There is a concerted effort by the federal government to boost beans production in the country. In this piece, IFEANYI NWOKO is, however, asking
whether that will be enough to make Nigeria self sufficient in beans production and beans exporting country.

FOR MANY beans farmers in West Africa,
2017 is one year they all look forward to
with great optimism and expectations.
This is because the year will herald the
release of a beans variety which will solve
the major challenge facing beans farmers:
Maruca, a pod boring insect that costs
farmers as much as 80 per cent, sometimes
100 per cent, yield loss.
Mr. Mohammed Birninkudu, a Jigawabased
farmer and a representative of
the state’s Agricultural Development
Programme, ADP, said that beans are the
major food and cash crop for farmers in
Jigawa. He, however, insisted that due
to the problems of Maruca and dearth of
storage facilities, the farmers just plant
beans to them sell off, with the sole aim
of making some money to cultivate other
crops that will yield better profits.
“You find farmers growing beans over
the year, about three to four times a year,
using rainfall, residual moisture and
irrigation facilities. Beans are a crop that
survives the early drought or the early
season of rainfall. So, from the northern
part to the southern part of the state, there
is no area that does not grow cowpea;
they grow the improved variety of the
crop and they can have as many hectares
as they can.
“But the main problem with beans
farming is the insects because you have
to use chemical spray on the plantations.
Using chemical spray, sometimes, costs
the farmer a lot and he has to know the
intrinsic techniques of the spraying the
pesticides.
“Even though the farmers are trained
by the ADPs and other organisations on
the use of pesticides, there are hazards in
using the chemicals because most farmers
don’t take appropriate security measures
while spraying their farms. If you plant
cowpea infested with the insects during
the planting season, Maruca attacks the
crop, right from the point of planting the
seed to the point of harvest.
“But if a beans farmer can get a
Maruca-free cowpea variety, it adds fourfold
increase to his yield and income;
definitely, it will be the sole cash crop for
the farmer,” he said.
Observers, therefore, described the
proposed release of the new beans variety
to farmers as a beacon of hope to many
farmers, as it will greatly curtail yield
losses incurred via Maruca infestation,
which according to African Agricultural
Technology Foundation (AATF), range
between 80 and 100 per cent.
Sponsored by AATF, the Maruca
resistant beans variety is due for release
to farmers in four African countries
– Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and
Malawi – by 2017, says Prof. Prince
Addae, the West African Representative
of the foundation. Analysts, nonetheless,
wonder about what this new beans variety really is and what it portends for
farmers.
Addae expatiated that the Maruca resistant
beans is a variety of beans which the insect,
which destroys beans pods and flowers
in the farms, cannot destroy. He stressed
that spraying beans farms with chemicals
does not even guarantee a reprieve from
the ravages of Maruca as the insect has
somewhat developed some resistance to the
chemicals.
Besides, the indiscriminate use of the
chemicals poses great risk to the yield
and the health of the farmer, he adds. “In
the farmers’ field, the pod borer reduces
cowpea yield by 80 per cent and that is a lot
of damage. The losses we don’t see because
we are not on the farm but it is the cowpea
farmer who bears the burden.
“Every time he plants cowpea, he loses
80 per cent of the yield even though he
sprays the field with insecticides; if he
doesn’t spray, he gets nothing. Currently,
there is no resistance to Maruca among all
the 15,000 varieties of cowpea and even the
insecticides that are being used are also not
very effective.
“Maruca attacks the cowpea, right from
the time of planting to the flowering stage,
and it also attacks the seeds and pods of the
flowers that are lucky to escape the initial
onslaught,” he said. Addae, nonetheless,
emphasised that with the new variety,
farmers need not bother about Maruca, the
major challenge facing cowpea cultivation,
adding that they can, therefore, focus their
attention on how to address other minor
issues.
He said that the new variety, which utilised
the gene transfer technology, ensures that
Maruca no longer constitutes a drawback
to beans farmers anywhere, particularly in
West Africa. He said that the new varieties
are currently undergoing confined field trials where they are performing excellently well
in the face of the programmed, intentional
infestation of Maruca larvae.
“We infested each cowpea plant with 20
larvae of Maruca; we did the infestation
five times within the planting season and
we closed them in so that none of the insect
was able to go out. The Maruca resistant
cowpea, nonetheless, performed excellently
well; when the farmers saw this last time,
they were happy and willing to take it but
we couldn’t give them yet.
“The beans variety will be released to
farmers in Nigeria and two other West
African countries by 2017. The process of
putting the gene into the plant started in
2003; we generated the genes and tested
them and then, we started planting them in
2009.
“It was in 2012 that we had two lines that
were efficacious in controlling ‘Maruca’.
There are a lot more things to do before the
new beans variety gets to the farmer; first
of all, the biosafety bill is so important. We
have put ourselves in the forefront to say
that we will try and get the seeds to farmers by 2017, we are working so hard on it but
we need the biosafety bill passed,” Addae
added.
Giving an insight as to why researchers
resorted to using genetic modification in
developing a “Maruca”-resistant beans
variety, Prof. Mohammed Ishyaku said
that none of the over 15,000 varieties
of cowpea tested possesses any form
of innate resistance. Ishyaku, the lead
researcher in the project domiciled in the
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said that
even inserting the resistant gene into the
cowpea took over 1,500 varieties to get
one that accepted the gene.
“We tried about 1,500 varieties trying to
put the gene inside the cowpea plant, only
one was successful. If you are working on
it, you get disappointed. In all the plants
that have been genetically modified, most
of the time, only one variety of the plant
accepts the `bacillus thurungensis’ (BT)
gene.
“When one accepts it, then you can
do the breeding by putting it in all the
other varieties of the plant,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ishyaku underscored
that fact that the new variety does not
completely rule out the need for farms’
spraying, adding that it only reduces the
number of sprays which the farmer still
has to apply to other insects. As beans
farmers await the release of the cowpea
variety by 2017, observers insist the
exercise will be futile in Nigeria and any
other beneficiary country if biosafety laws
are not in place in the countries.
Even though the research was carried
out in Nigeria, concerned observers note
that the country’s biosafety law is still in
the making. However, Mrs Rose Gidado,
the Head, Open Forum on Agricultural
Biotechnology, OFAB, said that the
passage of the biosafety bill is underway
in the Senate, which recently held a public
hearing on the bill, as a prelude to its
passage.
She expressed the hope that the bill
will soon be passed, adding that Nigeria
will then be in a position to fully reap the
benefits of agricultural biotechnology,
even beyond the introduction of Maruca
resistant beans variety. All the same, social
critics express the apprehension that the
biosafety bill and other bills pending
before the Senate may end up not being
passed, as the 7th Senate is gradually
winding up its sittings. They noted that
as the campaigns toward the general
elections reach a crescendo, the sittings
of the National Assembly are gradually
coming to an end, adding that the onus
probably rests on the 8th Senate to start
legislative work on the biosafety bill
afresh.
All things being equal, Nigeria may
become a major beans exporter by 2018
with the cultivation of Maruca resistant
beans in the country. (NAN)


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