Food security: GM maize, beans as the game changer

Achieving food security has been one of the cardinal objectives of the government. It is known worldwide that without adopting technologies, food security remains a mirage. In this piece, COLLINS NNABUIFE looks at the outcome of a Town Hall Meeting by IAR, AATF and others on the newly approved GM beans and maize in Kano.

NIGERIA’S quest to achieve food security has been a burning issue as the government keeps reeling out policies to reposition the agricultural sector.

These policies over the year has made little or no impact in the sector, as the country still depends largely on import to meet up with local consumption.

Using modern technologies such as biotechnology has been the missing link in the country’s drive towards food security.

Genetic Modification which is a component of biotechnology is a science tool used in modifying the gene of a plants in order to achieve the desired result which may include increase in nutrition, insect and disease resistant, drought and climate tolerant.

 

PBR Cowpea

Currently, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has approved for environmental release, the Genetically Modified (GM) Cowpea (bean), while GM Maize is on the pipeline.

Consequently, the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Material on 12, December 2019, approved the commercial release of Genetically Modified (GM) cowpea (beans), which is also called the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR Cowpea).

Pod Borer insect or Maruca Vitrata is an insect which destroys beans while on farm. The insect has the capacity to destroy over 80 per cent of beans while on the farm.

During a town hall meeting with farmers on PBR Cowpea and TELA maize, the Executive Director of Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Professor Mohammed Ishyaku the improvement on the new cowpea variety was to resist the devastating effect of Pod Borer insect on the farm.

“The improvement in this regard is to enable the cowpea to resist the attack of a very difficult insect called Maruca (Pod Borer).

“The improvement along that line has been  accomplished, and it is one of the most difficult constraint of cowpea production.

“Earlier, we have improved cowpea in the area of shortening its maturity period, we have also developed cowpea varieties that are tolerant to drought, we have equally expanded into the development of cowpea variety that will answer the consumption pattern of different consumers of cowpea.

“We are continually improving as long as consumers, processors come up with problem, we will get back to our research and be able to take the problem”.

He said efforts were being made by scientists to improve on the GM cowpea so that it could resist the attack of the storage weevil which destroys the cowpea after harvest.

“There is a serious storage weevil called cowpea storage weevil, that is what is threatening cowpea consumers health, in some instances where they are stored improperly, but we have so far developed very safe and cheap preservation method that can keep the cowpea grains healthy for a long period of time without the use of chemical.

“Additionally, in the area of genetic improvement, we are trying to develop cowpea that will be able to protect themselves against the weevil, we have that at the back of our mind and it is a work in progress”, he added.

The Trial Manager of PBR Cowpea, Mohammed Umar from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Zaria, explained that “PBR Cowpea was developed using modern technology, the scientists tried to find out the resistance to Pod Borer insect, but the couldn’t because there is no way you can develop such variety using conventional means, so that is why we go into using modern technology.

“The gene that confers the resistance to this crop was identified from a soil bacterium called. Bacillus thuringiensis which is harmless”.

The PBR Cowpea Manager for African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, said from the farmers’ expression at the town hall meeting, it showed they were satisfied with the result of  what they got from planting the PBR Cowpea.

The impression I have is that farmers are satisfied with these products. Many of them know that the cowpea variety is good because they have grown it in their field.

One of the most important benefits of PBR Cowpea is that it resists striga and Electra, in maize, striga is also a big problem, so this is the area we will improve on for farmers who have striga in their maize farms.

 

TELA maize

Nigeria produces an avarage of 11 million metric tons of maize annually, while it’s annual local consumption stands at 15 million metric tons, which leave it with a deficit of 4 million metric tons which it imports.

That means Nigeria is expected to import 4 million metric tons of maize at the cost of N90,030 per ton in order to satisfy local demand.

TELA maize is a new variety of maize which is Water Efficient, meaning that it is drought tolerant and also fights insects and pest such as Fall Armyworm.

TELA maize project builds on progress made from breeding work under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA).

The principal investigator and head of the project at the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Professor Rabiu Adamu said preliminary findings noted that under stem borer and fall armyworm infestation, the TELA maize varieties gave over two tons yield advantage relative to the best varieties currently being grown by farmers.

Speaking on the release of the GM maize, Professor Ishyaku said “the first step has been accomplished, one of the hybrid varieties has been released, once the seeds are multiplied in a good quantity, then these seeds can start selling.

“The the actual TELA (drought tolerant and insect resistant) will have to go through another year of multiplication before it will be available. So we are still on that target of 2022 when it will be released.

Professor Rabiu said these preliminary findings from the first phase of the trials showed that maize farmers in the country stand to benefit when the maize is commercialized as the varieties will save farmers production cost up to hundreds of Million of naira from pesticides spray to the control stem borer and the fall armyworm.

To control the pest, farmers are expected spray at least three different types of pesticides for a minimum of three times in each season.

Findings showed that it requires at least N46,000 to spray one acre (0.405 ha) of farm each season to give good protection against the Fall Armyworm, but not many farmers can afford this; and in most cases, they end up abandoning their farms to the pest.

 

 Farmer’s Testimonies

Sanusi Dankawu, a maize and beans farmer said the seeds has high potentials, “it’s like the yielda are therefore going to be doubled, because as a farmer,to get higher yield one of the secrets is using seeds that have high potentials

“Using this variety, one can get triple the use of the old variety that we have been using, that indicates that this variety has high potentials”, he noted.

Another Cowpea (beans) farmer, Khalid Salihu said that he spends less planting Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea compared to planting the local variety.

Salihu said in a hectare of beans, he saves over N20,000 he spends buying chemicals to control Pod Borer insect because the GM eans resists the insect.

Salihu explained that “the difference is that the PBR Cowpea has no infestation of Pod Borer insect compared with the conventional cowpea which when I planted, was attacked by the insect even though I have sprayed the two varieties, yet the insect still attacked the conventional variety but the PBR Cowpea resisted it”.

He said he sprays just 3 times on the PBR Cowpea in order to control other pests attacking the crop, while he needs to spray up to 9 times on the conventional beans variety in order to control both the Maruca Vitrata and other insects.

“I sprayed the chemical 3 times on PBR Cowpea while with the conventional cowpea, we spray at 6 days interval with a total of 7 to 9 sprays”.

“Cultivating 1 hectare of conventional variety of cowpea, a farmer would spend about N26,000 to purchase chemical and labour, but for PBR Cowpea, I used 1 and half litres of chemical which cost about N6,000”.

In terms of the Pod, Salihu said they are the same but the PBR Cowpea produces a slightly bigger seed compared to the conventional variety.

Regarding the maturity, the farmer said the PBR Cowpea needs about 70 days to mature for harvest while the conventional one takes about 85 days to mature.

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