Officially releases PBR Cowpea for commercialisation
By Onche Odeh
Nigeria on Tuesday made Agricultural research and development history, especially in the field of biotechnology with the ceremonial release for commercialization of the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea.
Released as SAMPEA 20-T variety in Nigeria in December 2019, the PBR Cowpea is the first food crop genetically modified in Africa outside of South Africa that is resistant to Maruca vitrata, the insect that is responsible for up to 80 per cent cowpea yield losses.
PBR Cowpea (beans), which is not different in nutritional value and taste from the previous version of the crop, is the product of the knowledge and expertise of local scientists drawn from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with support from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the government of Nigeria through the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and other international agencies.
AATF’s outgoing Executive Director, Dr. Denis Kyetere in his remarks at the event held in Kano, North western Nigeria, excitedly said, “This is a big moment what we have been waiting for. The day that Pod Borer Resistant cowpea will be available for cowpea growers.”
Dr. Kyetere said the development and release of PBR Cowpea in Nigeria is a landmark in the history of Agricultural research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa that would have tremendous positive impacts in Nigeria.
“First of all, this will increase the national cowpea production. With the new cowpea 20-100% yield increase is not uncommon. All farmers who have been exposed to Sampea20-T are asking for the seed. Secondly, the massive import of cowpea will be cut down. It is estimated that 20% of the consumed in Nigeria is imported. Billions of naira will be saved,” he said.
The AATF Executive Director also disclosed that the new cowpea can have a positive impact on the nutrition and health of Nigerians.
“Agricultural Biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, and pest challenges as well as climate change”
-Dr Ogonnaya Onu, Nigeria’s Minister of science & Tech
“Cowpea is a nutritious food legume crop. In Nigeria, most of the low- income people depend on it for nitrogen intake. It is called Nama talakawa or meat of the poor. Cowpea is also very rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron. An abundant supply of cowpea will help alleviate malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women in age of procreation. When people are healthy, they will be productive,” Dr. Kyetere said.
Speaking further on the benefits of the new cowpea variety, Dr. Kyetere said, “With sampea20-T the use of chemical insecticide will be drastically reduced, the cost of producing cowpea will in turn decrease. With this new variety growers need to spray only twice, instead 6-8 times. Exposure to pesticides will be reduced and the environment will become safer.”
“AATF is about finding and providing appropriate technology for smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production, increased food security, improved nutrition and alleviating poverty,” he said.
While giving the history behind the Dr. Kyetere disclosed that the development of PBR Cowpea started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology, the Bt-transgene, Cry1Ab.
“At the beginning of the project there was no biosafety laws in Nigeria or Ghana. So the first field trials were conducted in Puerto Rico. The policy environment in Nigeria was polluted by the anti-biotechnology propaganda that has no scientific basis. NABDA took this challenge; and with the help of OFAB and PBS it was possible to unite the stakeholders and successfully advocate for biosafety legislation in Nigeria. This created necessary condition for uptake Biotech crops in Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono describes the launch of the PBR cowpea as liberation for Nigerian farmers, who have been faced with the incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca Vitrata.
In his remarks, the minister, represented by the Executive Secretary, Agriculture Research Council of Nigeria, Professor Garuba Sharubutu, said, “I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, on-farm demonstration trials of SAMPEA 20-T were conducted in 28 sites across Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Plateau. The results of the demonstration trials clearly indicate the agronomic superiority of the new variety.”
According to Nanono, the high yield performance of variety Sampea 20-T is what has resulted in the high demand for seeds by farmers.
He said the government of Nigeria is currently repositioning the agricultural extension services to avail farmers latest information on varieties and the best options available to improve agricultural productivity.
“Biotechnology is gradually becoming an integral part of agricultural improvement with potent tools to increase productivity, control diseases, insects and pest as well as addressing issues of soil infertility,” Nanono said.
Sampea 20-T (Bt. Cowpea/beans) has been researched upon and developed in the past nine years to resist the damaging insect larva-maruca vitrata commonly called–butterfly. The Bacillus thuringensis (Bt.) genes was successfully incorporated into Nigerian varieties of Beans that the farmers preferred to protect it against maruca in order to reduce the use of pesticide.
Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) while speaking on the advantages of biotechnology in agriculture said it is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery, and increase yields.
Speaking during unveiling of Sampea-20t, Prof. Mustapha said, “Biotechnology, as we have seen in other countries is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery, and increase yields.”
He said NABDA is open to work with government at all levels and institutions across Nigeria to ensure the full deployment, adoption and commercialization of biotechnology products in a very safe and healthy way for the interest of the nation and especially the farmers.
Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, who was represented at the event by Prof. Mustapha, said the commercialization of PBR Cowpea would solve some of Nigeria’s problems in a manner that has registered the country on the world map.
He said Nigeria could only solve its food problems that have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-long method by thinking outside the box.
“Agricultural Biotechnology is one of the interesting mixes capable of providing soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, insect and pest challenges as well as climate change,” Onu said.
Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was full of praises for the Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with supports from NABDA for their selfless service that have resulted in the Bt Cowpea,
He said the launch of the PBR Cowpea is a demonstration of how farmers and scientists, supported by good policy environment, could solve agricultural problems to achieve food and nutritional security.
“In Africa generally, yields have been on perpetual decline, while in other clime, farmers are among the richest but here farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to carter for their children’s school fees,” the Governor who was represented by Alhaji Usman Alhaji, the Secretray to the State’s Government said.
The Kano State governor said he is optimistic that Nigeria could make the best of emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside.
Gombe State Governor, Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya, who was also full of praises for institutions and scientists behind the PBR Cowpea success, said, “I want to use this opportunity to challenge more of our scientists that Maize, which is also one of our staples is also facing challenges in the field with devastation by the Fall Army Worm, so also groundnut and sorghum and other vital crops all having impediments. I am imploring you all to work harder and continue to find solutions to mitigate these challenges for more bumper harvest and higher productivity for a food secured Nigeria.”
SAMPEA 20-T can produce higher yield than the conventional varieties, with reduced use of pesticides by farmers from eight times per cropping season to only two.
“What this means is increased yield for Nigerian farmers that will contribute to addressing the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes to improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare. Most importantly, better healthy lives for farmers because of reduced use of pesticides,” AATF’s Dr. Kyetere said.
Meanwhile AATF has said it is also supporting scientists to develop herbicide-coated seeds that kill the devastating striga weed which affects maize. These maize seed varieties known as StrigAway have been shown to boost yields by up to 300 percent and increase incomes by $400 per season.