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How COVID-19 slowed the planting of PBR cowpea

The Regional Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane speaks on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the release of the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea variety.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected plans for the roll out of the PBR cowpea?
COVID-19 has impact on our plans, but I think we can catch up with time. The only way farmers won’t have accees to our PBR cowpea seeds is if farmers cannot farm this coming season, but of farmers are going to farm and plant cowpea, then we can still work with farmers during the rainy season, because we have enough seeds to go on farm demonstration trials with our farmers. But for the commercial aspect it is delayed because we couldn’t use the last 3 months so it delayed us a little bit but not much, we can still meet with the deadline to get the seeds to farmers.
What plans do you have to mitigate some of the challenges encountered as a result of COVID-19?
We didn’t stop working, but we couldn’t do some activities like meeting with people coming from all parts of the country, but we were able to change how we meet, instead of travelling, we use electronic way of meeting, but there are certain activities that could not be carried out because as you know, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria closed, so it means all field activities in the school stopped, also some of the laboratory work, it is better to save the scientists instead of endangering their lives. But the impact is very minimal in our case.
We were told that Nigeria will gain N48bn annually from PBR cowpea, but some Nigerians are still in doubt?
We have the data, we didn’t fabricate these data, the data came from farmers managed trials during the National Variety Performance Trials, many farmers have been able to test on their own and compared it to other varieties.
We have two series of trials, one is on-station across Nigeria and across different local governments which has been selected by the essential people. So farmers are the one who manage their own trial.
When you look the trials, the yield difference between the PBR cowpea and the other varieties of cowpea was about 70 per cent. The PBR cowpea yielded about 70 per cent higher, then when you look at the farmers managed trials, the yield of PBR cowpea is about 154 per cent superior compared to the yield of the other cowpea varieties.
So, the figure you gave is a calculation made by our colleagues from ABU, Zaria. But Nigeria has 3 million hectares of cowpea planted, so even if you have 20 per cent yield increase in this 3 million hectares, that’s the amount of money it can give you, and it is even underestimated on our side of what PBR cowpea can produce in a year.
So, we have the data, and this is the same data that has been presented to the National Variety Release Committee, so it is not the research team that collected the data, it is data collected by farmers and extension workers, and we firmly believe that the N48 billion is underestimated.
Recently, you had an MoU with the National Agriculture Extension and Research Liaison Service (NAERLS), can we have the details?
Public education is very important as you know. I think if scientists take time to think about what they are doing, the can explain everything to the public, the public are not ignorant, it maybe that we are the one ignorant to know how to explain things to them, and it is good for the public to know about PBR cowpea, so we choose the NAERLS based in Zaria, we like to collaborate with them because of their very good network to reach thousands of people at the same time, especially farmers and extension workers.
And as long as the extension workers are in the dark, you don’t have agricultural development, extension is very important for agricultural development, it is not only research.
Agricultural development, science and technology in agriculture have 2 legs, research and extension. So the NAERLS can reach all the extension workers in Nigeria and also millions of farmers, so it is very good to have collaboration with them.
What is the situation of the NEWEST rice project?
The project is progressing very well, we have finished the first year of data. If you want to get the variety approved by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), you have to provide scientific data that shows that the product is safe, so the first year of data has been collected, and we are in the second year of data collection. In agriculture, two cropping seasons are never alike, with what you see in one season, you can’t base your conclusion on it, you need at least two cropping seasons to be sure that your conclusions are valid, so we are in the second and last year of data collection, so hopefully next year we hope that the crop will be approved by NBMA.
On seed multiplication for PBR cowpea, have you selected the local seed companies that will participate?
We have made some selections, we have idea I’d the seed companies, we couldn’t finish the selection process because of the COVID-19, so we couldn’t invite some of them, and we couldn’t visit some of them, and we are planning a meeting with the seed companies, but definitely we want to see the seed companies benefit from the PBR cowpea to produce the certified commercial seeds from farmers and some to produce foundation seeds. Seed companies will be one of the biggest winners for PBR cowpea project.

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