Nigeria on the 7th of October last year reached a significant milestone when it became the first country in the world to approve Biotech (BT) Cowpea and usher the commercial release of the insect-resistant crop.
Executive Director of the Institute for Agricultural Research, Prof Ibrahim Umar Abubakar, while announcing the BT approval for cowpea last year, said the seed was developed to help farmers reduce the cost of production of cowpea and close the gap of over 500,000 metric tonnes of beans production deficit. The Nigeria National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) also allowed for its environmental release.
With the new revolution in biotech, cowpea farmers can now enhance their productivity through the tech and prevent the losses of their crops to the pod borer (Maruca vitrata) pest. The approval proves that there are shreds of evidence that the Nigerian agriculture sector is experiencing an upsurge in its quest to ensure food security.
Echoing her thoughts on the BT Cowpea approval in Nigeria, Member of the Global Farmer Network and Co-founder of Replenish Farms, Onyaole Patience Koku branded the pronouncement as a major accomplishment in Nigeria’s agricultural history, adding that it is an opportunity for farmers to leverage on the gains of science to humanity.
“That was a major step, but if the global story of GM crops has taught us anything, it’s that we can take nothing for granted.
“All along, of course, farmers have wanted it. We seek to grow the best food, and that means gaining access to every tool and advantage science can offer.
“We had lots of allies, too. Nigerian researchers at the Institute of Agricultural Research, Zaria, had spent years testing the BT cowpea, ensuring its safety and adapting it so it’s homegrown. Health groups and religious leaders had called for its development, as an effective way to thwart malnutrition and enhance food security. Journalists had documented the tremendous benefits.
“I haven’t wanted to plant cowpea here in Nigeria because the plant suffers from one of the worst enemies imaginable: the nasty maruca worm. But now farmers like me and across Nigeria have a way to defeat this terrible pest and produce an important food crop with enormous advantages for both growers and consumers.” She emphasized.
For the Cowpea farmer, there is no better time than now to promote the use of genetically modified techniques for improved productivity.
“Nigerians have some experience with GM crops. We already grow BT cotton and we’ve seen how well it resists pests. Cotton farmers everywhere are expectant and waiting to take it up in 2020 when the seeds hit the market. They won’t ever want to go back. They’re going to keep on choosing this excellent option.
“Cowpea is our first GM food crop, and Nigeria is, in fact, the first country to commercialize this particular product. Around the world, farmers grow GM corn, soybeans, eggplant, and more, but we’ll make history with cowpea.”
Nigeria’s approval of the BT cowpea will hope to have a rippled effect across the continent and bolster the biotech drive to enhance productivity.
Banking on Nigeria to lead the charge, Koku said, “For years, much of Africa has resisted the gene revolution. We’ve made the mistake of looking to Europe for leadership because of our colonial history and our geographic proximity. Many Europeans reject GM crops even though they’re safe to eat and helpful to farmers. Africans can’t afford this luxury: We have a continent of malnourished people to feed.
“Now we’re trying a different approach and Nigeria is in a perfect position to lead the way. Another West African country, Ghana, may become the second country to commercialize BT cowpea. Its farmers will believe that if Nigerians can enjoy access BT cowpea, then they should, too. And they’re right!”
Koku further noted that Nigeria’s BT cowpea will help aggrandize growth in the economy and allow the country to earn more foreign exchange and reduce our food import trade imbalance.
“By growing more food on less land, we’ll improve our sustainability. And as an added benefit, cowpea will improve our soil health because cowpea injects nitrogen into the ground, making it an ideal rotation crop.
“As my country joins the gene revolution, I’ll do my part by growing BT cowpeas on my farm for the first time.” She stressed.