Food security situation analysis presented in the first part of this article indicates the most worrisome scenario in the nation’s effort to achieve sustainable production of sufficient food to all. Sufficing that all hands must be on deck for Nigeria to produce adequate food to feed its citizenry and achieve food security.
It is within this context that the breakthroughs achieved by Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) in 2018 become heartwarming, cheery and reassuring to all patriotic and well meaning Nigerians. This giant stride is capable of proving “the prophets of doom” wrong. IAR worked assiduously to come up with seventeen new crop varieties which are climate resilient, high yielding and adaptable to farmers nationwide.
These crops varieties are capable of ensuring adequate food on the table of every Nigerian household and the neighboring countries. What are these crops? How will they be accessible to every farmer? These were the questions posed last week.
The crops released by IAR in 2018 alone were seventeen different varieties of Sorghum (guinea-corn), groundnut, Cowpea (beans), cotton and maize (con). Sorghum had three varieties. They were SAMSORG 47, 48 and 49 specially developed with peculiar traits relevant to the Nigerian farming system across the ecological zones. SAMSORG 47 is a yellow seeded with high grain yield of 4.8 tons per hectare and matures in 120-125 days. The variety is tolerant to smut disease and suitable foe Sudan and Northern Guinea Savanna ecologies. The second variety was SAMSORG 48, which is equally yellow seeded with potential yield of 4.7 tons per hectare, matures between 125 to 130 days. This variety is tolerant to Striga and suitable for Sudan and Northern Guinea ecologies. The third variety was SAMSORG 49, which is similarly white seeded, short-duration and could yield up to 2.8 tons per hectare. This unique character of early maturity makes SAMSORG 49adaptable to Sudan and Sahel Savanna ecologies where rainfall is received within 100 days. The variety matures from 85 to 95 days. These three varieties of sorghum have significant improvement over the traditional or local varieties, which yield less than 2 tons per hectare and mature around 140 days.
Similarly, groundnut had three additional new varieties. They were SAMNUT 27, 28 and 29.The first variety, SAMNUT 27 has high pod yields of 3.5 tons per hectare, early maturing, resistant to rosette, tolerant to early and late leaf sports diseases and adaptable to about three-quarter of Nigerian geographical area. Thus, the variety is suitable to Northern Guinea, Sudan and Sahel Savanna ecologies. The second and third varieties were SAMNUT 28 and 29 with potential pod yields of 3.1t/ha and 3.3t/ha, respectively. They are both of medium maturity and suitable to Northern Guinea and Sudan ecologies. However, SAMNUT 28 is a special variety that can serve dual purposes; high pod yield and haulms for livestock feed. This is a wonderful development for livestock farmers as SAMNUT 28 is capable of doubling their income by providing feeds to their animals as well as getting good grain yield. The yields of these groundnut varieties are certainly commendable. They were excellent result of dedicated research over several years when compared with the average yield of traditional groundnut variety in tropical Africa, which ranges from 0.3 to 1 ton per hectare.
Cowpea had two additional varieties. The varieties were SAMPEA 18 and 19 with yield potentials of 2.5 and 2.7t/ha, respectively. Both varieties are white seeded, early maturity, resistant to Alectra, Aphids, Thripsand bacterial blight, tolerant to striga and drought and suitable to Sudan and Sahel Savanna. This is another giant stride as the average yield of the traditional variety is less than 1 ton per hectare. Pests and diseases are the major impediment to obtaining good yield from the traditional varieties of cowpea.
In same year(2018), IAR in collaboration with MAHYCO India released Two Bt. Cotton varieties. The varieties are MAHYCO C567BGII and C571 BGII. Both varieties have potential yield of 4.4 tons per hectare. They are resistant to bollworm, tolerant to bacterial blight, Jassids and thrips, which are major diseases of cotton responsible for poor growth and low yield. The two Bt cotton varieties are suitable for all cotton growing zones of the country covering over thirty states of the federation. This is a laudable effort that can significantly complement the administration of President Buhari’s determination to revive cotton industries. Bt cotton was the first commercialized genetically modified crop that was release in Nigeria. It was done as a means to revitalize the comatose textile industry and boost economic development in the country. This yield of 4.4 tons per hectare has potential to quadruple the yield of local cotton variety, which merely ranges from0.6 to 0.9 tons per hectare. In addition to the pest-resistant traits, the new varieties offer early maturity, fiber length of 30.0 to 30.5 millimeters and fiber strength of 26.5 to 27.0g/tex (tenacity) and micronaire (strength) of 3.9 to 4.1. The new varieties will save farmers the trouble of contending with the local conventional variety, which is no longer accepted at the international market.
Readers may recall that in the 1970s, the textile industry was Nigeria’s second highest employer of labor. At its peak, between 1970 and 1990, it comprised about 130 modern factories and supported numerous other auxiliary firms that provided about 350,000 direct jobs and several millions indirect jobs among farmers, suppliers, transporters, dealers, traders and exporters. About 60 percent of the raw materials were sourced locally, which greatly supported agriculture, and 25 to 30 percent of its production was exported, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s 1995 annual report.
Today however, only 33 factories remain standing and the local cotton industry is in comatose, primarily due to low yields and high production costs associated with insect damage. Sucking pests like aphids, jassids and thrips weaken plants by sucking the sap from the tender new growth. Bollworms, which belong to the insect order Lepidoptera, attack cotton plants at different stages, though the feeding and breeding activities intensify as the crop matures. These pests can reduce yields by up to 60 percent. Bt crops, however, produce cry proteins that are naturally toxic to many harmful insect species.
In the same period under review (2018), seven Maize varieties were released. Maize, popularly known as corn is one of the major staple foods in Nigeria and is also fast becoming an industrial crop. The seven maize varieties were P3966W, P4063W, P4226, WE3205, DKB350, AMANA-1 and AMANA-2. Thanks to the concerted efforts of IAR scientists and other collaborators, maize is practically being produced in every nooks and crannies of this country. This is why each of the five agro-ecological zones was given a special consideration in the development and release of these improved maize varieties. For instance, P3966Wvariety was developed as a single cross hybrid targeting the southern part of Nigeria. The variety has grain potential of 8.9 t/ha; matures in 100 – 105 days; tolerant to rust, leaf blight and Curvularia leaf spot; suitable for forest, forest transition, Southern and Northern Guinea Savanna ecologies; good stand ability and white seeded. In all, five of the seven varieties were hybrids while the remaining two were synthetic with yields between 7.7 to 9.1 tons per hectare.
IAR deserves high commendation for this overwhelming effort.It is one of the fourteen research centers of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and one of the four National Research Institutes under Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The scientists of IAR play triple roles of research, teaching of university students and engaged in agricultural extension services in collaboration with National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS).
The efforts made by IAR in agricultural product development are commendable but there is need for the seeds companies to take the gauntlet for commercialization of these varieties and make them available to end-users. It is high time that the Federal government formulates a policy to compel seed companies to use the Research Institutes/breeders’ seeds for commercialization. Failure of these seeds companies using the home grown/developed seeds should lead to cancellation of the companies’ registration.
Alongside the policy, incentives could be provided to the seeds industry for using our research results that were found promising and viable. This has numerous advantages; strengthening the research center through patronage, increase productivity of the centers and industries, boost the nation economy and creating job opportunities to many Nigerians and foreigners. No doubt, IAR has demonstrated her capability to conquer hunger, facilitates the achievement of food security and diversification of the nation economy. The ball is in the court of policy makers and seeds companies. Will they kick it? Nigeria is tired of insults for her inability to produce sufficient food for the citizenry. Will the second term of Buhari’s government achieve food security? I am optimistic.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.