Preparations are in top gear for the deregulation of the TELA maize, genetically modified to be resistant to the deadly fall armyworm, stem borer and survive moderate drought.
Scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) have completed confined field trials of TELA maize and presented it to the public as part of the process for its deregulation.
Speaking during the public presentation of the research works today (October 8) in Abuja, the executive director, IAR, Prof. Isiyaku Mohammed, said that the TELA Maize variety gave on average 19 per cent yield advantage relative to similar non-GM, hybrids and 40 per cent higher yield than the commercial checks under the infestation of stem borer and FAW.
The AATF executive director, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, in a goodwill message to the meeting, said the development of TELA was because of the sufferings of farmers who worked very hard but reaped nothing.
Kanangire said the technology provides an avenue to overcome the numerous challenges facing farming and hindering productivity, hence the determination of AATF to ensure that African farmers have access to life-changing technologies that make farming interesting and profitable.
Earlier, the principal investigator for the TELA maize project, Prof. Rabiu Adamu, noted that TELA maize hybrids will reduce the use of insecticides. Currently, the only option for farmers to control the recalcitrant maize pest is the chemical spray.
“The coming of TELA maize variety will greatly improve farmers’ yields and income of Nigerian farmers. Eliminating the twin challenge of pests and drought will save Nigeria a lot of foreign exchange hitherto used to purchase chemicals,” he said.
In his remarks, the TELA maize project manager, AATF, Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, said maize farmers will benefit greatly from the approval by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) for the TELA maize hybrids to be tested with farmers for commercial release because farmers who spend over N50,000 per acre every season to protect their maize against these pests will be relieved.
The public presentation is one of the requirements of the NBMA that allows the public to have a say in the research process before it is deregulated and allowed to be planted across Nigeria in national performance trials with farmers, before it is commercially released as a variety for production in Nigeria.
A statement jointly signed by the AATF communications officer, West and Central Africa, Alex Abutu and the IAR/ABU information officer, Yakubu Dodo, said maize is an important food crop consumed by over 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In Nigeria, maize is the fourth most consumed cereal after sorghum, millet and rice.
It said maize contributes to food and nutrition security, accounting for 20 per cent of calorie intake and 16 per cent of national protein needs. It is the most widely grown cereal crop in all agro-ecologies in Nigeria, covering 6.0 million hectares with national productivity at 1.6 tonnes per hectare.
“Since the advent of FAW in 2016 in Nigeria and the rising incidents of drought due to climatic change, the productivity of this all-important crop has drastically reduced and negatively impacted maize production across Nigeria.
“More than a million maize-producing households across Nigeria have been impacted by the FAW, with losses in earnings of more than N1.08 trillion ($268 million) in just four states – Abia, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo states in November 2017.
“After years of research, scientists at IAR have been able to overcome the worm and have gone a step further to address the twin challenge of pests and drought in maize production, by developing a GM maize that combines drought tolerance and insect protection for Nigeria,” it added.