The Federal government has approved for use its first genetically modified crop: the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (popularly called beans).
This was after it had been genetically modified to resist the pest – Maruca Vitrata.
The cowpea, by this development, becomes the first genetically modified food crop to be approved in the country.
The crop was developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
According to a press statement released by the National Biosafety Management Agency on Tuesday, the approval was contained in a ‘decision document’ issued by NBMA.
The approval means that the crop is safe and poses no harm to humans and the environment.
It can now be submitted to the National Variety Release Committee for consideration and registration as a commercial crop in Nigeria.
Genetically Modified Organisms, (GMOs), are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose genetic makeup habe been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.
There have been a protracted debate over their use and possible dangers over the years.
These debates have birthed two groups, Pro-GMO and Anti-GMO.
The agency’s statement reads in part:
“IAR in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) commenced the research to address the deadly Maruca Vitrata attacks on beans in 2009 after series of efforts to use conventional breeding methods failed to produce results.
“After 10 years of extensive research, government has deemed it fit to introduce the crop variety into the nation’s agricultural seed system having met all regulatory stipulations and scientific procedures.
“The introduction will address the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and also improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare.”
During a public display of the approval in Abuja on Tuesday, the Executive Director, IAR, I. U Abubakar, explained the development in details.
He said the decision to venture into genetic modification in cowpea breeding was as a result of pest infestation “that has over the years made cowpea farming difficult”.
“Cowpea is the most important food grain legume in Nigeria. The low yield of the crop in Nigeria is due to many constraints particularly pod boring insects which cause up to 90 per cent yield loss in severe infestation cases,” he said.
Meanwhile, the country director of AATF, Abdourhamane Issoufou Kollo, said since the mid 1980s, cowpea scientists have declared maruca as the main limiting factor of cowpea production in Africa.
He lauded the intervention of the AATF based on its principles of providing access to appropriate technologies for small scale farmers.
The Acting Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Alex Akpa, said with the approval, Nigeria has registered her name in the global scientific community “as a country capable of finding solutions to her challenges”.
“After 10 years of laboratory work and on-field trials, Nigerian scientists have developed its first genetically modified food crop, the PBR Cowpea. We are proud to be associated with this noble development,” Mr Akpa said.