The commercial release of the approved biotech cowpea also known as the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) has been hindered by the novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
Nigeria in December last year had approved the commercialisation of a biotech cowpea variety resistant to pod borers, becoming the first country to commercialise genetically improved cowpea.
The AATF in partnership with the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) developed the new variety named SAMPEA 20-T before it was approved by the government.
Upon its approval, farmers were on the verge of utilising the genetically modified cowpea for this year’s planting season, but series of events have impeded its use, especially with the outbreak of COVID-19.
Nigerian farmers were reported to have undergone trainings on the management of the variety, to kick-off planting of the crop, prior to the pandemic.
Speaking with The Nation on the delay, Regional Director of AATF, Issoufou Kollo explained that the COVID-19 pandemic intercepted plans to unleash the PBR cowpea, adding that there were enough seeds to distribute to farmers.
Kollo said the delay was due to the failure of the Foundation to meet with farmers, owing to the lockdown imposed by the government which restricted movements.
“COVID-19 has impacted on our plans, but I think we can catch up with time. The only way farmers won’t have access to our PBR cowpea seeds, is if they would not do farm work during the next season.
“We can still work with farmers during the rainy season because we have enough seeds to go on-farm demonstration trials with our farmers.”
“We were able to change how we meet. Instead of travelling, we use an electronic way of meeting, but there are certain activities that could not be carried out because Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where we carry out our activities is closed.
“So, it means all field activities in the school stopped, even as some of the laboratory works could not be carried out. It is better to save the scientists instead of endangering their lives,” Kollo explained.
He also debunked claims of data fabrication on the revenue to be generated from the bt cowpea. He added that the data were collated with the help of farmers and extension workers.
“We didn’t fabricate these data. The data came from the farmers who participated during the National Variety Performance Trials. Many farmers have been able to carry out some tests on their own.
“The data that has been presented to the National Variety Release Committee was not collected by the research team. The data was collected by farmers and extension workers, and we firmly believe that N48 billion [speculated] is underestimated.
“Nigeria has three million hectares of planted cowpea. So, even if you have 20 percent yield increase in this three million hectares, that’s the amount of money it can give you, and it is even underestimated on our side of what PBR cowpea can produce in a year,” he said.