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Nigeria commercialises first transgenic cowpea variety

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation has approved the registration and release of a new Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea (beans) variety for commercialisation.

The approval was granted by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties recently in Ibadan, Oyo state.

The cowpea variety, SAMPEA 20-T, was developed by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in collaboration with various partners under coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

Mohammed Ishiyaku, principal investigator for the project and executive director, Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria said both the on-station and on-farm trials demonstrated the superiority of SAMPEA 20-T relative to local, recently released cowpea varieties and improved breeding lines tested.

“SAMPEA 20-T is high yielding, early maturing and resistant to Striga and Alectra, which are a major constraint to cowpea production in most producing areas in Nigeria and other dry savanna regions,” said Ishiyaku who is also a professor in a statement.

“The protein and nutrients content of variety SAMPEA 20-T is the same as that of other conventional varieties meaning that the Bt gene that was introduced into the variety has no negative influence on the nutritional composition of both grain and folder,” Ishiyaku further said.

He added that the newly released variety does not differ in any way from already existing cowpeas other than the improvements made.

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) had in January 2019 approved the release of the PBR cowpea.

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The approval by the biosafety agency paved the way for submission to the National Variety Release Committee for consideration and registration of the first variety containing the PBR Cowpea trait as a commercial crop in Nigeria.

The newly registered SAMPEA 20-T is highly resistant to Maruca vitrata, an insect pest that causes up to 90 percent yield loss in severe infestation cases.

The new variety is early maturing (70 – 75 days) with semi-erect growth habit, insensitive to day-length, and has a medium-large white seeds.

It is also resistant to Striga and Alectra, two notorious parasitic weeds.

The decision to release the variety means that farmers will have access to the seed that will help them significantly reduce the number of sprays they currently apply to their crop from 6 to 7 times to an average of 2 times per cropping season.

It will also ensure that farmers’ yield per hectare is improved upon in quantity and quality.

Similarly, it will contribute to addressing the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tons and also improve the national productivity average yield per hectare of 350kg.

During the Multilocational Advanced Yield Trials conducted across Nigeria’s agro-ecologies, researchers found SAMPEA 20-T to have high stable grain yield across the test locations.

The minimum observed grain yield increase over the conventional cowpea varieties was 20 percent and the maximum was over 200 percent.

The variety yielded over 2.9 tons of beans per hectare and over 3.0 tons of fodder per hectare.

Denis Kyetere, executive director AATF, appreciated the government of Nigeria for releasing the new cowpea variety saying it showed its commitment towards improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

“Cowpea farmers have had to endure difficult farming conditions that required spraying dangerous chemicals on their crop to make a profit which is risking their lives,” Kyetere said.

“We at AATF express our joy with Nigeria as it takes the lead in the deployment of necessary technologies that show promise of solving the challenges which farmers encounter daily,’ he added.

SAMPEA 20-T is a product of over a decade of research efforts by a partnership that brought together Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia for genetic transformation, IAR, NABDA, ARCN, Danforth Plant Science Center, which provided regulatory support, and Bayer CropScience, which provided the Cry1Ab gene to the partnership on humanitarian basis, royalty-free, so that small scale farmers can access it affordably.

The project partnership was coordinated by AATF with sustained funding by USAID.

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