Nigeria joined the league of nations that apply biotechnology for enhanced agricultural output with the government’s approval for the commercial release of biotech crops, Bt Cowpea and Cotton, in 2019.
The commercial farming of the crops was billed for 2020 but was delayed as a result of the advent of the novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The nation now has returned for the commercialization of these products in the 2021 farming season on a strong footing.
Preparations are currently in top gear for the release of the products by the government, seed companies and the farmers, who are the direct beneficiaries of them.
Ahead of the 2021 farming season, the government has inaugurated a National Stewardship Committee on SAMPEA 20T, the pod borer resistant (PBR) cowpea, genetically modified to resist Maruca Vitrata, the major pest that inflicts severe damage to the cowpea plant. The inter-disciplinary, inter-agency committee which operates from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) office, Abuja, is to ensure a responsible and ethical management of the product.
Speaking exclusively to Science Nigeria shortly after the inauguration in Abuja, the committee chair, Dr Onyekachi Nwankwo, said the 11-member committee, made up of key players and stakeholders among the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as the private sector, has the mandate to ensure there is sustainability of the product along the value chain.
“We have agronomists, breeders, entomologists and others in the committee, the essence is to be able to manage these products to ensure its durability.
“The committee will coordinate the aspects of quality management, resistance management and the governance of the stewardship of the products across the country,” he said.
Nwankwo disclosed that the AATF would take all the members through the necessary trainings that would help them manage the products very well, adding all the members who were carefully selected were people with experience in different aspects of product management.
In his remarks, the trial manager of the PBR Cowpea project in Nigeria, Mohammed Umar, said in commercializing the product there was need to ensure the quality of the material to maintain the trust farmers have on the scientists to enhance quality control of the cowpea.
“We are planning many strategies to avoid situations of pirating the crops. One of it is the establishment of the national stewardship committee, this is the committee at the national level that will work with the relevant stakeholders, the scientists who developed the variety, different stakeholders, those working on insect resistance, the breeders, seed companies.
“The stewardship committee is all about looking at the control and quality assurance of the product. And to do this there are many things that must be put in place, which includes being conversant with the crop variety, SAMPEA 20T, and also develop a communication strategy for free flow of information.
“Also, as part of the production guide that we are going to produce, we are going to highlight all the operations that need to be done and when to do what,” he said.
Umar, the head of the department, plant science, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, said the committee would work in collaboration with three accredited seed companies, Maina Seeds, Tecni Seeds and SARO Agrosciences, to monitor multiplication and production of the seeds to ensure quality of the product.
“Being a new product and we want to monitor the production in terms of quality, it led to the establishment of this committee, this will enable them to focus more on the production and comply with the production guide to at least have control over what they are doing in terms of the production,” he added.
Similarly, a member of the committee, the executive director of the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU, Zaria, Prof. Emmanuel Ikani, said stewardship is about making sure that what they said about the beans is what it will always be in the hands of farmers and that this would go through the information process to be done on print and electronic media as well as the social media.
Those represented in the committee include IAR, Zaria; NAERLS; National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA); National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC); Maina Seeds; Tecni Seeds; Saro Agrosciences; IAR Seeds and AATF.