Food Security in Nigeria: Is Biotechnology the Panacea? II- By Prof MK Othman


Food Security in Nigeria: Is Biotechnology the Panacea? II

As mentioned in the first part of this article, biotechnology is taking a lead in crops improvement and resistant to certain production and storage challenges. This technique has grown to provide breakthrough products and strategies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes. The biotechnology existed many centuries ago and widened its scope to include innovation in medicine; extending to its latest globally controversial product: genetically modified organisms, GMOs, sometimes also called transgenic organisms. It is this latest status that brought biotechnology its contemporary limelight with attendant hype and sensationalism, shot it to the global footing of a multilateral agenda. Biotechnology was hitherto a non issue or was just like any other technical breakthroughs. The first stage of biotechnology is the crops or animals breeding. Traditionally, the aim of breeding of plants and animals is to tailor the plant or animal for a certain character or trait improvement. For example, a new crop variety might be bred for drought tolerant or resistant to diseases. The process of traditional breeding involves  the use of germplasm from the pool of the ancestors with desirable traits of interest and crossing them with each other, to make the progenies output carry through heritability  and have the favorable traits from both parents. Since the progenies carry both half desired and undesired hereditary traits from the parents, they will be passed on  and it takes a number of breeding cycles  (backcrossing) to eliminate the undesired traits and build on the desired traits. This certainly takes time. The final new plant variety or breed of animal after several years of selection will have the desired traits. This is only applicable to heritable traits, which were inherited from its ancestors along with the associated genes for those traits.  Thus, the traditional breeding is a way of harnessing the genetic resources of an organism by selective breeding. The advance level of the traditional breeding is the genetic breeding, which is fast gaining popularity and acceptance globally.

So, why genetic breeding? With traditional breeding, for instance, plants often exchange large, unregulated chunks of their genomes. Sometimes these unwanted or undesired traits can be unsafe. A common example is the case of breeding potato varieties using traditional plant breeding technique. The breeding inadvertently produces excessive levels of natural substance called glyco-alkaloids. These glyco-alkaloids cause gastrointestinal, circulatory, neurological and other related problems. To remove these undesired substances, breeders sometimes have to cross many plants over multiple generations to produce the desired trait. However, GM techniques allow new traits to be introduced one at a time without complications from extra genes and extensive crossbreeding that sometimes takes years to accomplish. Genetic engineering offers the means to breed crops with sexual incompatibility barriers. It also makes possible the transfer of genes within completely unrelated organisms, such as from bacteria to plants. This wonderful innovation provides hopes to hopeless farmers and brings foods to the tables of billions of people. It gladdens me to note  Nigeria is not left behind in the area of biotechnology for both crops productivity enhancement and medical arena.

In Nigeria, without dispute, Ahmadu Bello University has become a  household name in development and advancement of agricultural sciences. In the last sixty years, ABU has led consistent effort in crops breeding and artificial insemination for large ruminants, particularly cattle. As stated in my article of 2nd September, 2016, two prominent units of the university; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) and Department of Plant Science concertedly developed new or improved the quality of existing seeds for the nine strategic crops in Nigerian Ecological zones. The ecological zones in Nigeria are extremely diverse with average annual rainfall of less than  700 mm for some areas and over 4000 mm for others. Despite the challenge pose by this diversity, improved seeds were bred for the nation and the West African sub region. ABU has eminent professors charged with the responsibilities of seeds breeding to achieve the mandates of IAR as a research Institute and the University as a citadel of learning and community development agency.  In this vein, IAR was saddled with statutory function of genetic improvement of nine different crops. The crops varieties developed were Maize, Sorghum, Groundnut, Cowpea, Cotton, Sunflower, Castor, Jatropa and Artimesia, respectively.

Maize varieties developed by IAR were drought tolerance, early maturing varieties, high yielding varieties, striga resistance, adaptable to Nigerian Savanna and hermonthica prone zones. The maize varieties were SAMMAZ 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25, respectively. These varieties are already in Nigerian Markets.

The second crop developed by IAR is Sorghum popularly, called “Guinea corn”. It is a high-energy, drought-tolerant crop. Because of its versatility and adaptation, “sorghum is one of the really indispensable crops” required for animals feeds, brewing and production of ethanol. Sorghum produces more ethanol with less less water compared to sugarcane. IAR developed several varieties of sorghum to serve different purposes across the country. The prominent among the varieties are SAMSORG 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14 and 17. Others are SAMSORG 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43 and 44, respectively. Some of these improved varieties are semi -dwarf, creamed colored seed, white colored seed, resistant to major leaf diseases and pests, early maturity, striga resistant and many other good qualities against some environmental and climatic challenges. Outstanding characteristics of the varieties are non-photosensitive, excellent seed quality as in the case of SAMSORG 6, good palatability, highest yielding as in the case of SAMSORG 14 and excellent for composite flour as in the case of SAMSORG 38 and 39. Good malting quality varieties were similarly developed and released such as SAMSORG 42, 43 and 44, Malt extract contents for these varieties were found to range from 65% to 78%. Similarly, they were found to be excellent for composite flour making. Another specialized varieties of sorghum are CSR – 01 and CSR – 2, which are adaptable to Northern Guinea savanna and southern Sudan savanna zones. The varieties are resistant to major leaf diseases and highly tolerant to striga. They are also excellent for malting and confectionaries in addition to being high quality seeds. These last four varieties were developed specifically for industrial purposes, which our local foods and beverages industries should take advantage instead of massive importation of Malta. These category of varieties are high yielding and open pollinated sorghums developed for Nigeria and Sahelian region. The second category of sorghum varieties are hybrids. Under this category, ABU has developed and released several varieties such as CSR – 03H, 04H, PRADHAN, MLSH 296 Gold, MLSH 151, PD86W15 and PD87W16.

Cotton is another IAR mandate crop. The cotton varieties developed are Samcot 1, 2, 3, 4, up to 14. The outstanding characteristics of these cotton varieties are high yielding (1.5 to 2.0 tons per hectare), from early to medium maturity,  tolerant to pest/diseases such as moderately resistant to bacterial blight, alternaria leaf spot. Some of the varieties were developed for improved fiber length, medium staple cotton, fine lint and tolerant to salinity condition.

Cowpea, popularly named “beans” is another mandate crop of IAR. The improved varieties of cowpea developed and released by IAR were code named SAMPEA. Within a span of three decades (1978 to 2008), ten varieties were developed and released; SAMPEA 1, 2, 3, 4, up to 10, respectively. The varieties were aimed at increased productivity and meeting some production challenges such as pests, diseases, low inputs requirements and adaptable to the environment. Cowpeas are highly venerable to diseases and attractive to pests, being crops with high nutritional values. Cowpea has significant percentage of protein and fat compared to cereals and tuber crops, which make the crops development more challenging. The developed varieties are resistant to many diseases and pests such as bacterial blight, maruca pod borer, pod sucking bugs, bruchids and many other destructive microorganisms. Their maturity  period are of medium duration from 78 to 100 days. the potential yields of these varieties ranged from 1.2 to 2 tons per hectare. This is much higher than the average estimated yield of 0.483 tons per hectare for cowpea in West Africa as reported by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

In addition to IAR efforts, there are other significant contributions to biotechnology from similar research Institutes and universities across the nation. What is the current situation of biotechnology products in Nigeria? (to be continued next week)

Prof. M.K Othman is the Director National Agricultural Extension Research and Liason Services (NAERLS) Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

He hails from Bindawa L.G Katsina state


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