By Nkechi Isaac
The principal investigator of the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea project in Nigeria, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, Prof. Mahammad Ishiyaku, has said Nigeria can save over N16 billion annually on reduction of insecticide’ spray requirement on cowpea.
Presenting a keynote address with the theme “Myths and scientific facts about GM crops: Case study of PBR cowpea project in Nigeria” during the North West zonal media familiarization tour and seminar on biosafety and biotechnology in Zaria, the university don said Nigeria would make so much economic benefits when the GM cowpea is commercialised.
He said: “Economic benefits include reduction of insecticide spray requirement from 6-8 liter per hectare to 2-3 liter per hectare @ N1200.0 per liter = N5400.0 reduction in production cost per hectare planted with PBR cowpea, if of the 3 million hectares 1 million is planted to PBR cowpea the savings from cost of insecticide is sixteen billion and two hundred million naira (N16,200, 000,000.0) annually while economic benefits yield a 20% yield increase per hectare translates to forty-eight billion naira (N48,000, 000,000.0) annually @ N120,000.0 per tonne”
The Country Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr Rose Gidado, said the tour, organised by the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), Washington DC in partnership with the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; OFAB in Africa, Nigeria Chapter; National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) was to educate and equip journalists with the right knowledge on genetically modified crops.
“We have three trials going on here, we have the cotton, the cowpea and the African Bio fortified sorghum. We brought the journalists here on a seeing is believing tour to see how the crops are faring, the cowpea trials is farmer managed so you can see it for yourself. Genetically modified crops are just like any normal crop, you cannot even differentiate it from the conventional crops. Biotechnology is scientifically verifiable, economically viable and environmentally friendly,” she said.
Gidado decried the misinformation being peddled about biotechnology in the country, stressing that Nigeria needed this important technological tool for food security and economic diversification.
According to her: “The technology has been proven useful in all the developed countries, we have the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and if you follow the trend all these countries are advanced countries, they have food security, they can even give food aid to other countries and so if this technology is harmful I don’t think it will be that helpful and beneficial in empowering farmers, making farmers to have increased yield.
“Coming down to Africa countries, it’s been a problem, the African countries, especially the policy makers are being faced with contradictory sources of information on the technology; the technology is being misrepresented; people are being misinformed and mystified and scientific facts are distorted and so on.
“We’re talking about economic diversification and there’s no way you can diversify this economy successfully, make food available and affordable without the use of pervasive technologies like biotechnology in agriculture.”
In his remarks, the PBS representative, Dr Mathew Dore, noted that though the programme has no crop, they have committed themselves to the use of biotechnology for agricultural innovation, poverty alleviation and environmental integrity.
He urged more members of the academia to lend their voice to biotechnology and biosafety. While noting that the African Ministerial Council on Environment has endorsed the use of biotechnology, he added the freedom to innovate had been accepted by the African Union which urged member-states to go and innovate, use science for the development and progress of Africa.
“People say Nigeria is not ready but all assessment of biotechnology show that Nigeria more than any other country in Africa has the human capacity. The only weaknesses they say are electricity and freezers to do things in the laboratory but we’re smarter than that,” he added.
Earlier, the director, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, Prof. I. U. Abubakar, said the institute was not afraid of biotechnology.
He said: “We are not afraid of biotechnology; we’re in support of biotechnology as long as it is going to be useful to mankind which we believe in. It is well known that those who are afraid of biotechnology hide under environment. We know that the use of pesticides especially in this country where knowledge is limited has caused more problems than the solution because you see cases where insecticides are over used and misused. However, biotechnology is intervening in this area by breeding crops that are either resistant or tolerant to these insects thereby reducing the negative harmful use of pesticides on the environment.”
Speaking to journalists, Yunusa Tanimu, a farmer from Sabon Gari Local Government Area (LGA), Kaduna State, noted the significant difference between PBR Cowpea and the conventional one, saying it yields double on the same size of land than the conventional breed.
“I have been farming for 15 years and I am among the farmers doing the on field trials of the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea project here at IAR Zaria. The truth is that there is a significant difference between the traditional method and the new method of farming. We get double yield from farming on the same acre of land and use less spray with the new technology. We only spray twice as against seven or eight with the conventional cowpea. I want government to approve the commercialisation of the PBR Cowpea so I can have increased yield and be able to give my wife and three children a better life,” he said.