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AATF, partners unveil landmark insect resistant beans

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Cowpea

Kyetere lists advantages Nigerian farmers’ll derive from new cowpea variety

Nigeria has achieved a major milestone in the history of agricultural research and development with the official launch and release for commercialisation of the transgenic Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea at a well-attended occasion today in Kano.

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PBR Cowpea (beans), a genetically modified Cowpea is the product of an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that included scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Released as SAMPEA 20-T variety in Nigeria in December 2019, the PBR Cowpea is the first transgenic food crop in Africa outside of South Africa. SAMPEA 20-T is resistant to the insect pest, Maruca Vitrata, the insect that is responsible for up to 80 per cent of Cowpea yield losses.

AATF’s Executive Director, Dr. Denis Kyetere, said this is a landmark event that will help Nigeria achieve food security and increase farmers income.

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In his remarks during the launch in Kano, Kyetere said the development of PBR Cowpea has been a long journey that started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology.

He stated that PBR Cowpea will greatly benefit farmers and consumers in Nigeria. ‘’The national cowpea production will increase by 20-100 per cent as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials,’ he said, adding that the massive import of Cowpea will be reduced. ‘It is estimated that 20 per cent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR Cowpea, the country is set to save billions in earnings.”

Kyetere noted that people who depend on cowpea’s rich protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as an iron will have an abundant supply with PBR Cowpea. ‘An increased supply of cowpea will help reduce malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women. When people are healthy, they will be productive,” he said.

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Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, described the launch of the PBR cowpea as liberation for Nigerian farmers, who have been faced with the incessant nightmares of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca Vitrata.

In his remarks, the minister said: “I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, on-farm demonstration trials in 28 sites across Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Plateau states, results of the demonstration trials clearly indicate the agronomic superiority of the new variety resulting in high demand for seed.”

He said the Federal Government has since the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration been working assiduously to address farming constraints in the country to improve the living standards of farmers and enhance their contribution to government efforts to boost food security.

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The minister further noted that the Federal Government is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to avail farmers latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.

Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, congratulated the scientists for the great work saying the commercialisation of PBR Cowpea would solve some of Nigeria’s problems in a manner that has registered the country on the world map.

He said Nigeria could only solve its food problems that have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-long methods by thinking outside the box.

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“Agricultural Biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing a soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, and pest challenges as well as climate change,” Onu said.

Speaking at the same event, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), highlighted the advantages of agricultural biotechnology in agriculture as a tool to enhance productivity, reduce drudgery and increase yields.

Mustapha said: “Biotechnology, as we have seen in other countries is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery, and increase yields. This is why the Federal Government established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in 2001 to promote, coordinate and set research and development priority in biotechnology for the country.”

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Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, was full of praises for the Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with support from NABDA for their selfless service that resulted in the development and release of PBR Cowpea.

The governor said: “In Africa generally, yields have been on the perpetual decline, while in other climes, farmers are among the richest but here farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to carter for their children’s school fees.”

On a brighter note, Ganduje is optimistic that Nigeria could make the best of the emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside.

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“Today, Nigeria is recognised as the first country in the world to release a Cowpea variety that is resistant to Maruca, the destructive insect that had been a nightmare to farmers on the African continent,” he said.

Meanwhile, AATF has said the nation could only make the best of the new technologies in agriculture if extension services are strengthened in addition to a good supply of certified seeds and foundation seeds.

An expert, Dr. Donald J. MacKenzie, Dan Fourth Plant Science Centre, said the increased harvestable yield of PBR Cowpea will improve the livelihoods of all farmers, especially including the women who produce and process cowpea into local dishes for the market.

“PBR Cowpea’s success is the result of bringing together some essential ingredients: Farmer demand to solve a major production problem, a tested and accessible technology solution, an enabling policy environment and the right partners.”

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Dr. Faith B. Tarr, General Development Officer, Biotechnology Specialist, USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security Center for Agriculture-led Growth said that the commercialisation of pod borer resistant cowpea otherwise called SAMPEA 20-T by Nigeria represents tremendous progress in applying innovative approaches to advance Nigerian food security.

“We celebrate the completion of a critical stage within a continuous, iterative process by which new food security innovations are developed, disseminated, adopted, and used in order to enhance prosperity, resilience, and nutrition.

“This achievement advances Nigeria’s capacity to harness science, technology and innovation to sustainably improve livelihoods and nutrition. It also demonstrates that research investments can support innovation systems to deliver a pipeline of new tools and approaches that improve agriculture, food security, and resilience in the face of complex, dynamic challenges that Nigeria may face in the future,” she said.

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Prof. Mohammad Faguji Ishiyaku, IAR Executive Director said: “The economic benefit of this variety ranges from the savings our country will make from the excessive use of chemical insecticides which are imported from abroad thereby saving for us foreign exchange. It is estimated that between 17 to 21billion Naira will be saved annually from the reduction of the use of chemicals insecticide in the production of beans in our fields by planting this new variety instead of the non-resistant one”.

“Additionally, this new variety has a yield margin of between 15 to 25 per cent compared to conventional varieties currently in cultivation by farmers. The total benefit from the yield increase from is SAMPEA 20T is estimated to be N46 billion every year if one million hectares of our land is grown to this variety,” he said.

Similarly, The All-Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), said about eight million Nigerian farmers and their families will benefit directly from cultivating the newly launched pod borer resistant cowpea variety called SAMPEA20-T.

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The President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim, said over 12.5 million hectares of land will be dedicated to the production of the new variety across Africa where many millions consume cowpea on daily basis.

“I understand that Nigeria is the first country in the whole wide world to commercialise this variety of cowpea and hitherto, yield losses of 70-80 per cent are commonplace due to pod-borer infestation on cowpea but the development and release of SAMPEA 20-T completely mitigates this phenomenon,” the president told the audience at the launch.

The SAMPEA20-T was developed by IAR and coordinated by AATF with support from USAID, CSIRO, Australia, Donald Dan Fourth Plant Science Centre, USA, Program for Biosafety System, Network for Genetic Improvement of Cowpea in Africa, IITA, Kirkhouse Trust, ARCN Nigeria, NABDA, and National Research Organsiations in Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

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