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Friday, February 3, 2023

Stakeholders endorse use of GM technology to enhance cowpea production

Farmers, advocates, scientists, as well as other key actors in the agriculture sector have expressed their support for the adoption of Genetically Modified (GM) technology to solve the problem affecting cowpea production in Nigeria.

GM technology
Multi-sectoral stakeholders during an assessment tour of the Replenish Farms Limited in Abuja

The stakeholders, who showed this support during an inspection tour to a GM farm in Abuja, were impressed with the way the technology was being used to curb pests and address other ecological challenges that hamper farmers from cultivating the crop.

Coordinator of the Alliance for Science Nigeria and organiser of the event, Opuah Abeikwen, described the exercise as an eye opener to the participants who saw the improved variety firsthand, compared it with its conventional counterpart, and draw conclusions on the most suitable for farmers.

“We have been talking about GM crops for some time now and many people don’t know what it looks like,” he said.

To bridge this knowledge divide, Abeikwen disclosed that the Alliance for Science (AFS) in partnership with the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria chapter, embarked on the tour to show stakeholders, particularly farmers how science was being deployed to tackle the global food crisis.

Chief Executive Officer, of Replenish Farms Limited, and owner of the GM farm that was visited, Patience Koku, decried that her biggest problem as a cowpea farmer is how to cope with a destructive worm called Maruca vitrata.

The farmer complained bitterly about the destructive nature of the insert and said most times it would suck all the pods and leave farmers with low or near zero harvests, which is responsible for the uncontrollable hike in the prices of beans in the market.

“So, what this variety (GM) of cowpea does for us is that it has enabled us to overcome this challenge,” she said.

Recounting her experience on other benefits of the modified seed, Koku observed that she only sprayed her farm two times throughout the entire life cycle of the planting season.

This, according to her, is something the conventional breed couldn’t achieve as she had to spray pesticides at least 10 times on her farm to fight this unpleasant worm for her to get any reasonable harvest.

The other benefits she listed reside in its potential to increase farmers’ income because of the additional value of the pods and leaves, which many of them sell as animal feeds to generate extra money.

“With this (GM) variety, the pods dry out and the leaves are still green which is good for farmers,” Koku noted, which signifies that they can now make money from not only the seeds but also the residue.

The Replenish Farms boss expressed satisfaction when she said, “We are excited that the variety is readily available in the market for farmers to buy,” which means that the general prices of beans would begin to drop within the next couple of years.

Also, commenting on the event, the Vice President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Daniel Okafor, lauded the feedback his organisation received from those who cultivated the modified seed.

Okafor, who was represented by his special assistant, Chris Onwuka, said their reports revealed that, if properly planted and all the agronomic practices followed, GM cowpea gives great yields, at least double the size of their conventional equivalent.

Therefore, the AFAM helmsman encouraged farmers across the country to urgently adopt this improved variety because of its socio-economic, as well as health and environmental gains.

“We are tired of having low harvests and being infected by diseases from the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides,” he lamented.

His anger is anchored on the fact that most of these poor activities were ignorantly being carried out without the proper knowledge of the victims, which he described as “very bad”.

By Etta Michael Bisong, Abuja

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