Nigerian farmers and companies will control Bt cotton seed production

By Nkechi Isaac

January 24, 2020

Photo caption: Bt cotton trial field at NABDA facility.

The Nigerian government has affirmed that local farmers and seed companies will drive the multiplication and farming of Bt cotton seed, dispelling fears that the western world would hijack the country’s agriculture upon the introduction of biotechnology.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of science and technology, disclosed this during a farmers’ field day showcasing two newly released Bt cotton hybrids, which have been genetically modified (GM) with a protein from a common bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), to resist the bollworm pest. The event was convened by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) at its premises in Abuja.

Nigeria recently approved the commercialization of Bt cotton in a bid to revive its comatose textile industry. The genetically modified crop is widely grown in the United States, China, India, Canada and South Africa. Kenya is currently in the process of adopting Bt cotton.

Onu was represented by Abayomi Oguntunde, the ministry’s director of bioresources technology department, who said government will take policy measures to enhance the accessibility of the products and technology to the farming community for immediate and large-scale adoption.

Pritiranjan Rath, international business lead for Mahyco Grow Group, said the company is already training farmers across the nation’s cotton farming zones on how to produce standard hybrid seeds.

“In 2019, the primary objective of Mahyco was to demonstrate the value of the hybrids and technology to Nigerian farmers in their own fields. In the rainy cotton growing season of 2019, we had distributed more than 2000 samples to selected farmers to let them understand the crop and trained the farmers on appropriate product use with the right agronomy to optimize the yield in farmers’ fields,” he said.

“In addition, seed production trainings were taken up in selected states. The farmers have to pollinate the male and female flowers to get the hybrid seeds, so we need farmers to learn this process. For the last two years, we have been working with 100 farmers. This year we are taking it further to 500 and next year we will also train 500 farmers,” Rath continued. “We hope that in the next three to five years we will have a substantial amount of local production taking off here.”

He added the company is committed to supplying the seed and ensuring that local seed production accelerates to meet local demands for the pest-resistant hybrid seeds.

Dr. Alex Akpa, acting director-general of NABDA, pointed out that in introducing the Bt gene to cotton, Nigeria did not change the local advantages of its varieties but instead transformed them into competitive new varieties that meet the challenges of today, such as insect and pest infestation, drought, perennial flooding in various areas and seed viability.

NABDA’s role is to responsibly develop and deploy biotechnology in partnership with national and international stakeholders and for the benefit of mankind, both directly as food and indirectly as raw material, Akpa said. The field day was a demonstration of the agency’s commitment to biotechnology development, he added, noting that 75 field days had been conducted in different locations exposing 10,000 farmers to the Bt cotton crop.

“I am glad to inform you that from the feedback we have received from farmers across the nation that planted this improved crop on their farms, there is excellent performance of these two improved varieties of Bt cotton,” he said. “They cannot wait for the next planting season to have access to these seeds. Nigeria is now ready for full commercialization in 2020.”

Ibrahim Muazu Isa, the human resources manager for Funtua Textiles in Katsina State and a farmer who participated in the Bt cotton field trials, corroborated Akpa’s claim. He told journalists that his yield surpassed the researchers’ calculations.

“According to the calculation they made here, if I had planted on a hectare, I would have gotten 4.5 tonnes. I had the opportunity of planting a quarter of a hectare and I was able to get about 728 kilograms, which was almost a tonne. This was impossible [in the past with conventional varieties], even if I had 20 hectares. I am happy and everyone associated with these new varieties is happy.”

Isa said the introduction of Bt cotton has started a revolution that will help the nation tackle its cotton shortage, so long as production is sustained and good seed is maintained. “We won’t talk about cotton shortage in the next two to three years,” he said. “We will be talking about exportation.”