NIGERIA – Nigeria has officially launched and released a genetically modified (GM) cowpea variety, which is resistant to the pod borer pest.

The pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea popularly known as beans in Nigeria is resistant to the insect pest Maruca vitrata, which is accountable for up to 80 percent yield losses.

PBR cowpea was first released in Nigeria in December 2019 as the SAMPEA 20-T variety.

It is the product of an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that included scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Dr.  Denis Kyetere, the outgoing executive director of AATF, described the launch in Kano as a landmark event that would help Nigeria achieve food security and also increase farmers’ incomes.

“The national cowpea production will increase by 20 to 100 percent as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials. It is estimated that 20 percent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings,” Kyetere stated.

He enlightened that an increased supply of cowpea would cut malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women as many people depend on it as rich source of protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as iron.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, described the launch of the genetically modified beans as liberation for the nation’s farmers, who he said had been faced with the incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca vitrata.

 According to the minister, the government is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to provide farmers with the latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, paid tribute to the nation’s scientists for the great work done, saying the feat had registered the country on the world map.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing a 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,” Onu said.

Nigeria, he said, could only resolve its food problems, which have been aggravated by the deteriorating soil fertility and the dependence on age-old farming methods, by thinking outside the box.

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State also commended the efforts of Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with support from NABDA for their selfless service that resulted in development and release of PBR Cowpea.

The director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, noted that biotechnology is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce labor and increase yield.