BY CHIBUZOR EMEJOR,
Federal Government has launched two transgenic cotton hybrid varieties aimed at revitalising the ailing and comatose textile industry in the country.
Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology together with his counterpart in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, officially unveiled the newly released MAHYCO C 567 BG 11 and MAHYCO C 571 BG 11 varieties of transgenic hybrid cotton in a well-attended ceremony in Abuja.
Onu said the varieties of cotton were developed to contain Bacillus Thuringiensis[Bt] agents which conferred on them the ability to resist attack by bollworm.
He explained that bollworm is a devastating pest disease that has significantly reduced cotton production in the country, adding that the pest disease has been a nightmare for Nigerian farmers.
He noted with delight that the new varieties of cotton performed significantly higher than the local varieties[SAMCOT 9 and 10] for seed cotton yield as well as are tolerant to bollworm complex.
According to him, “I will like to use this opportunity to congratulate the National Biotechnology Development Agency[NABDA], the Institute of Agricultural Research [IAR] of Ahmadu Bello University[ABU], Zaria; National Agricultural Seed Council[NASC], National Agriculturak Quarantine Service[NAQS] which have been the lead institutions working in collaboration with Bayer/Mahyco Agriculture Nigeria Limited—the technology developers in the development and domestication of the Hybrid Bt. Cotton in Nigeria.
“The result of the Bollgard 11 Cotton Hybrid and the commercial varieties as presented by IAR,Zaria in on-station, multi-locational[MLT] and on-farm trials, showed that the two hybrids viz, MRC 7377 BG 11 and MRC 7361 BG11 performed significantly higher than the local varieties [SAMCOT 9 and 10], for seed cotton yield and tolerance to bollworm complex.
“High seed cotton yield of 4.1 and 4.4 tonnes per hectare respectively was achieved with the added advantage of early-medium maturity while the yield of the local varieties ranges from 250kg to 900kg per hectare.
“The farmers’ perception in the field was very positive in terms of Seed Cotton yield and tolerance to insects’ pests, especially bollworm complex.
“This feat will increase the production of cotton in the country. It will help rebuild the textile industry, which used to be the second largest employer of labour in the country in the 1960’s –1970’s.
Commenting on the concerns of bio-safety of the cotton, Onu said in countries that cultivate Bt. Cotton, there has not been any reported adverse, toxic or any allergic effect of Bt. Cotton on human or animal health.
He assured that his ministry would continue to support any research and innovation designed to achieve food security for the country, adding that, “We must use the power of technology to achieve self-reliance and reduce extreme poverty among Nigerian farmers.
Also speaking, Prof. Alex Akpa, Acting Director General/Chief Executive Officer of National Biotechnology Development Agency[NABDA], said the naming, registration and release of two transgenic cotton hybrid varieties in Nigeria was a scientific feat to proffer solutions to the destructive effects of bollworm on cotton farms with associated effects of low yield.
According to him, “ To generate yields at economically viable scales for the Nigerian farmers, it has become necessary for genetic engineering[GE] techniques to be integrated into crop production.
“Many great countries of the world have adopted various aspects of genetic engineering to meet challenges in crop production, health and environment.
“In line with the challenges of our time including the effects of high temperature, low rainfall in some areas, perennial flooding in others, it has become pertinent to embrace newer and more advanced natural abilities.
Speaking further on the make-up of the new varieties of cotton, Akpa said, “We did not change the local advantages of our varieties.
“Instead, we have transformed these varieties that have unsustainably clothed us and supported our textile industry into competitive varieties to meet the challenges of today.
“Just like us, India and China are global examples and leaders in Bt. Cotton deployment. Back home and within the continent, South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan lead the pack.
“NABDA’s role is to develop and deploy biotechnology in the safest way known to man and for the benefit of man both directly as food and indirectly as raw material.”