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Nigeria makes history with GMO cowpea rollout

BY NKECHI ISAAC

JUNE 30, 2021

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History was made today as Nigeria officially released genetically modified (GM) cowpea, which offers protection from the pod borer pest.

It’s the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted in Africa outside of South Africa. The pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea — popularly known as beans in Nigeria — is resistant to the insect pest Maruca vitrata, which is responsible for up to 80 percent yield losses.

PBR cowpea, which was first released in Nigeria in December 2019 as the SAMPEA 20-T variety, is the product of an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that included scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Dr.  Denis Kyetere, the outgoing executive director of AATF,  described the launch in Kano as a landmark event that would help Nigeria to achieve food security and also increase farmers’ incomes.

In his speech on the occasion, he said the development of PBR cowpea was a long journey that started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology.

“The national cowpea production will increase by 20 to 100 percent as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials. It is estimated that 20 percent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings,” Kyetere stated.

He explained that an increased supply of cowpea would reduce malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women as many people depend on it as rich source of protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as iron, adding the development would translate to healthy life and increased productivity among the people.

In his speech on the occasion, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Sabo Nanono said the Federal Government had since the beginning of the Buhari administration been working assiduously to address farming constraints in the country to improve living standard of farmers and enhance their contribution to government’s efforts to boost food security.

He described the launch of the genetically modified beans as liberation for the nation’s farmers, who he said had been faced with the incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca vitrata.

“I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, in on-farm demonstration trials in 28 sites across Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Plateau, results of the demonstration trials clearly indicate the agronomic superiority of the new variety resulting in high demand for seed,” Nanono said.

The government, according to the minister, is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to provide farmers with the latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, paid tribute to the nation’s scientists for the great work done, saying the feat had registered the country on the world map.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing a soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, and pest challenges as well as climate change,” Onu said.

Nigeria, he said, could only solve its food problems, which have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-old farming methods, by thinking outside the box.https://www.youtube.com/embed/_F8ZOzu-P-c?feature=oembed

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State also commended the efforts of Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with support from NABDA for their selfless service that resulted in development and release of PBR Cowpea.

“In Africa generally, yields have been on perpetual decline, while in other climes, farmers are among the richest,” he said. “But here, farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to [pay] for their children’s school fees.”

Saying the feat should spur the nation to take advantage of the emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside, he added: “Today, Nigeria is recognized as the first country in the world to release a cowpea variety that is resistant to Maruca, the destructive insect that had been a nightmare to farmers on the African continent.”

The director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, noted:“Biotechnology, as we have seen in other countries, is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery and increase yields. This is why the Federal Government of Nigeria established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in 2001 to promote, coordinate and set research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.”

Image: Shutterstock/CKP1001

Follow Nkechi Isaac’s Science Nigeria website.

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Fresh Plaza

Publication date: 2/20/2015

Depending on who you ask, genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are the solution to malnutrition and hunger in the developing world, or a threat to food sovereignty. Take Uganda, for example. Ugandans eat, on average, a pound of bananas daily — more than any other population. But this crucial resource has been threatened by a bacterial wilt disease, which turns the banana plant’s sap into ooze, wilts the leaves, rots the fruit, and eventually destroys the crop.

Banana wilt was first seen in Uganda in 2001, and neither pesticides nor chemicals have stopped it. Farmers tried to control the wilt’s spread by torching infected plants and disinfecting tools, but the disease cut Ugandan banana yields by as much as half from 2001 to 2004. In the country’s central region, wilt hit 80 percent of plants, and sometimes knocked out whole fields, according to a report from The Guardian.

So scientists at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) — which receives funding from the Gates Foundation — created a genetically modified banana by inserting a green pepper gene into the banana’s genome. The new gene seems to trigger a process that kills infected cells and saves the plant.

NARO wants to give the seeds away for free, but no regulation exists around GMOs in Uganda, and Uganda is obligated to take a cautionary approach to GMO technology, as signer of 2000’s Cartagena protocol.

The Ugandan government is considering passing a law that would allow the introduction of GMOs, including the bacteria-resistant banana, but some food scientists worry it may open the door to corporate exploitation by multinational companies like Monsanto down the line.

Source: geneticliteracyproject

http://www.freshplaza.com/article/135598/Will-Ugandan-farmers-get-to-plant-GM-banana.org

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grist

by Nathanael Johnson

23 June 2014

pigweed-e1403312191663A field dominated by palmer amaranth, or pigweed, one of the plants that has gained glyphosate resistance.

There’s a clear scientific consensus that heavy use of glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup and other brands of herbicide — has sped up the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds. And it’s reasonable to assume that crops genetically engineered to work hand in glove with glyphosate (like Roundup-resistant soy) are part of the problem, contributing to the popularity of the weed killer.

Now crops genetically engineered to work with other herbicides — such as dicamba and 2,4-D — look like they will soon come on line. The seed companies’ answer to the Roundup-resistance problem is: Let’s just fall back on older herbicides. An editorial published by the journal Nature recently criticized this plan. If we do the same thing with dicamba and 2,4-D that we did with glyphosate, the editorial argued, history is likely to repeat itself.

This got me wondering what we should do, then, so I started calling weed scientists. I ended up talking with three from around the country. They all agreed on the basic premise.

The increase in glyphosate use resulted in “way more glyphosate-resistant weeds, that’s indisputable,” said Andrew Kniss, an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming.

“Glyphosate was so effective, and so cheap, and so easy, so that’s what we did. People thought it was a miracle,” said Larry Steckel, a weed specialist at the University of Tennessee, a state where farmers have had serious problems with herbicide-resistant weeds.

They cautioned that the main problem was glyphosate itself, not the GMOs: The first glyphosate-resistant weeds popped up in Malaysia and Australia where — at the time — there were no glyphosate-tolerant GMOs, Kniss said. But they also agree that the main boom in glyphosate use really did have something to do with GE crops.

“The way the GMO herbicide-resistant crops were deployed was like the worst possible scenario for developing resistance,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed science at Oregon State University.

Of course, weeds would have developed resistance sooner or later even without the GMOs — evolution is inevitable that way. But the widespread use of these crops meant that many farmers went from one application of glyphosate every few years to multiple applications every year, and that increased the evolutionary selection pressure on weeds.

In other words, the problem is less the technology than how we use it — and we used it in precisely the wrong way.

The next question is, how could we change the rules so that farmers conserved these herbicides to maximize their useful life? It’s a classic tragedy-of-the-commons scenario. Every farmer is good at making the best weed-control decisions for an individual farm and choosing glyphosate, but all these individual decisions add up to a bad outcome for farmers as a whole: glyphosate-resistant weeds. One solution would be for the federal government to wade in with regulations — the Nature editorial suggests that the EPA should crack down on the use of herbicides — but none of the weed scientists I talked to thought that was a great idea. It’s tricky for a bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., to make good decisions for a multitude of farmers in different areas.

“It’s hard to imagine a herbicide resistance plan that would work for more than one farm, or even more than one field,” said Kniss. “Let alone a whole country.”

If we want a healthier environment, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to force farmers to use less herbicide, Mallory-Smith said. “Part of why we are so focused on herbicides has to do with environmental concerns,” Mallory-Smith said. We’ve asked farmers to do less plowing and to stop burning their fields, and so they have turned to herbicides.

Many people have a deep aversion to the idea of spraying chemicals on the fields, but Steckel said that herbicides are often the most environmentally friendly solution. “Herbicides to me are kind of like medicine. If used correctly they are not a danger to people or the environment,” he said. In contrast, he says, killing the weeds by plowing has proved to be an environmental disaster in his part of the world. “These soils just won’t hold it,” Steckel said. “When tillage was commonplace, all our soil was headed to New Orleans.”

That’s not to say that herbicides are harmless, but they have to be weighed against the alternatives. It would make the most sense to mix it up, varying by the dirt, the weather, and what the farmer did the previous year. Centralized control would surely force farmers to make some dumb decisions that were actually worse for the environment.

When economist Elinor Ostrom proposed her Nobel-winning solution for the tragedy of the commons she rejected both centralized control and just letting the market guide itself. Her solution has people coming together to govern themselves with rule that make sense on the ground. Kniss suggested something like this: Perhaps farmers could make their own weed-management plans and submit them to some local authority, who would make sure everyone was doing their share to slow the evolution of resistance.

Mallory-Smith had a different solution: “My suggestion to Monsanto was to take their salesmen off commission and put them on salary,” she said. That suggestion didn’t go over so well, but ideally the companies should be suggesting that farmers use products from their competitors, depending on the situation. Change things up enough and you’ll slow resistance. But companies have to do just the opposite: Advise farmers to buy only its chemicals. In the end, she’s pessimistic.

“My guess is that we’ll go down the same path again,” Mallory-Smith said.

Steckel disagrees — he doesn’t expect to see these herbicides dominate the market the way glyphosate did, because they just aren’t as good. Dicamba and 2,4-D have been around for a long time, and have never had the addictive appeal of glyphosate. Dicamba, for instance, only works if you spray weeds when they are less than five inches tall, while glyphosate can kill a full-grown weed (or at least it could). And that huge difference in effectiveness will remain if dicamba and 2,4-D tolerant GMOs are released.

What’s the best way through this tough spot? Pursue the science further and look for alternative controls, Mallory-Smith said. Look at the big picture, Kniss said. “This really is a symptom of the larger problem, of not enough diversity in our cropping systems,” he said. And we should also count our blessings: The intense use of glyphosate had led to less use of the other herbicides. We’ve sped up the development of glyphosate-resistance but slowed other forms of resistance, he said.

Meanwhile, farmers will make do, one way or another. Some have actually gone back to a primitive technology: hiring laborers to weed by hand. But, Steckel said, even that’s not foolproof. In India, workers weeded barnyard grass out of rice paddies by looking for the red stem. Eventually, the weed evolved a green stem — so it looked just like the rice. It had evolved resistance to hand weeding. Nature always finds a way.

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http://www.freshplaza.com/article/119077/Gala-resistant-to-fire-blight-developed

Fresh Plaza

Fruit growers fear fire blight. Time and again this bacteria causes great damage to apple growth, reports German website Proplanta.de. The last large epidemic was in 2007 and caused damage estimated at 50 million Swiss francs (around 41 million Euro). A quarter of a million trees had to be destroyed to try and stop the spread of the Erwinia amylovora bacteria, and caused growers to use sprays containing antibiotic streptomycin – a controversial method of saving fruit trees and crops.

Researchers into plant pathogens, Cesar Gesslar from the ‘Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich’ (ETH) and the Julius Kühne Institute in Germany, in the latest edition of ‘Plant Bio-technical Journal’ presented a genetically modified variant of the favourite Gala variety, resistant against fire blight.

It is the first time that researchers have been successful in finding a wild apple resistant to fire blight and to isolate and confirm the gene responsible. The gene carried the genetic code for a protein which recognised the surface protein of the attacking bacteria and caused the plant to produce an immune response to it. This one gene is sufficient to provide the plant with protection and with this genetic code researchers were then able to successfully develop a Gala apple resistant to the bacteria.

Publication date: 3/24/2014

From latest edition of ‘Plant Bio-technical Journal’ 

 

 

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