By Mohammed Lawal
The Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria has developed a new cowpea variety that would inject N48 billion into country’s economy annually.
Prof. Ishaq Mohammed-Faguci, Lead Scientist, IAR ‘Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea Research Team’, stated this on Thursday in Zaria.
He said one of the main research efforts of IAR over the past 10 years had been to combat the menace of a destructive insect that affects cowpea production in the country.
“The insect is called ‘Maruca pod borer’ and is known to cause up to 80 per cent yield loss in cowpea fields. The research efforts of IAR had yielded positive results.
“The results of scientific efforts applied in modern techniques of genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, has led to the development of cowpea variety that can protect itself against destructive effects of the pod borer.
“This now makes it possible for farmers to grow cowpea in their fields with very minimal insecticide sprays. Hitherto, farmers can only control the insect in their fields through heavy and frequent spray of insecticides.
“The spray ranges between five and eight sprays depending on the intensity of insect infestation,” he noted.
He said these insecticides are expensive for poor farmers, adding that it had been shown scientifically to be toxic, dangerous to human health and unsafe for the environment.
He said they cause death and pollution of water bodies and the surrounding environments.
“The benefit of this variety to Nigerian farmers and consumers is that, instead of eight sprays of insecticides, this new variety can be produced with only two sprays, thereby saving the farmers around four to six sprays.
“The total benefit to the country as a result of savings from reduced insecticide usage, if this variety is grown on one million hectare out of the 3.8 million hectares planted to cowpea in Nigeria, translates to over N16.2 billon annually.
“In addition, this variety has about 20 per cent inherent yield advantage over many of the conventional cowpea varieties.
“The annual economy benefits from that is estimated to be N48 billion annually, if one million hectares are planted to this insect resistant variety assuming one tonne of cowpea cost N120,000,” he said.
Mohammed-Faguci explained that in view of the fact that this variety was developed using genetic engineering techniques, it had to undergo scientific evaluation to access its similarities to the conventional varieties for food, feed and safety to the environment.
The scientist said it has been evaluated on effects on non-target insects and other organism, adding that it would be allowed to be grown commercially by December.
Mohammed-Faguci said series of scientific experiments had been conducted under the supervision of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
He said the NBMA, after studying the results of the experiments in February, had granted environmental release permit for the new variety to be grown by farmers and to be consumed as food in the country.
Mohammed-Faguci said in addition to the worth of the variety for food and safety to the environment, agronomic benefits was corroborated by farmers who were provided with the seeds for test-production.
He, however, said the research team was billed to present the results of the agronomic performance of the new variety to the National Variety Release Committee in December.