With Nigeria set to officially release the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea Variety, SAMPEA 20-T to farmers and the public as the 2021 farming season get underway, the outgoing African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) executive director, Dr. Denis Kytere, has expressed strong conviction that the new variety, developed by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in collaboration with international partners under AATF’s coordination will improve cowpea production in the country.
He gave this opinion at a virtual press conference on the pre-launch of the PBR Cowpea with the theme – ‘Leveraging agricultural technology to address farming challenges in Africa’.
According to him, the transgenic cowpea variety, resistant to the pod borer pest Marucca, released in Nigeria in December 2019 for commercial cultivation, can produce higher yield than the conventional varieties, with reduced use of pesticides by farmers from eight times per cropping season to only two.
Kytere said reduced use of pesticides meant increased yield for Nigerian farmers that would contribute to addressing the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes to improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare and translate to better healthy lives for farmers.
He explained that large-scale adoption of the variety could improve cowpea production by at least 20-50 per cent, saying it could drastically improve cowpea production in Maruca-endemic areas of the country. He described it as a historic milestone for African farmers and especially for Nigeria’s food security as cowpea is a staple crop and an important source of protein for over 200 million people.
Saying African farmers continue to face several farming challenges ranging from the impact of climate change, pest and disease infestation, poor soil fertility, among others, that have greatly reduced agricultural productivity at farm levels, he explained that AATF and its partners, since its inception, had been working to reverse this scenario for a prosperous and food secure Africa.
“At AATF, we believe that use of appropriate technology can improve agricultural productivity in Africa. Whereas Africa has recorded some improvements over the years in as far as our agriculture is concerned, there remain a number of challenges which drive down productivity on the continent. While other continents are witnessing tremendous yield result per hectare, the case in Africa is still lagging around creating a conducive policy and regulatory environment to allow innovation to thrive,” he stated.
He added that the foundation had shown how progress could be possible with companies, governments, NGOs, researchers, and farmers working together to unleash technology that targets specific production challenges.
The AATF boss said many African farmers remained impoverished because, unlike farmers in other parts of the world, they lacked consistent access to targeted, affordable agricultural innovations that would allow them to prosper, adding “farmers in Africa can accomplish great things and continue on the path of progress if they have access to the right mix of farming innovations—and a partner capable of making that happen.”
He urged governments to exercise their statutory duty of care to put in place appropriate policies, matching regulations and well – structured and capable institutions with relevant and qualified human resources to support growth in the sector.