The Regional Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane in this interview by COLLINS NNABUIFE, highlights some of the activities that would precede the commercialisation of the Bt Cowpea (beans). He also speaks on the future of the new cowpea variety in Nigeria.
What are the plans for this year?
This year we are going to commercialise seed production to get to farmers so that they can start planting.
How will these seeds get to farmers?
The same way other seeds get to farmers, but a little bit different because we want it to be in the hands of seed companies, it can be private or public, but normally it should be in the hands of seed companies, and where we take measures that will be able to follow the production, the handling, the packaging and the quality which should be high quality with high rate of germination, very necessary, so we take measures to ensure we have high quality seeds.
The private seed companies will distribute it and make it available to the farmers, but it will be from seed companies, Nigerian seed companies, not foreign seed companies.
On seed multiplication, what measures are being put in place to avoid adulteration?
The process of ensuring good quality seed is like every other measures which is why there is National Agricultural Seed Council to ensure that farmers have high quality seeds, so the same process will be followed.
We will ensure good land preparation, good agronomic practices and ensure that the plants have not been attacked by disease that will get up to the seeds so that when farmers plant next year, they would be planting seeds that have not been attacked by those microbes carrying diseases.
So, all these things are avoided during seed production so that we produce good seeds with weed control so that the seed doesn’t carry any weed seed, so, that is the standard procedures for producing high quality seeds.
What we are trying to avoid is what happened to India for Bt Cotton, when it became popular, then some people started selling fake seeds in place of the Bt Cotton, and farmers buy it very expensive, then when they planted, they realised it was fake seed, so that is a big lesson for us.
Sometimes, what happen is that farmers don’t have enough seeds, almost every year there is always a seed crisis, so government will come with money and ask to buy seeds to distribute, sometimes people who lay their hands on the money will go to the market and buy grains and sell it as seeds.
Seeds are different from grains, because for seeds you have to trace it genetically back to its parent, gains are for eating, so we don’t want that to happen, we just want farmers to get pure high quality seeds, and we will take all the measures to ensure that farmers have that in their possession because must have to have maximum benefit from every Naira invested.
What happens when the Bt Cowpea gets to the limit of its life span?
Every variety has a life span usually in modern agriculture, because we now have competition between seed companies, we don’t see it very much in Africa.
If you take tomatoes for example, the big companies that produce tomatoes, the average life span of a tomato variety is between 3 to 4 years, if any company doesn’t come up with new thing within 3 to 4 years, the company may find itself out of market, so they are always breeding.
We need to get ready for a second generation of Bt Cowpea, maybe between now and 5 to 10 years, we need to get something new to replace this one because the reason we need to get a second generation of the Bt Cowpea is because this one has a only one gene, so we follow it up with many Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs to get the useful life of this PBR Cowpea to extend more than 5 years.
The other reason is when you have a resistance, it may not be forever. So if we take the measure on the IPM, this PBR Cowpea can stay more than 10 years.
In Nigeria, we have brown beans and white beans, is there any plant to develop brown PBR Cowpea?
This is a good question because in every country you have different colours of Cowpea, some people prefer the red one, while some people prefer the white one.
We went for the white colour Cowpea because this is what the market usually ask for, and it is the most demanded Cowpea in the market (white colour with rough skin), but we didn’t forget people who prefer the brown beans.
I think the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) is doing everything to transfer the resistant trait into other varieties of cowpea so that nobody will say that their own problem was not taken care of, so I think IAR is taking all measures to transfer the trait into other popular varieties, and the work is going on.
How can the Bt Cowpea be differentiated from the conventional cowpea?
If I give you the two seeds, you cannot differentiate it, except if the label, (if the law requires labelling), but if there is no labelling, you cannot differentiate it.
If the parental plant and the PBR cowpea are growing together, you cannot differentiate because when you transfer any resistant gene, whatever resistant gene you have even if it is natural resistant gene, if you do it by backcrossing (kind of incest relationship to transfer genes which recovers all parental characteristics), the final product with the original product, if you have them hand by hand, you cannot make the difference, unless you have the disease of the pest, you will now see that one will not be attacked while the other will be totally damaged.
So, in backcrossing, you will recover all the original variety that is on top, you have the resistance, so that’s how we do. The way we do varieties, if it is to transfer resistance gene, you cannot differentiate the parental from the product.
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