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Boost for maize production as FG approves cultivation of Tela variety

The Nigerian government has granted environmental approval for evaluation and open cultivation of the Tela maize – a variety that is resistant to fall armyworm, stem borders and can tolerate moderate drought, the National Biosafety Management Agency said.

The approval which is contained in a certificate issued to Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (IAR) – developers of the variety will boost local production of the grain in Africa’s most populous country which has suffered from supply shortfall in recent years and fall armyworm.

A decision document accompanying the certificate from the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) said that in arriving at the decision to grant the permit, the agency took into consideration the advice of the National Biosafety Committee, the Technical Sub-Committee, and the risk management report provided by IAR.

“The agency was convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risk to human health. The permit, pursuant to this decision, is without prejudice to other extant legal requirements,” the biosafety agency said.

“This permit authorises the permit holder and persons covered by the permit to commercialise the TELA Maize genetically modified for drought tolerance and insect resistance,” it added.

Maize is the leading cereal grown in Nigeria, closely followed by sorghum and rice, and can be cultivated in all states of the country.

The grain crop serves as a key input in many manufacturing companies and the poultry industry.

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About 60 percent of Nigeria’s maize is used for the production of poultry feeds, 25percent is used-up by the food and beverage industry, and remaining is consumed by households, according to experts.

Reacting to the decision, in a statement, Ishiyaku Mohammed, a professor and executive director, IAR, said it is really inspiring for IAR to secure NBMA approval for the commercial release of the drought-tolerant and insect-resistant Maize (TELA MAIZE).

“This goes to further highlight IAR’s capacity and commitment to providing effective solutions to agricultural problems facing our farmers and optimizing food security for Nigerians. The approval will open the way to combating the devastating effects of both drought and insect pests through the deployment of this new variety of Maize into our farming system,” he said.

“The next step is to further evaluate the performance of this new variety by farmers on their fields in all the major maize growing belts in Nigeria. Thereafter we shall seek another approval by the National variety release committee before making the seeds commercially available for farmers to plant in the 2023 cropping season,” he added.

Also, Canisius Kanangire, executive director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said the approval has shown that Nigeria is really the giant leading the way in Africa and ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from life-changing technologies that have transformed farming in other parts of the globe.

“The approval by the government of Nigeria is a sign that we are making good progress especially in our quest to expand the options for smallholder farmers on the continent to profit from their labour by using affordable technologies that enhance productivity and reduce incidents of insect pests’ infestation,” Kanangire said.

“TELA Maize is coming at a time when farmers are spending so much to reduce insect and pest attacks as well as battling with the issue of drought. With TELA Maize, farmers in Nigeria will have relief from frequent constant chemical sprays which affect their health. The saving from chemical use can be converted to address other family needs,” he added.

Similarly, Sylvester Oikeh, AATF Tela maize project manager said this is the beginning of a new era for maize farmers in Nigeria who have suffered greatly from the twin problem of drought and devastating insect pests occasioned by climate change.

Oikeh said the resources and time spent in protecting maize against insect pests will be used for other operations and the maize produced will provide healthier grains for farmers and consumers alike.

Rabiu Adamu, a professor and principal investigator of Tela maize said with the deregulation, the institute is now permitted to conduct multilocation trials to evaluate the yield and adaptability of the Tela hybrids across the different agro-ecologies in Nigeria.

“The highest yielding hybrids exhibiting tolerance to drought and resistance to stem borer and fall armyworm will be released to farmers for cultivation. We hope to register some of the outstanding hybrids to commercialize through.” Nigerian seed companies for farmers to grow in the 2023 rainy season.

“The deregulation will fast-track our work to achieve the mission of the project to avail farmers with transgenic maize to solve the challenges of drought, stem borer, and fall armyworm.”

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