By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
When Bakuvie Zinna, a Ghanaian cowpea farmer, was invited by a local extension agent to take part in demonstrations for a new variety resistant to the pod borer, he couldn’t hide his excitement.
Zinna considers the pest a key enemy for attacking his crops every other season and forcing him to incur huge expenses on pesticides, only to get low yields.
He is looking forward to the release of the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea variety that doesn’t require the eight sprays typically applied on a normal cowpea field to give maximum yield.
The PBR cowpea, a genetically modified variety, has been developed by researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI) in Tamale, Ghana. It was recently granted environmental release approval by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), making it the first transgenic food crop to be released in Ghana.
The researchers are currently undertaking a national performance trial in Kpasenkpe near Walewale in the North-East region and Chinchang and Silbelle near Tumu in the Upper West Region as part of requirements for the commercialisation of the new variety.
Cowpea is considered an important food and nutritional security crop in the country.
Officials from the NBA, the Municipal Agricultural Development Unit and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) accompanied the PBR cowpea team from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and SARI during the site visit to monitor the progress of the research and to ascertain farmers’ impression about the variety.
Dr Jerry Nboyine, the project lead scientist at SARI, said the PBR cowpea was developed to help farmers overcome the devastating effects of legume pod borer in cowpea cultivation.
He said this was the first season the new variety was being tested on farmers’ fields after being tested under confinement for nearly a decade.
Once the cowpea is released, he said, the era of over eight sprays on cowpea fields during a crop season will be over.
“The farmers will now be able to cut costs and increase yield because this cowpea requires only two sprays,” he said.
Dr Jean Baptiste, the Project Manager from AATF, was impressed with the quality of the trial and the management approach adopted by scientists from SARI. He also assured farmers that they would soon have access to the variety that is already performing well in Nigeria.
“With the PBR cowpea, farmers can be confident of bumper harvest as the major impediment to cowpea farming has been taken care of,” said Dr Baptiste.
Tommie, a cowpea farmer from the Chinchang, said that in addition to having to spend a lot of money to control pests, they were also concerned about the negative effects of the chemicals on their health.
He accepted to be part of the open trial when he was told that this new variety required only two sprays.
“When you check the pods of this new variety, you will realize that they are well filled because they have not been eaten by pests.
There are also more pods in the Bt cowpea fields compared to the non-Bt ones,” he said.
Sulemana Alhassan, Municipal Director of Agriculture for the West Mamprusi Municipal Assembly, said the cowpea trial had many benefits, including affording farmers training on PBR cowpea cultivation.
He said the new variety will contribute significantly to reducing pesticide abuse in cowpea cultivation.
The NBA used the visit to officially hand over the permit for environmental release to CSIR-SARI’s Director, Dr. Francis Kusi. The permit is valid for three years and is subject to renewal.
AATF is an international not-for-profit organization that is empowering smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa with a wide choice of agricultural innovations that contribute to food and nutrition security to generate health and wealth for their families and communities.
Established in 2003 as an African-led entity, AATF works with public and private partners across the full food value chain to access, develop, deliver and commercialize innovative technologies that bring meaningful change to Africa’s agriculture.
AATF is driven by a vision of a prosperous and food-secure Africa, one where millions of smallholder farmers can transform African agriculture with the same innovations that are transforming food production around the world.
AATF believes that farmers in Africa will become globally competitive through the use of the best technology, optimal agricultural practices, strategic product value addition and boosted access to efficient markets within and outside Africa.