Cowpea, popularly called beans, is a food eaten in almost all the households in Nigeria, and it is one of the major sources of plant protein; that is why it is widely eaten across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Cowpea is a nutritious legume that is staple for over 200 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa which is majorly attacked by pod-borer (Maruca vitrata), which damages up to 70 to 80 per cent of harvest.
The conventional cowpea cannot stand the attacks of Maruca, which has made the farmers to adopt the use of chemicals to control the pests from ravaging the farms.
A minimum of N5,400 is spent by farmers per hectare to acquire chemicals which is needed to be sprayed eight to 10 times before the pest could be contained.
But the Pod-Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea which is currently undergoing confined field trial in different locations across the country has the potential to resist this Maruca from destroying the plants.
Also the PBR cowpea requires just about two to three spray of chemicals for a planting season to control the pest.
During media familiarisation tour and seminar on biosafety and biotechnology by the Institute for Agriculture Research (IAR), Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) and the Programme for Biosafety System (PBS), Nigerian Tribune learnt that Nigeria can generate N48 billion from planting this new cowpea variety.
According to the Principal Investigator, PBR Cowpea, IAR, Zaria, Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, the new cowpea variety helps reduce the amount of chemicals used on cowpea in the farm.
“Instead of spraying the cowpea up to eight times, this new material has the potential to do a maximum of three sprays, it can do very well compared to the one that can do with eight sprays of insecticide.
“We are working towards reducing insecticide spraying in this new variety when it is reduced from around eight to a maximum of three sprays, that’s going to be a tremendous reduction in the application of insecticide in the growth of cowpea.
“Cowpea that is not improved require about eight sprays of insecticide. Hopefully, we plan to reduce the amount of insecticide so that farmers can save money from that, not only that, this new variety of cowpea has the potential to produce between 100 to 150 per cent more yield increase at the end if the day.
“For every one hectare a farmer sprays, he needs to spend at least N5400 for buying insecticide along, not to talk of paying those who will spray the farm, water and others, but with this new variety, the farmer can spend about N1000 or N2000 per hectare, the reduction of about N3400 will make huge difference for the production”, Professor Ishiyaku noted.
Furthermore, Ahiaba Sylvanus who has been farming cowpea for more than 20 years said the early germinating of the new cowpea variety gives it an edge over the old variety.
He said the PBR cowpea makes it possible for farmers to plant and harvest quality yield twice in a year with reduced chemical spraying in the farm which makes it less expensive to plant than the conventional cowpea variety.
According to him “I have been farming cowpea for over 20 years, the variety of cowpea I have been using in the past years compared to this ones (GMO), I will prefer the GMO because of the earliness of the crop, it comes very early, you can plant two times in a year, but before it is only once, then the spraying system, I do spray 8 to 10 times on the variety I have been using, but with this new variety, you spray maximum of 3 times before harvesting the crop, so I prefer this one.
“The old variety does not grow on time, and you do a lot of weeding, but this new variety covers up immediately, and you weed once or twice”.
Speaking on how to get this new variety of cowpea to the farmers, Ishiyaku who is also a Professor of plant breeding said “the next step we will take now is that we will take all the data, show the evidence to the Variety Release Agency in Nigeria and then allow us to produce more of these seeds and distribute to farmers, then farmers will start growing it”.
On the economic benefits of the PBR Cowpea, Professor Ishiyaku said minimum N16 billion is expected to be saved from adopting this new technology, and Nigeria is expected to get as much as N48 billion if this technology is adopted.
His words: “For this variety, the quick arithmetic we made is we are going to save annually a minimum of N16.2 billion from the adoption of this new variety if it is released, and in terms of yield increase, Nigeria can get as much as N48 billion as a result of planting this new variety.
“The figures came from 20 per cent yield increase over the normal cowpea, and by growing 1 million hectare, and a hectare will yield N120,000 per ton, and if calculated, it will get to N48 billion”.
Speaking generally on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), the Country Coordinator of OFAB, Dr Rose Gidado said “the GMOs are safe, there is no doubt about it, because it has been proven safe for about 21 years now in other developed nations, and they are all using the technology with no health effect, the safety of GMO has also been endorsed by internationally recognized bodies”.
Gidado however said “this technology is actually meant to break a barrier that exists in the conventional technology, the barrier in the conventional technology is that you cannot cross outside a specie, like bringing in a gene from an unrelated specie, you have to do it within species, but with this GM technology, the gene pull is wide because you can pick a gene from anywhere and that is is why it being regulated because you are bringing a gene from an unrelated species.
“The farmers will benefit high and strong yields which will make them make profits, the 80 per cent loss that used to be incurred by farmers because of Maruca pest infestation will stop, there will be reduction in insecticide use”.