Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea variety which is safe for human and animals. Photo courtesy.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has launched the first genetically modified food crop in the country know as Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR), a variety that resists the insect pest and will help farmers up the crop production to bridge 500,000 metric tonnes demand deficit in the country.
The launch which took place early this year after nearly a decade of research by the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) scientists confirmed the environmental release of GM cowpea affirming the crop’s safety.
It also paved the way for commercializing the new cowpea variety and making the seeds available to farmers following the decision by the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to permit the crop’s production by farmers.
IAR in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in 2009 started the research to address the deadly Muraca Vitrata attacks on beans after a series of efforts to use conventional breeding methods failed to produce results.
The introduction will address the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and also improve the country’s productivity average of 350kg per hectares.
Dr. Abdourhamane Issoufou, country director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), said Nigerian scientists worked with institutions in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Malawi to develop the Bt cowpea. Scientists in Ghana have completed field trials on PBR cowpea and will soon seek commercialization of the crop.
“Today, Nigeria stands tall in the comity of nations for effectively managing and bringing to fruition this dream,” said Issoufou.
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Saidu Madagwa, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), which coordinates agricultural research in Nigeria, said the council was proud to present Nigerians with the first home-grown genetically modified food crop. He said it has passed all necessary scientific and safety tests.
Prof. Ishiyaku Mohammad, principal investigator in IAR’s cowpea project, explained that the GM cowpea is no different than conventional varieties and the only distinguishing factor is its resistance to Maruca infestation.
“The legume, which tastes just the same as its conventional counterpart, does not have any killer gene and farmers can replant the seeds if they wish,” said Mohammad.
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According to Issoufou the research project was made possible due to sustained funding from the USAID and lab support from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia.
“The research results have shown that the PBR-cowpea is safe for human and animals, completely resistant to Maruca, leads to yield increase by 20 per cent with fewer sprays of chemical insecticides,” he said.