Soon, the the newly developed Genetically Modified Cowpea (beans) variety, the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea will be released, multiplied for Nigerian farmers to plant in various locations across the country.
When the Varietal Release Committee finally approves the release of this crop variety, it would be the second genetically modified crop to be released into the Nigerian market, after the BT Cotton which was released earlier.
Cowpea cultivation in Nigeria have suffered a lot of set back due to a damaging attacks from a particular insect, Maruca Vitrata, which is capable of destroying over 80 per cent of cowpea pods in the field.
Meanwhile, there has been series of arguments on how safe Genetically Modified (GM) crops are to the environment and humans, following the processes involved in developing the crops.
Many studies have revealed that contrary to the claims by the anti-GMO activists, the GM crops have been proven to be more environmental friendly compared to the conventional crops.
The reason for this is very simple, some GM crops have been developed to resist pests and herbs attack, which by implication means that the need to spray pesticides and other chemicals to control pests or weeds may not be necessary.
Chemical pesticides are known to pollute the environment. While their intended effects are often short-lived, studies have shown that chemical pesticides linger in the atmosphere, the ground and in our waterways long after the job is over.
Various studies have also shown that continuous spray of pesticides and chemicals on plants does not only affect the targeted pests or weeds but it also pollute the environment (water, climate etc), and also have a long term effects on man.
The European Union placed ban on Nigerian Cowpea (beans) because of the excessive use of chemicals to control the insect, Maruca Vitrata from damaging the crops while in the field.
An average of 6-8 time sprays is needed to control this insect, else it will damage the entire crop and leave the farmer with nothing.
Meanwhile, it has been established that use of chemical on the farm is both harmful to the farmer and the environment, it is also harmful to some friendly bacteria in the soil and other animals in the ecosystem.
It is at the backdrop that scientists enmbarked on a search to get the permanent solution to Maruca Vitrata, and the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea was developed to assist farmers in saving money and enjoy good health while engaging in farming.
The PBR Cowpea has the potential to resist this Maruca from destroying the plants. PBR Cowpea makes it possible for farmers to plant and harvest quality yield twice in a year with reduced chemical spraying in the farm which makes it less expensive to plant than the conventional cowpea variety.
According to the Principal Investigator of the PBR Cowpea, Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, the new Cowpea requires just about 2 to 3 spray of chemicals for a planting season to control the pest.
“Instead of spraying the cowpea up to 8 times, this new material has the potential to do a maximum of 3 sprays, it can do very well compared to the one that can do with 8 sprays of insecticide.
“We are targeting towards reducing insecticide spraying in this new variety when it is released from around 8 to a maximum of 3 sprays, that’s going to be a tremendous reduction in the application of insecticide in the growth of cowpea.
“Cowpea that are not improved requires about 8 sprays of insecticide, hopefully we plan to reduce the amount of insecticide so that farmers can save money from that, not only that, this new variety of cowpea has the potential to produce between 100 to 150 per cent more yield increase at the end if the day.
“For every one hectare a farmer sprays, he needs to spend at least N5400 for buying insecticide along, not to talk of paying those who will spray the farm, water and others, but with this new variety, the farmer can spend about N1000 or N2000 per hectare, the reduction of about N3400 will make huge difference for the production”, Professor Ishiyaku noted.
On the economic benefits of the PBR Cowpea, Professor Ishiyaku said minimum of N16 billion is expected to be saved from adopting this new technology, and Nigeria is expected to get as much as N48 billion if this technology is adopted.
“For this variety, the quick arithmetic we made is we are going to save annually a minimum of N16.2 billion from the adoption of this new variety if it is released, and in terms of yield increase, Nigeria can get as much as N48 billion as a result of planting this new variety.
“The figures came from 20 per cent yield increase over the normal cowpea, and by growing 1 million hectare, and a hectare will yield N120,000 per ton, and if calculated, it will get to N48 billion”, he explained.
Now, if PBR Cowpea can resist the attacks from Maruca Vitrata, it means the use of pesticides on the farm will be drastically reduced, which implies that the environment will be protected from pollution, then the farmers will save the money that would have been used to purchase chemicals, and Cowpea yield will be increased, therby translating to economic boom and food sufficiency.
During the Public Presentation of the PBR Cowpea, the Principal Investigator of the crop, Professor Ishiyaku said the technology may be new in Nigeria, but its not new in other parts of the world where has been in use for over 20 years.
“The presentation is geared towards engaging the Nigerian public in terms of the scientific activities we are carrying out in our quest towards developing improved varieties of beans for Nigeria.
“We have utilized a new scientific technique in enabling beans to protect itself against a particular insect in the field, because this technique is new, not very new, but new in Nigeria but is has been on for more than 20 years in other parts of the world.
“There is a need for our own people to understand the science behind it, also to appreciate it because we believe that there is immense economic benefit that is abound in it, Professor Ishiyaku said.
The Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba said all measure have been put in place by the Agency to ensure that the new crop variety does not have any negative effect on both humans and the environment.
He said the Agency would not just relent after certifying the wholesomeness of the crop, but will continue engaging farmers and the general public to get feedback on the behavior of the new Cowpea variety.
“We do holistic analysis the organism, if it is genetically modified means, we compare it with the one that is not genetically modified, we do the analysis and observe it for some time to see whether the one that is genetically modified the content will change or manifest some strange gene’ if that is not done we confirm them to be safe, and there are safety standard that we adopt, and from time to time, this specimen will be collected, we have a genetically modified organism analysis laboratory, we will be analyzing these products from time to time.
“Apart from scientific analyses of it, we will also be looking at the socioeconomic concern, we will be carrying out a survey where these things are released and, we ask the farmers whether they are benefiting or they are not benefiting or there are manifestations that they consider not good for them, so one that is done, we will know what to do immediately and withdraw those products, and carry out litigation measures.
“Our business is to ensure safety, and we are prepared, we have started the process, let the members of the public know what is coming, what are the measures that are being put in place, the science of the developing it is already being analyzed by the scientist himself, so let those who have the knowledge also get themselves involved.
“As for the Agency, we are well prepared to analyze the product to ensure that it is safe, if it is not safe, we will not approve it, if it is safe, we have no reason not to approve it”, Dr Ebegba said.
The Acting Director General the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Professor Alex Akpa said “Cowpea (beans) is a major food crop in this country and it is the protein source of the common man, so it is very useful product, and before this invention, it has been very difficult for farmer to grow beans, but with this new technology, we now have beans that is resistant to Maruca which is a major insect that destroys over 80 per cent of this crop.
“So this will lead to saving of billions of Naira not only for our farmers, but also for our country, and in addition, it is going to lead to the reduction in the use pesticides which does not only destroy the environment, but also harmful to those who apply them. So it is very useful development, that’s what we have been looking for.”