workshops to enhance the capability of
ministry, NABDA, NAFDAC (Nigerian equivalent of the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration) university, and other keys
spokespersons to deal with the press and NGOs on the subject
of biotechnology. We envision approximately ten days
programming (four-day sessions) to include approximately 40
people. Trainers might include a public affairs member of
the FDA, a representative from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, and a media specialist who can provide the
journalists' perspective. A key element of the workshop
will be for participants to give mock press conferences and
be critiqued for their presentations and ability to respond
to questions. Estimated cost: $25,000
-- A third workshop will focus on journalists and training
for the media. Nigeria has an incredibly large and diverse
pool of journalists covering television, radio and print.
We would like to do four workshops outside Abuja and Lagos
to provide training to many of the state and regional media
personnel who will be handling biotechnology reporting as it
is introduced to farmers in the rural areas. We envision
two to three weeks of programming (two- to three-day
programs) to cover roughly 80 people. A trainer could be a
journalism professor or another expert conversant in
biotechnology issues. Estimated cost: $10,000
-- A tour for six Nigerian media participants to visit the
United States for a thorough introduction to biotechnology.
A tour might include stops in Washington, D.C., St. Louis,
MO (Monsanto and the Danforth Institute), Cornell or
Tuskegee University, etc. Estimated cost: $40,000
5. Nigeria can benefit greatly from biotechnology.
Formerly a net food exporter within the West African region,
Nigeria now imports food, including basic staples such as
rice. Lack of investment in the agricultural sector by
successive governments has left Nigeria with a still
rudimentary system of subsistence agriculture, with most
farmers unable to afford fertilizer and improved seeds. The
Nigerian government anticipates that biotechnology may help
to jumpstart Nigeria's neglected agricultural sector to not
only feed Nigeria but also become once again the bread
basket of West Africa by enhancing food security in the
region. However, Nigeria's farmers as well as the general
public will need to be educated on the benefits of
biotechnology, and the Nigerian government requires
assistance in taking the lead. Nigeria threw off decades of
military rule in 1999, but vestiges of authoritarian
practices are still evident throughout the political system.
Nigerian officials, many of whom served under military
leaders, are not used to engaging the public and defending
policy choices. The proposed workshops will go far to
ensuring they can adequately defend the inevitable charges
that this is a dangerous USG initiative forced upon the
Nigerian public. Nigerian journalists also require training
so they will have a basic grounding in the facts regarding
biotechnology and will not easily be misled by the vast
amount of negative material that is available on the
Internet. The U.S. Mission appreciates EB consideration of
its proposal at a very critical time for biotechnology
efforts in Nigeria.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media