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Nigeria Gears Up For Bt Cowpea, Cotton Commercialisation

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As Nigeria goes through the final process before the commercialisation of Bacillus thuringiences (Bt) Cowpea and cotton, experts in the biotechnology sector have expressed optimism at the gains of biotechnology, saying the nation is fully prepared for its adoption and application.

Speaking during an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Abuja, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria chapter country coordinator, Dr Rose Gidado, said the commercialisation of the Bt Cowpea would fill the nation’s deficit in terms of production of the staple food crop.

“Nigeria is a cowpea producing nation but currently we do not produce enough to feed the nation because of the pod-borer; Maruca vitrata which is the major Lepidopteran pest that inflicts severe damage to the cowpea plant. It damages the cowpea pods in the field and in severe infestations amounted to yield loss of about 80 per cent. This leads the nation to a deficit of over 500, 000 tonnes, which translates to about N16 billion yearly.

“However, studies have shown that the Bt (Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea can drastically reduce the use of pesticide and increase yield to up to 20 per cent, which translates to N48 billion annually, at the rate of N120, 000 per tonne,” she said.

Gidado also said the Bt cotton, which is currently on general release, holds the key to reviving the nation’s textile industry.

“Nigeria’s textile industry used to be the highest employer of labour in the 90’s but went under because so many textile companies were unable to break even because of a myriad of reasons, a major one being boll worm infestation. Bt cotton tackles this same challenge and once it is commercialised, we envisage a revamping of the industry.”

Listing more gains, the principal investigator of the PBR cowpea project in Nigeria, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, Prof Mahammad Ishiyaku, said Nigeria can save over N16 billion annually on reduction of insecticide’ spray requirement on cowpea.

“In trying to deal with the Maruca infestation, farmers are forced to use heavy doses of insecticides which is expensive and comes with myriads of disadvantages such as being unaffordable to resource poor farmers, uses up precious foreign reserve unsafe to health, causes death, sickness, disability, unsafe to environment, kills beneficial organisms, residual etc.

“But Bt cowpea trials have shown significant reduction of insecticide spray requirement from eight to two or three times at most. This is huge, it invariably means reduction in the use of insecticide, making it more environmentally friendly, reduce human health problems, because the fumes can also affect those spraying. It will also reduce the destruction of biodiversity, in causing ozone layer depletion because of the release of gas when these products breaks down, which is the cause of greenhouse gas.”

Speaking exclusively to our correspondent, the vice president of All Famers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Daniel Okafor, said Nigerian farmers are ecstatically waiting for the commercialisation of the Bt crops, saying they are the end users of the product and have to reap the benefits like their counterparts across the globe, and any technology that provides solution to the numerous challenges of farmers should not be ignored, adding that biotechnology has the potential to lift farmers.

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