Nigeria has achieved what looks like a major milestone in the history of agricultural research and development with the official launch and release for commercialisation of the transgenic Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea at an event held on June 29, 2021 in Kano, North-West Nigeria.
PBR Cowpea (beans), a genetically-modified cowpea, 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.
Released as SAMPEA 20-T variety in Nigeria in December 2019, the PBR Cowpea is the first transgenic food crop in Africa outside of South Africa. SAMPEA 20-T is resistant to the insect pest, Maruca Vitrata, the insect that is responsible for up to 80 per cent Cowpea yield losses.
AATF’s Executive Director, Dr. Denis Kyetere, described the development as a landmark event that will help Nigeria achieve food security and increase farmers income.
In his remarks during the launch of the new variety of the crop in Kano, Dr. Kyetere said the development of PBR Cowpea has been a long journey which started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology.
Dr Kyetere stated that PBR Cowpea would greatly benefit farmers and consumers in Nigeria.
‘’The national cowpea production will increase by 20-100% as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials,’ he said, adding that the massive import of Cowpea will be reduced. ‘It is estimated that 20% of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR Cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings,” he said.
Dr Kyetere noted that people who depend on cowpea’s rich protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as iron will have an abundant supply with PBR Cowpea.
“An increased supply of cowpea will help reduce malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women. When people are healthy, they will be productive,” Dr. Kyetere said.
Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, described the launch of the PBR cowpea as liberation for Nigerian farmers, who have been faced with incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca Vitrata.
In his remarks, the Minister said: “I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, 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.”
He said the Federal Government of Nigeria has, 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 efforts to boost food security.
The Minister further noted that the Government of Nigeria is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to avail to farmers latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.
Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, congratulated Nigeria’s scientists, saying the commercialisation of PBR Cowpea would solve some of Nigeria’s problems in a manner that has registered the country on the world map.
He said Nigeria could only solve its food problems that have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-long method by thinking outside the box.
“Agricultural Biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing 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.
Speaking at the same event, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), highlighted the advantages of agricultural biotechnology in agriculture as a tool to enhance productivity, reduce drudgery, and increase yields.
Prof. Mustapha said, “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.”
Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, was full of praises for the 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.
The Governor said, “In Africa generally, yields have been on perpetual decline, while in other climes, farmers are among the richest but here farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to carter for their children’s school fees.”
On a brighter note the Governor is optimistic that Nigeria could make the best of the emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside.
“Today, Nigeria is recognised 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, AATF has said Nigeria could only make the best of the new technologies in agriculture if extension services are strengthened in addition to good supply of certified seeds and foundation seeds.