GMO cowpea hits local market next year

Ongoing field tests on genetically modified cowpea (Bt cowpea) have produced successful results and will be ready for commercialisation and release onto the local market in 2018

This was revealed by Principal Investigator in charge of the research project Dr Mumuni Abdulai.

According to Dr Abdulai, who is also Deputy Director at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the ongoing trials as part of regulatory procedures before the variety can be commercialised, is at an advanced stage.

He told Joy news’ Joseph Opoku Gakpo in an interview: “we have gone far now,” adding the plan is to jointly release the cowpea onto the market at the same time as the variety will be ready for release in Nigeria and Burkina Faso where trials are ongoing as well.

The novel variety produced using Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology has been engineered with genes from a naturally occurring pest killing bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiesis that makes the new variety largely resistant to the destructive pest, Maruca pod-bearer. More than 50 percent of all cowpea produced on Ghanaian farms are lost to pest attacks, particularly the Maruca pod-bearer which eats up the plant’s leaves and other parts.

Dr Abdulai says the Bt cowpea variety has shown proven resistance to the pest, allowing plants to survive with less than 20 percent of pesticide required when farmers grow conventional cowpea varieties. This, he says will help farmers make more profits by reducing investments in pesticides, as well as keep them safe from the hazards associated with the over-application of chemicals.

“If you are able to reduce the number of sprays from 8 to 2, that is very good benefit for the farmer. In terms of saving him the cost for pesticide purchase and also saving him the risk from pesticide usage,” he said. 

“It is clear that the resistance is there. You can see it. We have invited farmers to see it, and they all testify that it is a very good material. It yields higher when you have the gene in it than without the gene,” Dr Mumuni added. 

Once the field trials, which started in 2013, are completed it is expected that an application will be filed with the National Biosafety Authority, the regulator of crops produced using Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology for approval before the seeds can be allowed onto the market. Dr Mununi is confident the green light will be given.

“We have generated enough data that will be evaluated by the regulators and I believe with the data we have generated over the years, it can pass for release,” he explained.

Although parliament passed the Biosafety Act (2011) to allow for the local production and commercialisation of GMOs in the country, no GMO crop has hit the market yet. Apart from the GMO cowpea, tests are ongoing for GMO rice, potato and cotton. The genetically modified variety has been proven not to pose any additional health risk compared to their conventional counterparts.

Farmers have responded to the news with joy. Alhaji Alhassan Yakubu of the Apex Farmer Organisation of Ghana says they look forward to the new variety drastically the way they do their business.

“The objectives will favour farmers if it will really work because we want to enhance yield but the challenges of farmers make it difficult to get a higher yield. If the GMOs will help us get a good yield, why not?” he told Joy news. 

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