A seasoned Professor of Medical Biochemistry, Joseph Olagunju, has enumerated the importance of Biosciences in achieving economic development, reiterating the need for Bioscientists in Nigeria to collaborate with similar sectors with biological-knowledge based production systems, to boost the nation’s economy. Professor Olagunju, who is also the Dean, Postgraduate School, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State, disclosed this while delivering his keynote address at the maiden Annual Conference of College of Biosciences of the University, with the theme: “Harnessing Biosciences for Economic Development.”
The Don said that Biosciences and Biotechnology were major drivers of economic growth, frowning against government’s lack of proper consultation before policy formulation and implementation. According to him, the improper deployment of available experts and expertise account for major reasons why Biosciences application was still at infancy in Nigeria. Professor Olagunju stated that economic development was a multivariate concept, which was on one hand, a gamut of processes where low income economies were transformed into modern industrial economies, and on the other hand, implied improvements in material welfare, most especially, for persons with lowest incomes, eradication of mass poverty in correlation with illiteracy, diseases and early death.
He highlighted social factors, as an important process of economic development, describing development as the ability to meet the basic needs that were essential for improvement in the quality of life, self-esteem to eliminate dominance feelings and freedom from want, ignorance and squalour. He noted some techniques of Biosciences that could be deployed to achieve meaningful economic development in the country, stressing that in this age and time, when economies were increasingly based on knowledge, technology and information, Biosciences and Biotechnology remained major drivers of economic growth. He added that Biosciences and Biotechnology were capable of delivering technical solutions to health, agricultural, social and environmental problems.
“Biosciences in its diversity converge as a group of industries with a common link – apply knowledge to develop solutions that sustain, restore and improve quality of life for humans, plants and animals in our world”, as Professor Olagunju further noted some areas of impact of Biosciences in economic development, to include, agriculture and food security; production of renewable energy; the environment as well as health and manufacturing, adding that Biosciences could ensure increased efficiency and sustainability of crops and animal production. He said that Biosciences could also enhance yield and quality of agriculture produce, combat pests, diseases and weeds, as well as aid the production of vaccines to enhance animal health.
Commenting further on the importance of Biosciences, the Don said it offered novel solutions through the use of biological processes derivable from plants, bacteria, algae and fungi, as sources of renewable energy, by converting lignocelluloses and non-lignocelluloses material to high-density fuels and replacement to petrochemicals. According to him, “Biosciences contribute immensely to economic development. An example is the United States of America, in which the Bioscience industries employed about 1.62 million personnel across more than 73,000 individual business establishments, thus adding 110,000 new jobs between 2001 and 2012”.
Professor Olagunju was miffed that, between 2005 and 2015, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 6.3 per cent, but as recession sets in 2016, the GDP contracted by 0.36 per cent in the first quarter of the year and later to 2.1 per cent in the second quarter and 2.2 per cent in the third quarter, saying that inflation doubled up from 9.5 per cent in December 2015 to 18.5 per cent in November 2016. According to him, “Falling oil prices widened Nigeria budget deficit from N1.2 trillion in 2013 to N1.4 trillion in 2015 and N2.2 trillion in 2016 with a lot of credit rating down gradation”. He bemoaned that oil and gas continued to remain the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 10 per cent of the GDP, 94 per cent of export earnings and 62 per cent of government earnings at all levels between 2011 and 2015 while Nigeria’s foreign exchange had declined from USD32 billion (from USD 52 billion in 2008) in January 2015 to USD 25 billion in November 2016.
He said that the social implications of the economic meltdown and improper exploration of other branches of science in general and biosciences in particular, was responsible for why 61 per cent of Nigerians lived on less than USD1 per day, human development indicators on health and education became bleak, primary school enrolment dropped at 54 per cent with 10 million children of school age drop out of school and 17.6 million Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed. He said though the Federal Government, in its earliest action, prioritised tackling of corruption, improving security and rebuilding of the economy through a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP), adding that more still needed to be done in diversifying the economy and promotion of “made in Nigeria” goods and import substitution. He, therefore, declared that economic development, which fosters innovation and entrepreneurship was the long-term solution to current concerns over the long-term decline in productivity that had militated against economic development in Nigeria, charging Bioscientists, who he described as the needed economic agents to collaborate with industries, to create value through research by moving the nation forward.
Corroborating Professor Abayomi, Professor Al-Hasan Mohammed Gani, the Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State, said Bioscience resources and findings were capable of transforming the country. He admonished delegates at the conference to use their knowledge of Biosciences to change the Nigerian economy for the better and impacting lives positively. Professor Gani was represented at the occasion by the Dean, College of Biosciences (COLBIOS) of FUNAAB, Professor David Agboola. Earlier, the acting Vice-chancellor, Professor Ololade Enikuomehin, said that the conference provided a unique platform for research and Bioscience experts to share information and network. Represented by the Chairperson, Committee of Deans and Directors (CODAD) and Dean, College of Agricultural Management and Rural Development (COLAMRUD) of the University, Professor Bolanle Akeredolu-Ale, the Acting Vice Chancellor urged the delegates to use the opportunity to shape research and control policies involved in Biosciences, as well as build research capacity.