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Crop Biotech Update

Nigeria Approves Confined Field Trial of Cowpea

June 18, 2009

The Federal Government of Nigeria approved the request of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria to conduct confined field trial (CFT) of insect resistant transgenic cowpea. This opens the floodgate for basic research to develop crop varieties resistant to the legume pod borer, Maruca, which causes huge annual cowpea yield losses. Cowpea is the most important food grain legume in the dry savannah of tropical Africa, and it is being consumed in various forms by some 200 million people. At least 128 million ha of cultivable area is devoted for its production either as sole crop or in various mixtures.

The trial site at IAR Samaru will be conducted in line with the regulatory guidelines prescribed by the National Bio-safety Committee, Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja. A community of scientists from organizations and universities in Africa, Australia and the United States are spearheading a collaborative research with IAR counterparts to develop a biotech crop resistant to the Maruca. The Maruca- resistant cowpeas developed through similar technique had been field tested in a CFT at Puerto Rico in 2008. It is from the Puerto Rican experiment that resistance to the Maruca pod borer was confirmed and scientists in other parts of the world  such as Nigeria are challenged to duplicate the feat at their own local field conditions.

Coordinating this multi-lateral partnership is the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation. Other key partners include National Agricultural Research Institutes in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, Network for Genetic Improvement of Cowpea in Africa, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Programme for Bio-safety Systems and Monsanto. The United States Agency for International Development and Rockefeller Foundation provide the funds for project implementation. The project aims to deliver the first Maruca- resistant cowpea to farmers in Africa by 2014.

For more information contact Mohammad F. Ishiyaku at mffaguji@hotmail.com.