The Varietal Release Committee on 12 December this year, approved the commercial release of Genetically Modified (GM) cowpea (beans), also know as Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR Cowpea) making it the first genetically modified food crop in Nigeria.
Recall that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), last year approved the environmental release of the Bt cowpea.
However, scientists and stakeholders have said the Bt cowpea would increase yield per hectare, reduce cost purchasing chemical to control pest, and safeguard the environment from the harm of excessive use of chemicals.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian beans have been banned from entering the European Union Market due to excessive use of chemical to control pest while the crop is on the field.
Cowpea is vital for a lot of reasons but in Africa, it is a crop that forms the bulk of food eaten in each household on a daily basis.
With just 1 cup or 171 grams of beans containing 13.22g of protein, it’s a very good source of vegetable protein and can serve as meat to people who cannot afford animal protein.
Cowpea farmers in Nigeria are almost discouraged from cultivating due to the level of damage caused by a pest, Pod Borer (Maruca Vitrata), which damages over 70 per cent of beans pod in the field.
The cost of cultivating beans in Nigeria increased because the farmer would need to spray chemical on the farm up to 8 times in order to control the ravaging effect of Maruca.
The Bt Cowpea has the potential to resist this Maruca from destroying the plants. Bt Cowpea makes it possible for farmers to plant and harvest quality yield twice in a year with reduced chemical spraying in the farm which makes it less expensive to plant than the conventional cowpea variety.
According to the Principal Investigator of the PBR Cowpea, Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, the new Cowpea requires just about 2 to 3 spray of chemicals for a planting season to control the pest.
“Instead of spraying the cowpea up to 8 times, this new material has the potential to do a maximum of 3 sprays, it can do very well compared to the one that can do with 8 sprays of insecticide.
“We are targeting towards reducing insecticide spraying in this new variety when it is released from around 8 to a maximum of 3 sprays, that’s going to be a tremendous reduction in the application of insecticide in the growth of cowpea.
“Cowpea that are not improved requires about 8 sprays of insecticide, hopefully we plan to reduce the amount of insecticide so that farmers can save money from that, not only that, this new variety of cowpea has the potential to produce between 100 to 150 per cent more yield increase at the end if the day.
“For every one hectare a farmer sprays, he needs to spend at least N5400 for buying insecticide along, not to talk of paying those who will spray the farm, water and others, but with this new variety, the farmer can spend about N1000 or N2000 per hectare, the reduction of about N3400 will make huge difference for the production”, Professor Ishiyaku noted.
Also, the Bt Cowpea was also developed to increase yield per hectare so that the over 500,000 tons of cowpea imported to satisfy local demand is is closed up.
The Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr Rose Gidado in an interview with Nigerian Tribune, said that Nigeria is losing huge sum of money annually importing cowpea due to low productivity of the crop.
“Of course Nigeria is losing money because the low productivity means we won’t have enough to feed ourselves, Nigeria is the largest producer of Cowpea in West Africa, our domestic use for cowpea is high but what we produce is not enough, I think the deficit we run is 500,000 metric tons and it is being made up by importation, so we spend a lot of money to import in order to have enough for our teeming population”, she said.
Professor Ishiyaku said minimum of N16 billion is expected to be saved from adopting this new technology, and Nigeria is expected to get as much as N48 billion if this technology is adopted.
“For this variety, the quick arithmetic we made is we are going to save annually a minimum of N16.2 billion from the adoption of this new variety if it is released, and in terms of yield increase, Nigeria can get as much as N48 billion as a result of planting this new variety.
“The figures came from 20 per cent yield increase over the normal cowpea, and by growing 1 million hectare, and a hectare will yield N120,000 per ton, and if calculated, it will get to N48 billion”, he explained.
Now, if PBR Cowpea can resist the attacks from Maruca Vitrata, it means the use of pesticides on the farm will be drastically reduced, which implies that the environment will be protected from pollution, then the farmers will save the money that would have been used to purchase chemicals, and Cowpea yield will be increased, therby translating to economic boom and food sufficiency.
Furthermore, the Acting Director General the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Professor Alex Akpa said “Cowpea (beans) is a major food crop in this country and it is the protein source of the common man, so it is very useful product, and before this invention, it has been very difficult for farmer to grow beans, but with this new technology, we now have beans that is resistant to Maruca which is a major insect that destroys over 80 per cent of this crop”.
Professor Akpa speaking on the commercial release of Bt Cowpea, said “it is certainly a great and memorable day for Nigeria, Africa and in fact the World as we all march towards food sufficiency and food security for Nigeria and all of mankind. Bt Cowpea is certainly a major addition”.
“So this will lead to saving of billions of Naira not only for our farmers, but also for our country, and in addition, it is going to lead to the reduction in the use pesticides which does not only destroy the environment, but also harmful to those who apply them. So it is very useful development, that’s what we have been looking for”.
However, the Director General of NBMA, Dr Rufus Ebegba has said despite granting the environmental release of the Bt cowpea, it would also continue to conduct assessment of the application of this technology to ensure that the proper things were done.
“Our business is to ensure safety, and we are prepared, we have started the process, let the members of the public know what is coming, what are the measures that are being put in place, the science of the developing it is already being analyzed by the scientist himself, so let those who have the knowledge also get themselves involved.
“As for the Agency, we are well prepared to analyze the product to ensure that it is safe, if it is not safe, we will not approve it, if it is safe, we have no reason not to approve it”, Dr Ebegba said.
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