The Federal Government has approved registration and release of a new Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea variety for commercialization.

The approval was granted by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, chaired by Mr. Oladosu Awoyemi.The meeting held  in Ibadan, Oyo State.

The new cowpea variety, SAMPEA 20-T, was developed by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, in collaboration with various partners under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

PBR Cowpea was earlier in the year granted environmental release approval by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), which confirmed the product was safe for human, livestock and the environment and paved the way for submission to the National Variety Release Committee for consideration and registration as a commercial crop.

The SAMPEA 20-T has been bred for resistance to Maruca vitrata, a lepidoptreran insect pest that causes up to 90 percent yield loss in severe infestation cases.

The new variety is early maturing (70 to 75 days) with semi-erect growth habit and photoperiod insensitive and has medium large white seeds. It is also resistant to Striga and Alectra, two notorious parasitic weeds.

The decision to release the variety means that farmers will have access to the seed that will help them significantly reduce the number of sprays they currently apply to their crop from six to seven times to only two per cropping season and as a result realise better yield in quantity and quality.

It will also contribute to addressing the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and also improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare.

During the Multilocational Advanced Yield Trials conducted across Nigeria’s agro-ecologies, researchers found SAMPEA 20-T to have high stable grain yield across the test locations.

The minimum observed grain yield increase over the conventional cowpea varieties was 20 percent  and the maximum was over 200 percent.

The variety can yield up to 2.9 tons of beans per hectare, and over 3.0 tons of fodder per hectare.

The Principal Investigator for the project and Executive Director, Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria, Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, said both the on-station and on-farm trials demonstrated the superiority of SAMPEA 20-T relative to local, recently released cowpea varieties and improved breeding lines tested.

‘SAMPEA 20-T is high yielding, early maturing and resistant to Striga and Alectra, which are major constraint to cowpea production in most producing areas in Nigeria and other dry savanna regions,’ said Ishiyaku.

The protein and nutrients content of variety ‘SAMPEA 20-T is the same as that of other conventional varieties meaning that the Bt gene that was introduced into the variety has no negative influence on the nutritional composition of both grain and folder,’ added Prof. Ishiyaku, saying that the newly released variety does not differ in any way from already existing cowpeas (beans) other than the improvements made.

Executive Director AATF, Dr Denis Kyetere, thanked the Federal Government for releasing the new cowpea variety, saying it showed  its commitment towards improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmer.

‘Cowpea farmers have had to endure difficult farming conditions that required spraying dangerous chemicals on their crop to make a profit which is risking their lives,” Said Kyetere.

“We at AATF express our joy with Nigeria as it takes the lead in the deployment of necessary technologies that show promise of solving the challenges which farmers encounter on a daily basis,’ added, Kyetere.

The AATF PBR Cowpea Manager , Dr Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, attributed the successful registration and naming of SAMPEA 20-T to the hard work and synergy between the various project partners including researchers at the IAR “Our joint effort of over 10 years addressing one of the vital challenges faced by cowpea farmers in Africa has paid off.

Cowpea farming will now become attractive even to the younger generation as it has become less cumbersome with the effective management of Maruca,’ he said.

The Executive Secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Prof. Garba Sharubuta,  the apex organisation supervising all agriculture research in the country welcomed the release of the new variety, saying that cowpea is a major staple and vegetarian source of dietary protein in Africa.