Nigerian farmers and consumers hail high-yielding genetically modified cowpea, which has transformed livelihoods and brought food security

Nigerian farmers and consumers hail high-yielding genetically modified cowpea, which has transformed livelihoods and brought food security

Opuah Abeikwen*

Cowpea is an important legume grown mainly in the dry savannas bordering the Sahara Desert, where annual rainfall is about 300 mm.

It is estimated that in Africa, 200 million people consume it daily as grains or vegetables – the fresh leaves and pods.

Cowpea is also considered a cheap source of protein for the poor, making it a crop contributing to the elimination of malnutrition.

The protein content of cowpea varieties ranges from 17 to 32% of dry weight, of which about 64% is made up of carbohydrates, vitamins and fibre.

Apart from its nutritional component, cowpea has multiple benefits for farmers, including its ability to grow and produce high yields in poor, sandy soils, high rates of symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and low fertilizer requirements. weaker.

Despite these benefits and their importance for a sustainable way of life, it is sad to note that the productivity of cowpea in the fields of typical farmers in sub-Saharan Africa remains very low, at less than 600 kilograms per hectare compared to a potential grain yield of over 2,000 kilograms per hectare.

This is partly due to several factors, including insect infestations.

The long-awaited solution against insect pests

Insect pests are the most yield-reducing biotic factors in cowpea production globally, especially the pod borer Glass door which destroys the pods of the plant in the fields.

Over the years, scientists have studied and tried to acquire knowledge and tools on how to tackle this problem.

Finally, in 2019, Nigeria became the first country in the world to commercialize cowpea resistant to pod borers (PBRresistant pod borer).

This breakthrough has given Nigerian farmers the opportunity to grow this plant.

Those who planted the GM cowpea continue to express joy over their yields, saying the crop was the long-awaited solution to the pest problem Maruca.

Farmers testified that they saw profits through higher yields and also spent less on pesticides, which they applied only twice during the growing season compared to eight times for cowpea conventional.

Recounting her personal experience with the improved variety, Ms. Patience Koku, Managing Director of Replenish Farms, said a Bt cowpea plant produced more than 45 pods, with visible signs of new flowers. According to her, this means higher yields and therefore additional income.

The farmer said cowpea farmers are struggling to prevent the deadly worm Maruca to dig the pods and attack the grains and leave many of them with nil crops; she also attributed the uncontrollable rise in the price of cowpea to this problem.

She complained that this deplorable situation has seriously deprived low-income citizens of access to protein at an affordable price.

Ms. Koku said the GM cowpea has sparked optimism that the price of cowpea has fallen.

« Farmers will earn money and other people will also benefit because increased production of cowpea means we can have better and competitive prices in the market. “, she said.

Mrs. Judith Ekele, another farmer who grew the GM cowpea, said she had a good harvest.

Besides the high yield, she said the GM cowpea cooks faster and does not come out mashed like the conventional variety.

It meets all market requirements

Chief Daniel Okafor, the vice-president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), also said reports from farmers who planted the GM cowpea were very encouraging.

« cowpea PBR is a seed that, if sown with care and managed with the best agronomic practices, produces more than double yields compared to its conventional equivalent“, said the boss of theAFAN.

GM cowpea does not need a lot of chemicals because it is resistant to pests.

The chemicals, according to Chief Okafor, stay in the environment for a long time and are harmful. ” We are tired of having poor harvests and contracting diseases from the use of chemicals and pesticides. »

Ms. Faith Ame, a food trader and farmer, believes that GM cowpea is unique and meets all market requirements.

« It is not very easy to obtain a conventional variety with all these qualities “, did she say. ” For traders and farmers, these qualities are very important and allow us to obtain maximum profits. ».

According to Professor Mohammad Ishyiaku, Principal Investigator of the GM Cowpea Project and Executive Director of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, these qualities of GM cowpea are the result of the modification and variety of cowpea that has been selected for editing.

« This modification is mainly responsible for the resistance of cowpea to the parasite. Maruca. The direct result is increased yield and a neat appearance, which are the basic characteristics of the cowpea variety we used. said Professor Ishyiaku.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer and consumer of cowpea, but the country’s annual production shortfall is over 500,000 metric tons.

It is estimated that Nigeria will save up to $40 million previously used for pesticides if GM cowpea is grown on one million hectares.

PBR cowpea also promises another 20 percent yield advantage, which is valued at about $112 million per year.

With millions of seeds already on the market waiting to be sown, the government and all stakeholders in the agricultural sector must work together to help the public reap the benefits of this scientific breakthrough and improve livelihoods.

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* Source : Nigeria farmers and consumers laud the high-yield GM cowpea for transforming livelihoods and bringing food security – Alliance for Science

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