As the planting season for cowpea and cotton is approaching in some agro-ecological zones of Nigeria, more farmers are turning to the transgenic varieties already available in order to boost their yield and revenue.
For cowpea (beans), SAMPEA 20-T variety becomes the best options for many farmers. The variety was produced and released into the national seed system for commercial cultivation in 2019 after several years of work by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, under the supervision of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
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SAMPEA 20-T is a Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) variety against the notorious insect pest MarucaVitrata that causes up to 80 per cent yield loses on the farm. More recently, early cessation of rain and climate-induce problems continue to affect yields massively.
The Pod Borer Resistant hybrid seed showed high, stable grain yield throughout the test locations, according to the results of the multi-locational advanced yield trials that were carried out across Nigeria’s agro-ecologies.
Reported grain production increase over the traditional cowpea types ranged from a minimum of 20 per cent to a maximum of almost 200 per cent. The cultivar produces more than 2.9 tonnes of beans per hectare.
Farmers who planted the variety last year said they had significantly decreased cowpea production costs by reducing the need for insecticide treatment.
Last season, a total of 820 Nigerian farmers from over 15 states planted the variety under the supervision of the National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS), the Institute for Agricultural Research and AATF.
Dr Mohammed Lawan, a researcher with IAR, said farmers must know that the variety was early maturing, requiring only 75 to 80 days to mature. However, farmers in Niger and Plateau who planted the variety even recorded a shorter maturing duration of 65 to 75 days.
He, therefore, advised cowpea farmers to adhere strictly to the approved agronomic practices to ensure that they fully benefit from the variety. “Use 75cm X 20cm inter and intra row spacing at 20kg/ha.”
The president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, an architect, who also planted the variety, called on farmers in Nigeria to embrace biotechnology as a key element of agricultural production to deal with poverty, falling income and investments in the country.
“I can testify to the efficacy of the PBR cowpea because I have planted it and sprayed insecticide only twice instead of 8 to10 times. The yield is also quite remarkable.
“The fear of GM as expressed by the anti-GMO activists is not supported by good science, as I have personally attended international meetings and held several discussions all over the world to come to the conclusion that GM crops do not cause any disease, especially as they are certified by the Biosafety Agency of Nigeria before being released.
“I implore our farmers, monarchs, Islamic clerics and extension workers to champion the advocacy to embrace biotechnology, which enables the commercialisation of GM crops as this will be the game-changer in our quest for the attainment of food sufficiency and exit from poverty as a country,” the farmer said.
Alhassan Yusuf Libata, an extension officer based in Yauri, Kebbi State, said many farmers had indicated readiness to cultivate the variety, beginning from the end of this August, based on the result recorded last season.
He, however, cautioned against early planting because the variety starts to produce flowers after 40 days, adding that with NiMet prediction of heavy rainfall in the coming months, planting early should be discouraged.
For cotton, the biotech variety, called Bollgard II (Mahyco C 567 BG2 and 571 BG2), have already been adopted by farmers in Plateau, Adamawa, Kano, Katsina, Gombe and other places.
Bollgard II 571 BG2 is an early duration (150 to 160 days) hybrid with strong tolerance to sucking pests. The first (Mahyco C 567 BG2) is for medium duration (160 to 170 days) with enormous boll size.
The two types generate good fiber strength/quality coveted by the textile industry, yield up to 4.1 to 4.4 tonnes per hectare, and are both resistant to bollworm.
Alhaji Lawal Abdullahi, an extension officer in Kano State, said more farmers were willing to take the production of the crop this season if the arrangement to participate in the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme was concluded.
He said the efficacy of the seed was already attracting more farmers to production.
Experts said more cultivation of cotton would provide a panacea for the revival of the collapsed textile and garment industry.
It would be recalled that despite the N100 billion fund made available by the federal government through the Bank of Industry, nothing has happen.
Cotton production continued to fall until the introduction of the Bt variety in 2019, which is now beginning to attract farmers who left for soybeans and other crops back to production.
Many farmers in Adamawa are now making more money through cotton, although the cost of seed and other farm input like fertiliser remains a challenge.
Experts said the current climate change challenges, diseases, declining crop productivity and the use of biotech were essential to address. But safety concerns heightened by those who oppose the technology continue to resonate in many fora.
“Our agricultural environment is deteriorating. Seed varieties perform low and are obsolete, and do not correspond to the new climatic factors.
“There is high pressure of insect pests and diseases. Soil fertility is low and there is lack of capital funding for investments. Therefore, adaptation to changing climatic conditions makes it imperative to explore adaptable strategies and emerging technology tools like modern biotechnology aimed at tackling these challenges to produce more food for the masses,” the director-general/chief executive officer of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Professor Abdullahi Mustapha said.
Hauwa Tahir Ahmed, the head of the Department of Biosafety Enforcement and Operations in the National Biosafety Management Agency, said the federal government had in place, a proper regulatory mechanism towards harnessing the benefits of modern biotechnology in a manner that sustains the preservation of human health, biodiversity and the environment.
The director of the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State, Dr Muhammed Ishaq, who allayed the fear of GMOs, said they “are designed to be extra healthy, fast-growing and resistant to weather or pests, aimed at tackling the adverse effect of climate.
“Many GMO crops have been altered to be less vulnerable to insects and other pests. For example, Bt-cowpea is a GMO crop that has a gene, added from Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium. This gene causes the cowpea to produce a protein that kills marucavitrata (pod borer), a very devastating insect pest, and helping to protect the cowpea from damage.
“Instead of having to spray 8 rounds of insecticide, while preventing maruca, you now spray two times, just to take care of other insect pests, saving money in the process.
“Because they can save on resources, food producers can also charge lower prices for GMO foods. In some cases, the cost of foods like corn, beets and soybeans may be cut by 15 per cent to 30 per cent,” he emphasized.