First GMO in Nigeria: Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea, by Professor M.K Othman

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Professor M. K. Othman.
Professor M.K. Othman.

BreakThrough

This is a corollary of the last two weeks article on GMO; readers of this column may be interested to be updated on the first genetically modified food crop in Nigeria, which was launched last year.

Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea, a GMO was commercially released on Monday, 28th January 2019 in Nigeria. This was a momentous date in the history of genetic engineering of agricultural commodities in Nigeria.

The country emerged triumphantly in the global scientific community as a nation capable of using biotechnology to address food security challenges. The Federal Government of Nigeria approved the commercial release of the PBR Cowpea, which was developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), one of the research centres of Ahmadi Bello University, Zaria.

IAR is also among the seventeen National Agricultural Research Institutes under the auspices of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Abuja.

The development of PBR Cowpea made it to become the first genetically modified food crop to be approved in the country. IAR in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) commenced the research to address a deadly pest called “MarucaVitrata” in 2009.

This pest attacks beans and reduces its yield by more than 50% and was kind of becoming pesticide-resistant. This became necessary when a series of efforts to use conventional breeding methods failed to produce the desired results.

Ten years of extensive research by IAR and her collaborators on genetic engineering is highly commendable considering the environmental challenges to scientific research in Nigeria. It is also commendable to the Federal government for the prompt action to commercially release the product of this tireless intellectual work conducted over a ten-year period.

The release of the PBR cowpea variety into the nation’s agricultural seed system was necessitated by two key reasons. First, the variety successfully passed all regulatory stipulations and international scientific procedures subjected to GMO for safety and standard. Second, the Federal government is very desirous of making the nation achieve food security through the use of improved technologies

Elimination of the deadly cowpea infestation will increase the national average yield of cowpea from 1.5 to 3.5 tons per hectare thereby facilitating the achievement of national food security.

Consequently, the solution will bridge the national deficit of cowpea demand estimated to be more than 500,000 tons in addition to the improvement of the national productivity while lowering the food importation.

Nigeria is recognized globally as the largest Cowpea producer with the making of 61 per cent of the African production and 58 per cent of the world’s production.

Incidentally, Nigeria is also ranked as the highest consumer of cowpea. As a leguminous crop, cowpea is a food crop that forms the bulk of dishes eaten in the majority of households in Nigeria on a daily basis.

It is highly nutritional with a high supply of energy content to the body. Cowpea has a wide range of nutritional benefits to the body. A small quantity of cowpea, about 170 grams could contain as much as 13.22g of protein and more than three times carbohydrates of 35.5g.

It is a good source of vegetable protein and can serve as meat to people who cannot afford animal protein or are vegetarians. Cowpea has protection ability against colon cancer as well as reduction of blood cholesterol levels by working as a bulk laxative and bringing down reabsorption of cholesterol-binding bile acids in the colon.

It is rich in essential amino acids and B vitamins, with a very high content of the very important folate, which helps prevent neural-tube defects in babies and thus making it one of the preferred delicacies for pregnant women.

Additionally, cowpea contains several essential minerals like Copper, Iron, Selenium, Calcium, Zinc, Phosphorus, Potassium and as well as contains little fat, making it suitable for people placed on a low-fat diet.

Cowpea is dominantly grown by smallholder farmers and serves as a primary source of protein for both urban rich and rural poor Nigerians. With a serious threat to food insecurity coupled with the results of the Fifth Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS5) recently released, the choice of cowpea for the development of first Nigerian GMO is certainly dexterous in our national effort to achieve food security.

With PBR cowpea, farmers will no longer need to use toxic chemicals on the production and preservation of cowpea, the yield will increase, and more cowpea will be available for food to Nigerians and beyond.

This is indubitably a highly commendable effort to IAR and her likeable collaborators and supporters. While commending the developers of the first Nigerian GMO, it must be stated that GMO connotes dreadful fear to some people.

Is GMO safe for human consumption? This question was answered in my last week article. So far, there is no scientific evidence to prove that GMO crops are harmful for human consumption.

Still, we need to be careful, vigilant and subject GMO crops to all kind of safety measurements. No effort is too much or too costly when it comes to human health associated with food consumption.

Is PBR cowpea safe to humanity? What are the efforts to make the PBR cowpea popularize? Answering these questions may conclude this piece next week.

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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