Bt Cowpea: Nigeria Begins Process For Post Commercialisation Sensitization

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A cross section of stakeholders at the PBR cowpea workshop in Abuja.

With the commercialization of the genetically modified (GM) — pest-resistant Bt cowpea, the Nigerian government has commenced the process of building partnerships to sensitise Nigerians and farmers on the importance of adopting and accepting this important food crop.

Speaking at a stakeholders’ workshop themed “PBR cowpea (beans): A model public-private partnership (PPP) for food and nutrition security in Africa” today (November 3) in Abuja, the director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said the meeting organized by the Nigerian arm of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Lagos, provides an opportunity for the government of Nigeria to support the growing of Bt cowpea.

“NABDA played a key role in securing regulatory approval and commercial release of Bt cowpea.  The long road to commercialisation would prove fruitless if the crop is not adopted and accepted by farmers and consumers.  To prevent this predicament, the post-commercialisation environment requires sustainable outreach and media efforts with diverse partners and new stakeholders.

“The workshop focuses on public participation and stakeholder engagement. Unsurprisingly, decades of negative news about biotechnology is responsible for the current tepid response by farmers.  Misinformation remains one of the key factors that have hindered the adoption of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria.  The proposed activities will increase farmers awareness and consumer preference for the crop,” he assured.

The NABDA boss said the workshop would articulate strategies that will assist in educating the public adequately so that anti-technologists will not have the opportunities to misinform them.

Represented by the country coordinator, OFAB Nigeria, Dr. Rose Gidado, Mustapha averred that genetically enhanced products have been in existence in other countries of the world for nearly three decades, using the technology to turn around their agricultural productivity challenges, improve their health sector etc.

“Over here, though, the technology had been under unnecessary criticisms and scrutiny that will not take us anywhere,” he said.

He pointed out that the agency is responsible for promoting biotechnology activities that positively respond to national aspirations on food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery and a sustainable environment.

“The agency also must make biotechnology an engine of growth for socio-economic development of Nigeria by promoting, coordinating and deploying cutting-edge biotechnology research and development, processes and products for the socio-economic well-being of the nation,” he stated.

In his address, the counsellor of agricultural affairs, USDA, Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon, Mr. Gerald Smith, highlighted that agriculture is one of the most important economic sectors impacting the lives and livelihood of thousands of cowpea farmers who are primarily smallholders. He said the commercialization of the Bt cowpea, which is a major success story in Nigeria’s agriculture, was not an overnight success but a milestone achieved in the wake of over two decades of research and field trials and risk assessments by multiple stakeholders in Nigeria and across the world.

“The success of the transgenic beans adds a new crop from Africa to the global biotech basket – with Nigeria playing a crucial champion role. Furthermore, the commercialisation of the transgenic bean also underscores that extensive safety studies were conducted to demonstrate that the Bt cowpea is safe for both human and livestock consumption.

“The thousands of farmers across Nigeria who planted the Bt cowpea this planting season attest to the multiple benefits they derive compared to prior seasons. The shortage of seeds reflects the substantial adoption of the crop. This new paradigm of scientific collaboration was due to unprecedented joint efforts by varied stakeholders. All of us gathered here today must work together relentlessly with all partners (multi-lateral entities, governments, the private sector, NGOs and academia) to increase the adoption of transgenic crops across Africa – to strengthen food security,” he added.

In his goodwill message, the immediate past president, Genetics Society of Nigeria (GSN), Prof.  Emmanuel Kwon-Ndung, said the society has remained a major collaborator with NABDA in promoting the activities of our scientists in Nigeria, adding that it remained ready to sustain the collaboration with all critical stakeholders in the agricultural network and other relevant sectors to advance biotechnology in Nigeria and Africa for the benefit Nigeria’s farmers and in repositioning the Nigerian economy.    

Highlighting the workshop objectives earlier, Gidado said forming partnerships and alliances for the long-term sustainability of the Bt Cowpea will enhance the fast adoption of the seed, increase the number of champions who would help promote the acceptance of the seed across the country and catalyse the crop’s potential to revolutionalise Nigeria’s agriculture and the fortunes of her farmers.

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