NIGERIA – The Federal Government of Nigeria has given the green light for the commercial release of genetically modified maize varieties designed to withstand drought and fend off pests.

The four newly approved varieties, SAMMAZ 72T, SAMMAZ 73T, SAMMAZ 74T, and SAMMAZ 75T, collectively known as TELA maize, promise a revolutionary leap in agricultural productivity.

The decision, made by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breeds/Fisheries (NCNRRCVLF), marks a significant milestone in biotechnology-driven agriculture.

Chaired by Prof Olusoji Olufajo, the Committee granted approval at its 33rd meeting held at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) in Ibadan.

These maize varieties, developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Samaru, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, have been engineered to be drought-tolerant while simultaneously resisting stem-borer and fall armyworm infestations.

The result? A potential yield advantage of up to 10 tons per hectare under optimal agronomic practices, significantly surpassing the national average for similar hybrids, which stands at six tons per hectare.

Stem-borers and fall armyworms have long been a scourge for maize farmers in Africa, severely impacting production. Stem borers alone have been responsible for a considerable reduction in maize yields across the continent.

Meanwhile, fall armyworms annually devour millions of metric tons of maize, enough to feed a 100 million people.

The approval follows the green light given by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in October 2021 after the successful environmental release of the TELA maize varieties.

The project, coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), is part of the TELA Maize Public-Private Partnership and is being implemented not only in Nigeria but also in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Last year, AATF Rwanda also kicked off the project in the country.

Prof Ado Yusuf, the Executive Director of IAR, expressed his satisfaction with the release, acknowledging the tireless efforts of scientists who have worked rigorously over several years using biotechnology tools to address maize productivity challenges.

Dr Canisius Kanangire, AATF’s Executive Director, emphasized that the release of TELA maize in Nigeria aligns with the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation agenda, contributing to food and nutrition security.

Professor Garba Sharubutu, the Executive Secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), hailed the approval as a critical milestone, affirming the potential of biotechnology to enhance food and nutrition security in Africa.

The approval is expected to result in a significant reduction in pesticide use on maize, benefiting humans, livestock, and the environment, according to Prof Mustapha Abdullahi, Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

Dr Sylvester Oikeh, the TELA Maize Project Manager, celebrated Nigeria’s decision and urged other African countries to follow suit, recognizing the immense benefits for farmers.

The TELA maize project builds on progress made from a decade of excellent breeding work under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project.  WEMA’s purpose was to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties for farmers to produce more reliable harvests under moderate drought conditions and protect maize from insects.

It involves collaboration with national agricultural research institutes, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Bayer, and has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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