Last week, Monday, June 27, agriculture journalists from all over Africa were invited to a zoom press conference hosted by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) where it was announced that Nigeria was set to make history the following day by releasing to its farmers the genetically modified (GM) cowpea which the country’s scientists had developed over the years.
We also came to learn that Nigeria was the second country in Africa after South Africa to adopt a GM food crop. The GM cowpea released last week offers protection from the pod borer pest which had reduced Nigeria’s yields by 80 per cent.
Dr Denis Tumwesigye Kyetere, who used the occasion to announce his retirement from AATF where he has been executive director, said the GM cowpea release in Kano, Nigeria, was a landmark event that would help Nigeria to achieve food security and also increase farmers’ incomes.
It is expected that with the launch of the GM cowpea Nigeria’s production of the crop will increase by up to 100 percent. Cowpea is an important food crop in Nigeria since it is a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron. An estimated 20 per cent of the cowpea consumed in the country has always been imported.
Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnya Onu, said: “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.”
Dr Kyetere announced that many other African countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, and Mozambique among others had already decided to resort to modern biotechnology.
Ugandan farmers are experiencing even worse constraints given that they have more crops whose yields are dwindling due to pests and incurable diseases that can only be overcome by modern biotechnology.
The farmers continue to miss the advantages of adopting genetically modified crops because Uganda doesn’t have the required regulatory law to govern the adoption of modern biotechnology.
Mr Michael Ssali is a veteran journalist,