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Field trials shows Tela maize resists pests, yields more

Nigeria’s quest to introduce maize varieties resistant to insect pests such as Stem Borer and Fall Army Worm (FAW) and drought recorded a very promising result at the confined field trials (CFT) currently being conducted at the research farms of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, Zaria.

The trial carried out in a partnership between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and the IAR is under the TELA Maize Project that is being implemented in seven countries in Africa. Nigeria became a member of the project in 2019 and the project was launched in the country in 2020.

IAR having acquired a permit from the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to conduct the confined field trials, used a double stacked maize hybrids, fortified with Bt gene (MON89034) for insect pest (maize stemborer and fall armyworm) protection and drought resistance gene (DroughtGard®, MON87460) in the trials which have proven to be quite promising. Once the trials are completed and approved, the project will avail the improved seed to maize farmers in the country that are high yielding and climate resilient to withstand drought conditions, and produce good yield for farmers in drought-prone areas of Nigeria.

Preliminary findings indicated that under stem borer and fall armyworm infestation, the TELA genetically modified (GM) maize varieties gave over two tons yield advantage relative to the best varieties currently being grown by farmers.

These promising preliminary findings from the first phase of the trials have shown that maize farmers in the country stand to benefit immensely when the maize is commercialized as the varieties will save farmers production cost up to hundreds of Million of naira from pesticides spray to the control stem borer and the fall armyworm.  

Nigeria suffers great devastation from FAW, in the 2017/2018 planting season, over USD 268 million was lost from 7.8 million hectares of farmland damaged by the pest in just four states of Abia, Ekiti, Ondo, and Oyo as reported in November 2018 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a big threat to maize production and food security in Nigeria.

To effectively control the pest, farmers must spray at least three different types of expensive pesticides for a minimum of three times in each season. Experience showed that it requires at least 46,000 naira to spray one acre (0.405 ha) of farm each season to give good protection against the FAW. Unfortunately, not many farmers can afford this; and in most cases, they end up abandoning their farms to the pest.

The devastating and ravaging effect of the FAW can destroy several hectares of maize farms across the country resulting in poor or no yield at all. The AATF/IAR partnership is intended to reverse the trend of heavy economic investment with little returns for farmers, by developing hybrid maize varieties that will increase both their production and profit margin and are locally adapted to farmers growing conditions.

The confined field trials are being repeated for the second season to confirm the performance in compliance with the biosafety regulations. It is projected that when approval is given by the NBMA from 2021, the varieties will be evaluated in multilocation with farmers to participate in the selection of the best preferred TELA maize varieties to grow.

The principal investigator (PI) and head of the project at the IAR, Prof. Rabiu Adamu, notes with delight that “TELA Maize Project has brought new and sustainable innovation to the management of the biotic and abiotic constraints to the production and productivity of Maize. Nigerian Maize farmers should expect in the next two years, high yielding, stem borer, fall armyworm and drought-resistant maize hybrids in the Nigerian markets”.

Prof. Adamu further stressed that the projects conventional Drought TEGO Maize hybrids gave a comparative higher grain yield than most of the local hybrids ranging from 5.7 to 9 tons per hectare while the local hybrids and the open pollinated varieties (OPV) in the market, gave a yield of 4 to 7 tons per hectare.”

With the advent of fall armyworm infestation of maize in Nigeria in 2015, the quantum of pesticides required to produce maize has doubled. Consequently, the production cost went up to one hundred and fifty million naira, which the new TELA hybrid maize will help to save for Maize farmers in Nigeria.


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