The Bt cowpea, developed by Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research at Nyankpala in the Northern Region, would be the first GM crop in Ghana.
Dr Ibrahim Dzido Kwasi Atokple, a former Principal Investigator Ghana’s Bt Cowpea CFT project told journalists at a day’s media training on biotech communications and science reporting, that after successful completion, the crop would contribute to food security and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
The training was organised by SARI in collaboration with the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) for media practitioners in Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions at the SARI station at Nyankpala.
Dr Atokple said cowpea, the second most important legume after groundnut, stands to increase by about 50 per cent if the CFTs are successful. Crop losses could decrease by between 30 and 90 per cent when the evaluation of pod borer-resistance cowpeas, also known as Barceló’s Thurigensis (BT) cowpea, is completed in the next three years.
The Bt Cowpea which is resistant to the Maruca pod borer, an insect/pest that destroys the conventional type of cowpea, the ‘Songotra ‘ is a major constraint to cowpea production in Africa.
“In the absence of resistance genes in the cowpea germplasm, a new biotechnological innovation has identified a resistance gene from a bacteria species Bacillus thuringensis. This has been transferred into the local cowpea variety to kill the pod borer and also reduce the harmful effect of many insecticide sprays the farmers are exposed to,” he explained.
Dr Atokple said the innovation was developed and evaluated through a joint public-private partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, AATF in Kenya and SARI as well as other institutions in Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
“From the trial the identified pod borer-resistant cowpea lines was crossed with the commercial cowpea varieties in Ghana, such as Apagbala, Songotra, Padituya for the desired results” he said.
He explained that SARI, will multiply the seeds of the Bt cowpea for commercial quantities after the third year next year for farmers to plant in the three northern regions.
Dr Atopkle said the Bt cowpea would not pose any danger to humans and the environment, adding, “Unlike GM crops non-GM crops which are sprayed at least six to seven times, during production, GM crops are sprayed at most only twice during production”.
The Deputy Director of SARI and Principal Investigator for the cowpea project, Dr Mumuni Abudulai, debunked the contention that GM crops would kill conventional crops.
He explained that it would be planted alongside the conventional crops.
The Director of SARI, Dr S K Nutsugah, noted that the objective of the project is to contribute to food security and improve the livelihoods of small-holder farmers in West Africa by using biotechnology tools to develop improved, high yielding farmer-preferred cowpea varieties that are resistant to be attacked by Maruca pod borer.
Mr Abu Umaru, a communication specialist with AATF, West Africa Bt cowpea project based in Nigeria, said the project is a public-private partnership co-ordinated by the foundation to develop transgenic cowpea varieties with resistance to Maruca pod borer.
Mrs Linda Asante-Agyei, Vice President of the African Federation of Science Journalists who took the journalists through the essentials of biotechnology and science reporting, urged her colleagues to specialise in science reporting to enable them report on issues to speed up the socio-economic development of the project.
“Science is the bedrock of development in every country and as journalists we need to specialise in these areas to bring out issues for policy interventions,” she said.