The Federal Government of Nigeria has approved the commercial release of transgenic insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize varieties, known as TELA maize.
The approval was granted by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breeds/Fisheries (NCNRRCVLF), headed by Prof Olusoji Olufajo at its 33rd meeting at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Ibadan on January 11, 2024.
The four varieties approved by the NVRC are SAMMAZ 72T, SAMMAZ 73T, SAMMAZ 74T, and SAMMAZ 75T.
The new maize varieties are drought tolerant and are resistant to stem-borer and fall armyworms, resulting in a yield advantage of up to 10 tons per hectare under good agronomic practices. The national average for similar hybrids is six tons per hectare.
‘Very proud of our scientists’
Stem borers reduce maize production in several countries in Africa. At the same time, fall armyworms can destroy up to 20 million metric tons of maize in Africa each year, enough to feed 100 million people.
Development of the improved varieties was led by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Samaru, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, through the TELA Maize Public-Private Partnership coordinated by AATF. The TELA Maize Project is being implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Prof Ado Yusuf, Executive Director of IAR, expressed satisfaction with releasing the four new maize varieties, saying, “IAR is very proud of our scientists who are addressing the maize productivity challenges in the country and beyond. These varieties have undergone thorough research and developed using biotechnology tools over several years of continuous testing and revalidation.”
Dr Canisius Kanangire, AATF’s Executive Director, said: “The release of TELA Maize in Nigeria will contribute to food and nutrition security in line with the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation agenda. AATF reaffirms unwavering commitment to addressing challenges farmers face across the continent.”
Reduce the use of pesticides
Professor Garba Sharubutu, the Executive Secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), said the approval of the TELA Maize variety in Nigeria is a critical milestone that confirms the potential of biotechnology in ensuring food and nutrition security and improved livelihood of farming households in Africa.
Prof Mustapha Abdullahi, Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), celebrated the release, saying that, with the advent of TELA Maize, farmers will reduce the use of pesticides on maize to the bare minimum, which is beneficial to humans, livestock, and the environment.
Dr Sylvester Oikeh, the TELA Maize Project Manager, celebrated Nigeria’s decision by calling other African countries to act for farmers. “I am encouraged by this decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria that reflects their commitment to the needs of farmers. I congratulate the scientists for their hard work and dedication that has seen the product getting closer to farmers. I look forward to other countries making similar decisions for the farmers’ good,” Dr Oikeh said.
The other partners in the TELA Maize project are national agricultural research institutes in Kenya, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and South Africa; the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Bayer, with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Alex Abutu is a science journalist at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), leading communication and advocacy strategies in West and Central Africa.