FG approves release of pod borer-resistant cowpea

The Federal Government has approved for environmental release, the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea, popularly known as beans, developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

The approval was given in a decision document issued by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) granting permit the environmental release of the PBR Cowpea which has been genetically modified to resist the insect pest – Maruca Vitrata.

The development means the crop is safe and poses no harm to human and the environment and can now be submitted to the National Variety Release Committee for consideration and registration as a commercial crop in Nigeria.

Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar, the Executive Director IAR, in a presentation on Monday in Abuja, summarised the process that led to the development of the PBR cowpea.

Abubakar said that the decision to venture into genetic modification in cowpea breeding was due to pest infestation that had over the years made cowpea farming difficult as farmers were getting less for their efforts and even exposing their lives to danger because of chemical spraying to keep the pest away.

“Cowpea is the most important food grain legume in Nigeria. The low yield of the crop in Nigeria is due to many constraints particularly pod boring insects which cause up to 90 per cent yield loss in severe infestation cases.”

“The PBR Cowpea, by this development becomes the first genetically modified food crop to be approved in the country.’’

Dr Yarama Ndipaya, the Director, Plant Resources, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) said that after 10 years of extensive research, government had deemed it fit to introduce the crop variety into the nation’s agricultural seed system having met all regulatory stipulations and scientific procedures.

“The introduction will address the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare.

“After many years of research, the council is proud to present to Nigerians the first home-grown genetically modified food crop, which has passed all necessary scientific tests and posed no danger to human health or the environment.

“As the coordinating agency for the over 15 agricultural research institutes in Nigeria, we have identified modern biotechnology as one scientific tool whose potential can help improve crop and animal production.

“And we have done this with all sense of responsibility, bearing in mind both national and international protocols that guide the deployment of genetic modification.’’

IAR in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) started the research to address the deadly Maruca Vitrata attacks on beans in 2009 after series of efforts to use conventional breeding methods failed to produce results.

Dr Abdourhamane Issoufou, the AATF Country Director said since the mid 1980s, cowpea scientists had declared maruca as the main limiting factor of cowpea production in Africa hence the intervention of the foundation based on its principles of providing access to appropriate technologies by small scale farmers.

“AATF was able to obtain access to the Cry1Ab gene used for this modification on humanitarian basis and worked with institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Malawi for the transformation.

“Today, Nigeria stands tall in the comity of nations for effectively managing and bringing to fruition this dream.

“The research results have shown that the PBR-cowpea is safe for human and animals, completely resistant to Maruca; leads to yield increase of 20 per cent with fewer sprays of chemical insecticides,” he said.

Prof. Alex Akpa, the Acting Director-General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that by the approval, Nigeria has registered its name among the global scientific community as a country capable of finding solutions to the country’s challenges.

“After 10 years of laboratory works and on-field trials, Nigerian scientists have developed its first genetically modified food crop, the PBR Cowpea, we are proud to be associated with this noble development,” Akpa said.

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