Sequel to the recent release of the TELA Maize variety, genetically modified to be drought-tolerant and self-protecting against insects, the executive director of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, has urged that farmers should be given the option to choose which grain they want to plant.
Speaking during a press conference on the improved maize today in Abuja, Ishiyaku maintained that the variety in Nigeria will expand farmers options to either grow GM TELA varieties, conventional Drought TEGO varieties or their local open-pollinated varieties just like farmers in other parts of the world.
“The choice of technologies to use rests with the farmers. However, based on the mandate given to us by the government, we should develop those technology options with potentially high economic and food security benefits to farmers and our country,” he said.
Ishiyaku said that TELA maize varieties are genetically modified to tolerate mild drought and to self-protect against certain insect pests, especially stem-borer and fall armyworm (FAW).
“Adopting those technologies is a responsibility left to farmers who are smart and know what is good for them once they see it. ‘’
Ishiyaku thanked the Federal Government for approving the release of the variety to farmers and confirmed that the TELA Bt maize has been under cultivation in South Africa by small-holder farmers since 2016.
“Farmers are already benefiting from the varieties in protecting against the target pests, especially FAW. It is safe and, hence, Nigerian farmers should also benefit,” he said.
The don added that with the recent approval given by the National Biosafety Management Agency, TELA maize varieties will be evaluated by farmers across maize-growing regions in the country for them to select varieties that they prefer for cultivation.
“The choice should be the responsibility of farmers, so they can benefit from Genetically Modified technology [just as] as South African farmers are doing.”
According to him, Farmers in the country who spend up to N50,000 or more per acre to buy chemicals and spray against these target pests will get some relief and appreciate the TELA technology more in terms of higher yield and the savings from the purchase of chemicals for spraying their crops.
“It is estimated that N 268billion is spent annually in the purchase of chemical insecticides used to spray maize in Nigeria. This is a direct benefit from savings in that regard. The second major benefit is the prevention of crop failure to the effect of drought which is becoming frequent in recent years,” he added.
Ishiyaku said that Africa is known as a drought-prone continent because three of the four global droughts in the last two decades have occurred in Africa. In addition to drought, incidences of insect pests, especially the recent out-break of the invasive FAW are big threats to maize production in Africa with an estimated annual yield loss worth between USD 2.48 – 6.19 billion across 12 countries, including Nigeria.
“FAW poses a significant risk to 12.5 million hectares of maize farms in Nigeria. What could be a better technological intervention that is safe for the environment, human health, and the local economy, to curb these major threats to maize production in Nigeria than the opportunity presented by TELA Maize varieties?’’ he asked.
Ishiyaku further indicated that the TELA maize varieties when adopted by just 10 per cent of Nigerian farmers will give an additional cost-benefit of N58billion annually to the country because of the yield advantage of 19 per cent compared with conventional maize varieties currently grown by farmers.
Earlier in his welcome address, the executive secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Prof. Garuba Sharubutu, said that all agricultural research in the country is tailored towards achieving the federal government’s policies and programmes on food security and sufficiency.
Sharabutu said Nigerians have no reasons to fear any product from any of the government-funded research institutes, as all necessary measures were taken to ensure they followed approved regulations in conducting their research.