By Mohammed Kandi
The Scientists currently developing the Maruca-resistant cowpea (beans) for farmers to surmount the problem of low yield, said Nigerian farmers will access a variety resistant to Maruca pest in 2017, if the country gets a biosafety law.
The scientists, Professors Prince Addae and Mohammed Faguji Ishyaku are currently working on a few projects in developing various crop varieties jointly sponsored by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
They disclosed that farmers yarning for maruca-resistant beans had prompted the effort but said the planned release of the resistant variety to farmers in 2017 would become a reality only with government authorization.
Addressing newsmen at a training organised by the AATF for science and agricultural journalists recently in Zaria, Prof. Prince Addae of AATF said that the foundation and its research partners were conducting all necessary research and testing to get the seeds ready for release by 2017 for planting by farmers.
“There are a lot more things to do before the seeds get to the farmer; first of all, the Biosafety Bill is very important,” Addae said. “When the farmers saw this last time, they were happy and willing to take it but we couldn’t give them yet, because we do not have the Biosafety Law in place yet.”
“We have put ourselves in the forefront to say that we will try and get the seeds to the farmer by 2017: we are working so hard on it but we need the biosafety bill passed,” he reiterated.
Addae also informed that a multi-location testing of the resistant variety was currently on in three geo-ecological zones of Zaria, Kaduna state, Minjibir, Kano state and Talata Mafara, Zamfara state to examine how the crops can survive different stress.
He asserted that the AAFT would also have to carry out series of testing as demanded by industry regulations before the product is released.
In his remarks on safety of the crop, Prof. Mohammed Ishyaku of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and lead researcher in the Maruca-resistant cowpea project, said ensuring the protection of the crops in confinement was a top priority for them, as well as its safety to the farmers.
According to him, the perceived risk and fear of the technology had called for a strict and meticulous handling of the trial processes saying “we tried about 1,500 varieties, trying to put the gene in the cowpea plant, only one was successful. If you are working on it, you get disappointed.”
“In the farmers’ field, the pod borer reduces cowpea yield by 80 per cent and that is a lot; these you don’t see because you are not on the farm but the cowpea farmer sees it,” he said.
He said that the Maruca-resistant cowpea variety has been developed, planted in confined fields, purposely infested with a lot of Maruca and yet produced great yields that have been harvested.