After the commercialization of the BT cotton and the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea, Nigeria is expecting some Genetically Modified crops that would enhance the nutritional need in the country.
Some of the crops were also developed to address post harvest waste, thereby elongating the shelf life of the crops and many more.
Some were developed to fight malnutrition among children, especially Vitamin A, iron and Zinc.
The Country Coordinator, Open Forun on Agriculture Biotechnology, Dr Rose Gidado gave insight to some of the GM crops being expected in Nigeria in years to come.
During an interview with Agro News Updates, Dr Gidado said:
“We have so many crops in view but they would all come one after the other because it is a very holistic process coming out developing and coming out with safe and wholesome GM crop is not easy thing, you have to take it one after another.
“So we have GM cassava which is developed by International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, and it is for shelf life elongation for the tuber.
“You know cassava has this problem of perishability, once you harvest, if you don’t process within the next few days it becomes useless, and that is a big challenge to the farmers.
“So that is why scientists usually the look at crops and see which problem is more debilitating and they work against that. And the first thing to do to remedy the situation in cassava is to lengthen the shelf life so that the farmers can harvest and it will stay one month, they can dispose it at their own time, so that is why IITA went in for that and it is gene edited.
“Now it is still undergoing Confined Field Trials and I don’t know the trials would be completed, but it is doing well, I think in the next few years it can be approved for commercialization, so that is what we are waiting for. Because it is gene edited, I don’t think it needs to go through those hurdles other crops go through.
“Once we have a cassava with longer shelf life, I think we are good to go, the business will bloom better.
“We also have the Nitrogen Efficient Water Efficient, Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice which is also being worked upon by the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, we are in the second year of trial and it is still going on, the efficacy of the gene has been established. It has three traits, the water use, which means drought tolerant, and the Nitrogen Use Efficiency which means less use of fertiliser and the salt tolerant, I think salt has a big problem of saline soil, I think it reduces its productivity, but this one has been developed in such way that even if the soil of saline, it maximizes the uptake, it helps it take there required amount from the soil that it needs, even if the soil is highly saline, the rice will not be affected. That will be a great advantage to the farmer.
“In terms of the Nitrogen Use efficiency, it also reduces the use of fertiliser, so that the little fertiliser that is applied, it makes good use of it.
“The water Efficient is of course drought tolerant, you know rice most of the time is a rain fed crop, we have to cultivate it in a marshy area where is is water logging. But this one is being developed to able to withstand drought conditions, so you can do upland farming with it, so that is only the pipeline, it is still expected that one day it will come out with a safe and wholesome commercial rice which I know will help Nigeria because rice is our staple food, a lot of people like it, it is a ceremonial grain.
“We have the African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) which is developed to have more nutrient, enhanced level of Vitamin A Iron and Zinc to help curb malnutrition in children between the ages of 1 and 4, so this grain can be used as a weaning food and it is very good.
“Also, not just iron and Zinc elevation, but also protein digestibility is being looked at in the ABS, it is an African led project by Africa Hatvest Biotechnology Foundation International, based in Kenya, this project is being developed in Nigeria and Kenya, it was 3 countries but I think Burkina Faso is a little out of it, but Kenya and Nigeria are keeping peace in the project, we ran out of fund but then there is a refocus on it again by donors, I think by middle of this year we should have funding for this ABS because it very helpful and useful project.
“Protein digestibility has been identified as one of the problems with Sorghum, when you cook Sorghum and you eat, it does not get digested on time, even though farmers like that, it keeps you long all the day, it releases its energy in bits, it is not like maize or rice that releases its energy quickly, it is actually good for diabetics because the protein is indigestible even when you cook it.
“So, the project has been developed such that the protein digestibility will be there, you can eat it and digest it fast, the indigestibility I think it is due to some anti-nutritional factors.
“So, all these problems is going to be taken care by the Africa Biofortified Sorghum.
“Another thing coming on is the Virca Plus virus resistant cassava, not just virus resistant, the cassava would also have enhanced nutrition, that is Vitamin A, iron zinc would be added to it in addition to the resistance of the mosaic disease.
“We have the cassava brown streak disease and we have the mosaic virus disease which I know is very prevalent in West Africa, but the brown streak is only in East Africa, so the project is actually for East Africa and West Africa, it is just coming into West Africa and Nigeria, but it have developed and worked on in East Africa, and the efficacy of the gene has been tested and it is fine.
“The Confined Field Trial has started at National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike and the trials will run for some years and I think at the end we are going to have a virus resistant cassava with higher nutrition.
“It will help to curb malnutrition, and it will help eliminate the mosaic disease virus, so it is for nutrition and it is for disease resistance and it will really raise the quality of cassava.
“We have also the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) which developed for drought tolerance. The Confined Field Trials haven’t started yet, approval has been given by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to do Confined Field Trial in this project, and usually it run for 4 to 5 years after which the regulation starts”.
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