The field trials for the genetically modified cowpea have been concluded in Nigeria and the artificially engineered staple food will hit the markets across the country in 2018, Federal Government officials and a science conducting the research have said.
There have been calls for and against the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms across the world, with some scientists arguing that the practice will be harmful to human health.
But government officials, agricultural experts in the universities and farmers gathered in Sheda, Abuja and gave a clean bill of health to the biotechnology practice.
The conclusion of field trials for the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea (bean) was announced and it was said the country would officially introduce its first indigenously engineered GM product in commercial quantity next year.
Speaking at the sensitisation workshop on GM-seeds in Nigeria, Prof Mohammed Ishiyaku of the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, said GM foods were absolutely safe for consumption and there had not been any report of them posing health risk.
Prof Ishiyaku, who is leading the research, told the gathering that the improved variety could withstand the pod borer, Maruca vitrata.
He said the borer removes sap from the leaves, pods, seeds and other aerial plant parts damaging the plant and resulting in yield reductions.
Severe infestations leading to yield losses of 70-80 per cent have been reported in Kano, Zaria and other northern Nigerian states, according to Prof Ishiyaku.
He said safety and environment impact assessments conducted under the supervision of the Nigerian regulator – the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) – shows that PBR cowpea is safe for human consumption and does not impact negatively on the environment.
“The results from our trials show increased yield and the technology is the best antidote to overcome the threat of pod borer,” he said, adding that it could increase farmers’ income.
He said over N12 billion spent on pesticides every year would be saved as from next year.
He also said the GM cowpea would give farmers an additional annual profit of N48bn.
Prof Ishiyaku said a lot of efforts had gone into the research project that started in 2008 in Zaria, and it had been certified by relevant agencies within and outside the country.
“The results from our trials show increased yield and the technology is the best antidote to overcome the threat of pod borer,” he said.
The President of the Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria (SEEDAN), Mr Richard Olafare, however cautioned against allowing the country to be a dumping ground for unregulated products of biotech of other countries.
There is no doubt that Nigeria stands to benefit from proper deployment of biotechnology if the officials in charge of it do it right, he said.
But the Director General of the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Dr Phillip Ojo, said neither full-scale adoption nor full-scale rejection should be a viable option as far as GM foods were concerned.
The President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Architect Kabir Ibrahim, said Nigerian farmers were all in support of any technology that will lead to increase in yields.
‘’We are in support of any technology that will improve our lives as farmers. Increased harvest, increased income and improved standard of living are our concern,’’ Arc Ibrahim said.
The Federal Government has said it would take responsibility if the GM cowpea is harmful to health or environment.
The Director General of NBMA, Dr Rufus Ebegba, said the government would take responsibility for any failure resulting from GM products.
He said there was no going back on the adoption of GMOs by the government as it is the only way the country could ensure food security.
‘’Be rest assured, GM foods are safe. No unsafe foods would be allowed into Nigeria,’’ he said.