Biotech Updates

Scientists Claim GM Cowpea Could Generate U.S.$1 Billion

October 8, 2010

African smallholders are anticipating the commercialization of a pest-resistant version of the black-eyed pea, a subspecies of the cowpea, which has promising higher yields and savings that could reach U.S. $1 billion. The cowpea, a bean that is rich in protein, is an essential crop because of its nutritional content, and its ability to tolerate hot and dry conditions. However, the value of the crop has been cut by up to U.S. $300 million due to the infestation of Maruca pod borer in Africa, where 70 percent of the global production comes from.

The Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmandu Bello University, Nigeria, in partnership with other institutes, have genetically engineered cowpea with insect resistance trait coming from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt cowpea is expected to be available commercially in six years and could generate an income of U.S. $1 billion by 2020 for farmers. The increasing yields of cowpea across Africa was discussed during the 5th World Cowpea Conference in held in Dakar, Senegal, last week.

"The cowpea is emerging as one of the most important food legumes because of its early maturity and its fit as a niche crop in multiple cropping systems," said B. B. Singh, an international cowpea breeder and visiting scientist at Texas A&M University in the United States. He also emphasized that there had been a six-fold increase in world cowpea production during the last few decades, a "quiet revolution that is greater in magnitude than that of cereals and all other pulses."

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