Nigeria is experiencing a shortage of genetically modified cowpea seeds, as farmers’ demand for the insect-resistant crop greatly exceeds supply.
Public sector scientists who developed the high-yielding variety have struggled to produce enough certified seed to meet the huge demand as farmers who planted it in trials last year released the news about how she helped protect their fields from attack by the voracious pod borer pest. Nigeria approved the commercial use of pod borer resistant (PBR) cowpea in December 2019.
Hajia Dijesaidu, coordinator of the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization, said she first planted GM cowpea seeds last year and achieved higher yields and reduced pest pressure. After inviting a few members of his association to visit the fields, they all asked for the new variety.
“They see he’s getting more returns, and he hasn’t consumed any money [on insecticide sprays]. This results in less work and less spraying. I sprayed the farm only twice. Our previous seeds, we spray about 10 to 12 times before harvesting them, ”she told Alliance for Science during a recent visit to her farm in Nigeria.
But Dijesaidu and others in his organization, which has around 27,500 members, were unable to obtain as much PBR cowpea seed as they would like this year. “I want them [seed] companies to bring us more PBR seeds next time because our people like it, ”she noted.
Ahiaba M. Sylvanus, a small farmer from Kaduna State, had a similar experience. The 63-year-old farmer typically spends around 20,000 naira (US $ 50) to buy pesticides for his farm each season – a cost he says reduces his profits. But he only spent about 25 percent of that amount on pesticides when he grew GM cowpeas last year.
“I started to regret that the GM beans (cowpea) came out before this time,” he observed. “There are so many benefits… We spend less on labor and buying chemicals to spray. We spray two to three times for GM beans. But the rest, we spray up to eight times.
When asked if he would be growing Bt cowpea again this year, he replied, “I don’t have it yet” because the seeds are no longer available in the market. He said he was considering growing some of the Bt cowpea seeds he saved last year if he didn’t get any certified.
As the planting season began last July, the Agricultural Research Institute (IAR), which developed the variety at Ahmadu Bello University, distributed tons of GM seeds to three indigenous Nigerian seed companies and some groups. farmers’ cooperatives to sell them to farmers. . But that supply is running out and farmers are demanding more of the PBR cowpea, known commercially as SAMPEA 20-T.
Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, executive director of IRA, said the shortage was expected as the process of introducing GM seeds to Nigeria is still in its early stages. “They are now out of seeds because this is the start. The demand for seeds has far, far exceeded the supply we can provide, which is highly anticipated. This is just the beginning. So the next step for us is to expand basic seed multiplication, then the seed companies can produce certified seed from the ore to meet farmers’ demand, ”he said.
Seed industry stunned by demand
Onyibe Onyisi John, managing director of Gold Agric Nigeria Ltd., one of the local seed companies hired to help distribute GM seeds to farmers, said his industry has never encountered a more popular variety before. But they did not receive enough seeds from the IRA, and all available stock was quickly sold.
“At launch, they gave us 2.5 metric tonnes for testing. It was too small. The 2.5 tons couldn’t last a month and they were used up, ”John told the Alliance for Science. “We, the seed companies, have a lot to do… We haven’t had a subscribed variety like PBR cowpea. “
Bala Dari Kayi, managing director of Tecnic Seeds, said the 2.5 metric tonnes of PBR cowpea allocated to his company did not last even for two weeks. “The farmer is always looking for any way to reduce production costs,” he said. “PBR cowpea is remarkable compared to other cowpeas. “
Benjamin Ameh Abraham, administrative manager of Maina Seeds, said his supply has also run out quickly, although farmers are paying 1,000 naira ($ 2.4) per kilogram for PBR cowpeas compared to 800 naira ($ 1.9 ) for the same amount of its conventional counterpart. “We think a lot of farmers will always want this particular variety because of what they get from it,” Abraham said.
Reap “huge benefits”
Cowpea is a protein-rich staple food crop consumed daily by around 200 million people in Africa. It is typically cooked and eaten with carbohydrate sources like plantains and rice. Although Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of cowpea (commonly known as bean), its annual production deficit stands at over 500,000 metric tonnes.
Much of the deficit can be attributed to the pod-killing pest Maruca, which can cause yield loss of 100 percent. Insects are particularly devastating as they not only damage flowers and buds, but also destroy cowpea pods, resulting in huge grain losses.
Cowpea PBR offers inherent protection against the pest due to the introduction of a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural soil bacterium widely used in organic farming. Nigeria is the first country in the world to commercialize Bt cowpea, with similar projects underway in Ghana and Burkina Faso under the auspices of the Kenya-based AATF (formerly called the African Agricultural Technology Foundation).
Ishiyaku said that farmers who grow GM cowpeas gain huge benefits as they can significantly reduce the costs of pesticides and achieve better crops. The PBR cowpea variety has a yield potential of 2.9 tonnes per hectare, compared to 1.9-2 tonnes for non-GM varieties.
Image: Nigerian farmer Hajia Dijesaidu shows off her healthy GM cowpea plants. Photo: Joseph Opoku Gakpo