Nigeria Commercializes First Transgenic Food Crop

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NigeriaCommercializes First Transgenic Food Crop

The Federal Government of Nigeriahas approved registration and release of a new Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpeavariety for commercialization.

The approval was granted by theNational Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties,chaired by Mr. Oladosu Awoyemi, at its 28th meeting which was held in Ibadan onDecember 12, 2019.

The new cowpea variety, SAMPEA 20-T,was developed by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR),Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in collaboration with various partners undercoordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

PBR Cowpea was earlier in the yeargranted environmental release approval by the National Biosafety ManagementAgency (NBMA), which confirmed the product was safe for human, livestock andthe environment and paved the way for submission to the National VarietyRelease Committee for consideration and registration as a commercial crop inNigeria.

The newly approved SAMPEA 20-T hasbeen bred for resistance to Maruca vitrata, a lepidoptreran insect pest thatcauses up to 90 percent yield loss in severe infestation cases.

This new variety is early maturing(70 – 75 days) with semi erect growth habit and photoperiod insensitive and hasmedium large white seeds. It is also resistant to Striga and Alectra, twonotorious parasitic weeds.

The decision to release the varietymeans that farmers will have access to the seed that will help themsignificantly reduce the number of sprays they currently apply to their cropfrom 6 to 7 times to only 2 per cropping season and as a result realise betteryield in quantity and quality. It will also contribute to addressing thenational cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and also improve the nationalproductivity average of 350kg/hectare.

During the Multilocational AdvancedYield Trials conducted across Nigeria’s agro-ecologies, researchers foundSAMPEA 20-T to have high stable grain yield across the test locations. Theminimum observed grain yield increase over the conventional cowpea varietieswas 20 percent  and the maximum was over 200 percent.   Thevariety can yield up to 2.9 tons of beans per hectare, and over 3.0 tons offodder per hectare.

Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, thePrincipal Investigator for the project and Executive Director, Institute forAgricultural Research, Zaria said both the on-station and on-farm trialsdemonstrated the superiority of SAMPEA 20-T relative to local, recentlyreleased cowpea varieties and improved breeding lines tested. ‘SAMPEA 20-T ishigh yielding, early maturing and resistant to Striga and Alectra, which aremajor constraint to cowpea production in most producing areas in Nigeria andother dry savanna regions,’ said Prof Ishiyaku.

‘The protein and nutrients contentof variety ‘SAMPEA 20-T is the same as that of other conventional varietiesmeaning that the Bt gene that was introduced into the variety has no negativeinfluence on the nutritional composition of both grain and folder,’ added Prof.Ishiyaku, saying that the newly released variety does not differ in any wayfrom already existing cowpeas (beans) other than the improvements made.

Dr Denis Kyetere, Executive DirectorAATF, thanked the Federal Government of Nigeria for releasing the new cowpeavariety saying it showed  its commitment towards improving the livelihoodsof smallholder farmer.  ‘Cowpea farmers have had to endure difficultfarming conditions that required spraying dangerous chemicals on their crop tomake a profit which is risking their lives,” Said Dr Kyetere.

“We at AATF express our joy withNigeria as it takes the lead in the deployment of necessary technologies thatshow promise of solving the challenges which farmers encounter on a dailybasis,’ added Dr. Kyetere

Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, theAATF PBR Cowpea Manager attributed the successful registration and naming ofSAMPEA 20-T to the hard work and synergy between the various project partnersincluding researchers at the IAR “Our joint effort of over 10 years addressingone of the vital challenges faced by cowpea farmers in Africa has paid off.Cowpea farming will now become attractive even to the younger generation as ithas become less cumbersome with the effective management of Maruca,’ he said.

Prof. Garba Sharubuta, the ExecutiveSecretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), the apexorganization supervising all agriculture research in the country welcomed therelease of the new variety saying that cowpea is a major staple and vegetariansource of dietary protein in Africa. “Its production has been stalled by severeattack of lepidopteran insect pests in both the field and storage. One of suchnotorious pests is the legume pod-borer, (Maruca vitrata). This pest hassingularly contributed to significant cowpea yield reductions on our farmers’farms.’

Prof. Sharubuta said that ARCN’sresolve is to make improved technologies available and accessible to farmers toenhance their yields and income and result in improved livelihoods. ‘One sucheconomically viable, and environmentally sound solution to the problem of thelegume pod borer is development of cowpea varieties that have inherentresistance to the lepidopteran pod borers,” Prof. Sharubuta added.

The Acting Director General andChief Executive Officer of the National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA), said the release marked a great and memorable day for Nigeria, Africaand the World at large. ‘We all are marching towards food sufficiency and foodsecurity for Nigeria and all of mankind. Bt Cowpea is certainly a major andstrategic addition.”

SAMPEA 20-T is a product of over adecade of research efforts by a partnership that brought together CommonwealthScientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia for genetic transformation, IAR, NABDA, ARCN, Danforth Center and Bayer thatprovided the Cry1Ab gene to the partnership on humanitarian basis, royaltyfree, so that small scale farmers can access it affordably. The projectpartnership was coordinated by AATF with sustained funding by USAID.

The Project also received supportfrom other stakeholders in Nigeria including the National Association ofCowpea Growers, the National Association of Nigerian Farmers and local seedcompanies.

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