Nigerian Institute Unveils Strategy To Prevent Adulteration of GM Maize

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Says no farmer will be compelled to cultivate new variety of Maize 

The Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State in Nigeria has unveiled highlights of how it intends to prevent the adulteration of seeds of TELA Maize, the Genetically Modified Maize variety that was recently granted approval for open cultivation in Nigeria.

Executive Director of the institute, Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku revealed on Monday that scientists from the institute have designed a perfect way of storing seeds of the new variety in a way that does not compromise their integrity that could lead to resistance from the pest.

Speaking during a Press Conference in Abuja on Monday, Prof.  Ishiyaku said the team of researchers at IAR who developed TELA Maize has taken some steps further by incorporating integrity monitoring and quality assurance into the stewardship scheme designed to midwife the introduction of the new variety of the crop to farmers in Nigeria.

“In addition to the statutory certification process for seeds companies by the National Agricultural Seeds Council, we (IAR) have also designed our own additional certification, which we are taking a notch higher to ensure that the integrity of the seeds of our products is safeguarded,” Ishiyaku said.

He also said that they would be relying heavily on the traceability technology instituted by the Seeds Council to monitor the usage and handling of TELA Maize seeds across the country and beyond.

Meanwhile, the IAR Executive Director has lamented attempts by groups opposed to GMOs to dissuade Nigerian farmers from adopting the recently approved maize variety.

He said, “The choice of technologies to use rests with the farmers. However, based on the mandate given to us by government, it is our obligation to develop those technology options with potential high economic and food security benefits to farmers and our country.”

According to him, “scientific procedures and products can only be evaluated by science”, adding that most of those opposed to GM and Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria are not scientists, hence are not qualified to give the kind of sweeping judgment they often give about the products.

While speaking on the benefits of the newly released TELA Maize variety in Nigeria, Prof Ishiyaku said, “The newly released TELA Maize variety in Nigeria will expand farmers’ options to either grow GM TELA varieties or conventional Drought TEGO varieties or their local open-pollinated varieties just like farmers in other part of the world.”

Prof Ishiyaku said that TELA maize varieties are genetically modified to tolerate mild drought and to self-protect against certain insect pests especially stem borer and fall armyworm (FAW).

“Adopting those technologies is a responsibility left to farmers who are smart and know what is good for them once they see it,” he said.

Prof Ishiyaku disclosed that the TELA Bt maize has been under cultivation in South Africa by smallholder farmers since 2016, saying, “Farmers are already benefiting from the varieties in protecting against the target pests, especially Fall Army Worm. It is safe and hence Nigerian farmers should also benefit,” Prof Ishiyaku said.

He said that with the recent approval given by the National Biosafety Management Agency, TELA maize varieties will be evaluated by farmers across the maize growing regions in the country for them to select varieties that they prefer for cultivation.

According to him, Farmers in the country who spend up to 50,000 naira or more per acre to buy chemicals and spray against these target pests will get some relief and appreciate the TELA technology more in terms of higher yield and the savings from the purchase of chemicals for spraying their crop.

Prof. Ishiyaku, IAR Executive Director

“It is estimated that two hundred and sixty-eight billion naira (N 268, 000,000,000.0) is spent annually in the purchase of chemical insecticides used to spray maize in Nigeria. This is a direct benefit from savings in that regard. The second major benefit is prevention of crop failure to the effect of drought which is becoming frequent these recent years,” he added.

Stating that Fall Army Worm poses significant risk to 12.5 million hectares of maize farms in Nigeria, he said, “What could be a better technological intervention that is safe for the environment, human health, and the local economy, to curb these major threats to maize production in Nigeria than the opportunity presented by TELA Maize varieties?.”

Prof Ishiyaku further indicated that the TELA maize varieties when adopted by just 10% of Nigerian farmers will give additional cost benefit of 58 billion naira annually to the country because of the yield advantage of 19% compared with conventional maize varieties currently grown by farmers.

Also speaking, Prof. Garuba Sharubutu, Executive Secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) said that all agricultural research in the country is tailored towards achieving the federal government policies and programme on food security and sufficiency.

Prof. Sharabutu said Nigerians have no reasons to fear any product from any of the government funded research institute as all necessary measures are taken to ensure they followed approved regulations guiding such research.

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