Breaking: Nigeria releases first GM crop

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By Abdallah el-Kurebe, Edtior

Nigeria has approved the environmental release of the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) granted the permit for the release of the Cowpea which has been genetically modified to resist Maruca.

Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar, the Executive Director IAR, in a presentation on Monday in Abuja, summarised the process that led to the development of the PBR cowpea.

According to him, the crop is safe and poses no harm to human and the environment and ready for the National Variety Release Committee to consider and register as a commercial crop in Nigeria.

Abubakar said that the decision to venture into genetic modification in cowpea breeding was due to pest infestation that had which had resulted in farmers harvesting less as well as exposed to the dangers of chemical spray.

“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.”

“The PBR Cowpea, by this development becomes the first genetically modified food crop to be approved in the country.’’

The Director of Plant Resources at the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Dr. Yarama Ndipaya said government introduced the crop variety into the nation’s agricultural seed system having met all regulatory stipulations and scientific procedures after 10 years of extensive research.

“The introduction will address the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare.

“After many years of research, the council is proud to present to Nigerians the first home-grown genetically modified food crop, which has passed all necessary scientific tests and posed no danger to human health or the environment.

“As the coordinating agency for the over 15 agricultural research institutes in Nigeria, we have identified modern biotechnology as one scientific tool whose potential can help improve crop and animal production.

“And we have done this with all sense of responsibility, bearing in mind both national and international protocols that guide the deployment of genetic modification.’’

The research, which started in 2009 was a collaboration between IAR and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) aimed at addressing effects of Maruca on beans.

The Country Director of AATF, Dr Abdourhamane Issoufou said the need for appropriate technologies arose as a result of scientists identification of Maruca as a factor inhibiting mass production of the crop in Africa.

“AATF was able to obtain access to the Cry1Ab gene used for this modification on humanitarian basis and worked with institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Malawi for the transformation.

“Today, Nigeria stands tall in the comity of nations for effectively managing and bringing to fruition this dream.

“The research results have shown that the PBR-cowpea is safe for human and animals, completely resistant to Maruca; leads to yield increase of 20 per cent with fewer sprays of chemical insecticides,” he said.

The acting Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Alex Akpa said Nigeria’s approval of the release had registered the country among global scientific community.

“After 10 years of laboratory works 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,” he said. 

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