The director-general, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, has outlined how self-sufficient in maize production Nigeria will be if and how improved her economy will become if the country adopts the TELA maize.
He made this assertion during a press conference in Abuja, saying biotechnology and its tools have opened a window of opportunity for Nigeria to address the challenges facing food crops.
“As a country, agriculture was one of the major employers of labour, but in recent times, our agricultural processes started encountering challenges of insects/pests, drought, weediness, floods, gully erosion, oil spillage, among others that led to reduced yield and made farming very unattractive, especially to the youth,” he said.
He assured that NABDA will continue to work with IAR, Zaria and other institutions across Nigeria and beyond to promote biotechnology usage and research development in agriculture as one of the most potent options available to revive agriculture and make it a net contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Mustapha indicated that modern biotechnology and its tools offer a lot of benefits in agricultural productivity and therefore, could be a game-changer if truly and wholly embraced in Nigeria and Africa at large.
“The Federal Government never made a mistake when it decided to invest in biotechnology by creating the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NBDA) as well as the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to promote and regulate the technology respectively in the country. This is a testimony that the country is well prepared and ready with all the required frameworks in place,” he said.
“Biotechnology and its tools, especially genetic modification, has opened a window of opportunity for us in the country in the deployment of genetic modification in agriculture and we are proud of the institute’s achievement in modern biotechnology,” he maintained.
He highlighted that Nigeria through national and international partnerships has achieved two remarkable feats in the last few years with the commercial release by the National Varietal Release Committee (NVRC) of Bt. Cotton and PBR Cowpea.
“Today’s activity has, again, shown that IAR has perfected the deployment of biotechnology into the agricultural sector as it has taken on the challenges of the fall armyworm which caused a huge devastation to maize farmers some years back,” he said.
He said NABDA would continue to work with IAR and some other institutions across Nigeria and beyond to promote biotechnology usage /research and development in agriculture as one of the most potent options available to revive agriculture and make it a net contributor to the country’s GDP. While urging scientists to continue to search for abiotic and biotic solutions to the challenges facing farmers across the nation.
“Now that we have tested technologies capable of providing solutions to problems that farmers face, let us take advantage of it and move forward,” he concluded.
Similarly, the IAR executive director, Professor Mohammad Ishiyaku, represented by Prof. Bitrus Tarfa, said that the introduction of TELA maize to resist insects would make maize production cheaper in Nigeria.
According to him, TELA maize which is drought resistant, will not only provide stable production of maize but would expand maize production to marginal areas where rainfall is not so high.
“IAR is committed to making our agriculture climate-smart and able to adjust to both extreme and optimal environmental conditions,” he said.
Speaking on the economic benefits, the executive director said the savings farmers will make from the maize variety is estimated to be N9 billion from insecticide spray of 500 hectares of land and drought effects.
“This is to ensure that we continue to expend government resources strictly on those problems that will lead to national economic growth and self-sufficiency in food production. The Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Samaru in its almost 99 years of existence has developed and released crop varieties that are climate resilient and farmer-friendly.”
The IAR executive director said: “IAR recognises the importance of cutting-edge tools in sharpening research output. It is in this vein that it combines conventional and modern genetic engineering tools to discover scientific solutions to farmers and consumer problems.”
While addressing journalists, the principal investigator for TELA Maize, Professor Adamu Rabiu, said that the adoption of TELA Maize could translate to an economic boost and make Nigeria self-sufficient in maize production.
“It has a stacked trait; stem-borer, fall armyworm and drought-resistant at the same time. So, the trial is in 3 phases; the first trial is breeding for fall armyworm resistance, while the second is choosing raw materials bred that are resistant to stem borer and the third is about evaluating those materials that could do well in the presence of drought and optimum condition and try to manage them,” he explained.
The fall armyworm could cost 80 per cent yield losses and, if not properly managed, can lead to a total yield loss. Also, he noted that the TELA maize project is aimed at alleviating the two major constraints that affect maize production – insect pests and drought.
Also talking to the journalists, lead trial, pipeline testing, Dr. Muhyideen Oyekunle explained that the trial is confined because they are dealing with a genetically modified organism which needs to be on a confined field to ensure genetic confinement until approval for deregulation is obtained. “Until the approval for environmental release is got, the product will not be taken out of confinement,” he highlighted.
Ayekunle said, from the last two trials conducted, the transgenic variety recorded a yield advantage of 17 per cent over the non-Bt., despite heavy infestation. The varieties under trials were infested thrice unlike the previous ones, to virtually evaluate the efficacy of the Bt. gene in the maize product. With the outcome, researchers said the yield will increase above 17 per cent.
In a related development, the country coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria chapter Dr. Rose Gidado sensitised the journalists on the productivity and profitability of the maize variety.
“Farming is more about productivity and harvestable yield. Harvestable yield is what would be realised in the project. The fall armyworm has devastated maize farming in Nigeria and farmers have been suffering but when the maize variety is ready and gets to farmers, they will smile. With the increase in yield, farmers’ livelihood will be enhanced and they will also get more money.”
Some farmers who spoke to journalists through their representative, Malam Tafida, said they are waiting anxiously for the final unveiling of the variety which would not only make them harvest more but ensure the sustenance of national food security.
They, however, appealed to the government to subsidise fertilizer, make it available to the farmers and provide them with more incentives that would make them participate in dry season farming.
The farmers said they would continue to strive and ensure that food items are not imported into the country.
“The Tela maize will add value to the product of our agricultural activity [and] we will earn more money by producing more,” they pledged.