NIGERIA – Nigeria is set to commence the national performance trials for drought tolerant and insect resistant maize known as TELA, a huge step for farmers towards better pest resistance and productivity.

TELA maize, which exhibits resistance to fall armyworm, stem borers, and tolerates moderate drought, was developed by researchers at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University.

The name was derived from the Latin word tutela, which means protection.

Subsequent to successful field trials, TELA maize received environmental approval for evaluation and open cultivation from the government of Nigeria on October 8, 2021.

The national performance trials which aim to confirm the efficacy of the technology and show the adaptability of the variety, will involve 180 randomly chosen farmers from 10 states with varied agro-ecological conditions.

It is anticipated that TELA maize will help smallholders in Africa spend less money on insecticides and minimize their exposure to the chemicals, while benefiting from higher yields and better grain quality. The seeds are available royalty-free to farmers.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a coordinator of the TELA project, reports that fall armyworm, stem borers and drought form a lethal triple threat to maize productivity in Nigeria.

According to state media, Nigeria’s annual maize production averages 11 million metric tons against local consumption demand of 15 million metric tons.

The successful conclusion of the NPTs will pave way for further evaluation by the National Varieties Release Committee before the seeds are made commercially available for farmers to plant in the 2023 season.

Prof. Rabiu Adamu, Principal Investigator for TELA maize in Nigeria, expressed sanguinity in the maize variety’s ability to alleviate the production deficits if widely adopted in the country.

“The trials so far have shown promising results and we are confident that if the crop is released, it will go a long way in addressing the nation’s deficiency in maize production,” he said.

His comment echoes the sentiments expressed earlier by Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), who stated that Nigeria’s adoption of TELA maize would boost the country’s maize production and enhance self-sufficiency.

“When we adopt this TELA maize, it means Nigeria will be self-sufficient in maize production, which will also improve the economy of the country,” Mustapha was quoted as saying by the Voice of Nigeria.

TELA maize project

Nigeria’s modern regulatory environment and political goodwill, has facilitated the review process for TELA maize in a process that has been evidence-based, guided by the law and timely, according to Alliance for Science.

“Nigeria’s biotech policy and regulatory landscape is favorable, and thus key in advancing crop biotech development in the country,” stated Dr Sylvester Oikeh, the AATF TELA maize Project Manager.

The TELA maize project is a public-private philanthropic collaboration that brings together AATF, Bayer, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the national agricultural research systems of seven countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

It 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.

Successful trials have been conducted in Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Farmers are already growing TELA maize in South Africa.

So far, Nigeria has approved GM cowpea, and TELA is the first maize variety that is drawing close to adoption.

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