Nigeria makes history with GMO cowpea rollout

By Nkechi Isaac

June 30, 2021

History was made today as Nigeria officially released genetically modified (GM) cowpea, which offers protection from the pod borer pest.

It’s the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted in Africa outside of South Africa. The pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea — popularly known as beans in Nigeria — is resistant to the insect pest Maruca vitrata, which is responsible for up to 80 percent yield losses.

PBR cowpea, which was first released in Nigeria in December 2019 as the SAMPEA 20-T variety, is the product of an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that included scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Dr.  Denis Kyetere, the outgoing executive director of AATF,  described the launch in Kano as a landmark event that would help Nigeria to achieve food security and also increase farmers’ incomes.

In his speech on the occasion, he said the development of PBR cowpea was a long journey that started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology.

“The national cowpea production will increase by 20 to 100 percent as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials. It is estimated that 20 percent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings,” Kyetere stated.

He explained that an increased supply of cowpea would reduce malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women as many people depend on it as rich source of protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as iron, adding the development would translate to healthy life and increased productivity among the people.

In his speech on the occasion, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Sabo Nanono said the Federal Government had since the beginning of the Buhari administration been working assiduously to address farming constraints in the country to improve living standard of farmers and enhance their contribution to government’s efforts to boost food security.

He described the launch of the genetically modified beans as liberation for the nation’s farmers, who he said had been faced with the incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca vitrata.

“I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, in on-farm demonstration trials in 28 sites across Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Plateau, results of the demonstration trials clearly indicate the agronomic superiority of the new variety resulting in high demand for seed,” Nanono said.

The government, according to the minister, is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to provide farmers with the latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, paid tribute to the nation’s scientists for the great work done, saying the feat had registered the country on the world map.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing a soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, and pest challenges as well as climate change,” Onu said.

Nigeria, he said, could only solve its food problems, which have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-old farming methods, by thinking outside the box.

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State also commended the efforts of Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with support from NABDA for their selfless service that resulted in development and release of PBR Cowpea.

“In Africa generally, yields have been on perpetual decline, while in other climes, farmers are among the richest,” he said. “But here, farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to [pay] for their children’s school fees.”

Saying the feat should spur the nation to take advantage of the emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside, he added: “Today, Nigeria is recognized as the first country in the world to release a cowpea variety that is resistant to Maruca, the destructive insect that had been a nightmare to farmers on the African continent.”

The director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, noted:“Biotechnology, as we have seen in other countries, is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery and increase yields. This is why the Federal Government of Nigeria established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in 2001 to promote, coordinate and set research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.”

Image: Shutterstock/CKP1001

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