A group comprising scientists and journalists, the Alliance for Science, has taken up a campaign to promote genetically modified (GM) cowpea and ensure that the product sees the light of the day in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has slated June 2019 as the time limit to decide whether to allow the introduction of the supposedly insect-resistant cowpea (beans) into the nation’s food chain. Anti-GMO activists are, however, challenging the development.
But the largely pro-GMO Alliance for Science, determined to ensure that government accepts and releases the modified beans species in the country, has drafted a petition for which it is seeking signatories for its backing.
If approved, the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea will become the nation’s first genetically modified food crop. It is expected to increase yields and reduce the use of pesticides in cowpea production.
Cowpea is an indigenous food crop and cost-effective primary protein source for Nigeria’s urban and rural poor. It is also said to be beneficial to agriculture because of its nitrogen fixing properties and use in livestock feed.
In the petition, the Alliance appears to make a case for the adoption of the food crop, saying that, among other merits, it reduces the use of pesticides on beans during the growth and development period.
The petition reads in part: “Last year, the death of hundreds of Nigerians was traced to the over spraying of chemicals on our local beans because of the number of pests which attacked the beans on the field and in storage. Beans (Cowpea) from Nigeria cannot be exported for health concerns. The modified beans do not require the overdose of chemicals responsible for killing innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians.
“Lucky for us Nigerians, scientists saw this epidemic ahead of time and started working on a solution at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In 2018, after nine years of research, they announced the Bt. Cowpea; a genetically modified local bean variety, which cannot be attacked by pests and drastically, reduces the use of pesticides on beans during the growth and development period.”
Besides getting the Nigerian government to accept and release the food crop for consumption, signing the petition, says the Alliance, will:
- Prevent more Nigerians from dying from the consumption of chemicals
- Promote home-grown innovative technology so that Nigeria does not become a dumping ground for unregulated GMOs
- Get farming to be a profitable profession for beans farmers and help them reduce the input costs
- Encourage Nigerian scientists to continue to develop innovative ideas and technologies that will make Nigeria a food secure country and a leading economy in Africa and the Globe.
But chairman of the Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), Prof. Dr Philip Njemanze, argues that the planned release of GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) could result in unprecedented health damage for millions of Nigerians.
According to him, genetically-modified beans (Bt Cowpea) contains the gene called Cry1Ab Bt, developed by Monsanto, and that the effects of the same gene (Cry1AbBt) that was inserted into Monsanto MON810 maize showed that it resulted in massive toxicity of human liver cells, caused massive allergic reactions, damage to blood cells, kidney, spleen and adrenal glands.
His words: “These health hazards were the reasons behind the discontinuation of the use of this Cry1Ab Bt gene in Maize but has now been inserted into the Nigerian GMO beans (Bt Cowpea). Nigerians would be the first guinea pigs in the world for testing the biological effects of GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) since it has until now never been commercialised anywhere in the world.”