Licenses help tackle the cowpea strangler

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In Nigeria, better cowpea varieties could significantly help smallholders raise their yields. Our team there is working with New Markets Lab (NML) to facilitate licensing of newly approved cowpea varieties by the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB). Getting these out to local companies is a crucial step towards access by the farmers.

“NACGRAB is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation”, explains our local Program Manager Isaiah Gabriel. “The center’s Technical Sub-Committee is chaired by Professor Olusoji Olufajo. It recently approved two improved cowpea varieties that are resistant to Striga. That resistance is very important because Striga is a widespread parasitic weed that ‘strangles’ cowpea plants.”  

The approved varieties are called FUAM 3 and FUAM 4. They were developed by the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, in Nigeria’s Benue State. The university’s Seed System expert, Professor Lucky Omoigui, works closely with our Foundation on increasing smallholders’ access to good seeds. He told the Technical Sub-Committee that the resistant varieties could achieve high yields and that they meet a major need of farmers in endemic Striga areas. FUAM 3 has a slight advantage over 4 in that it is also suitable for inter-cropping.

“We are delighted that the University of Agriculture has achieved this breakthrough”, comments Isaiah Gabriel. “Congratulations go to Professor Omoigui and his whole team*. We now look forward to helping promote these varieties in the AVISA cowpea portfolio.”  

New law aims to serve smallholders

NML and our Foundation are long-term partners in the seed area. “In this particular project, we’re working with them to facilitate licensing to private seed companies”, explains Nathalie Vignaux, our international Seeds2B Operational Excellence Lead. “Licensing details will be based on the specific parties' requirements. But in each case, the idea is that the companies pay royalties to the University of Agriculture. That ideally matches the intentions of Nigeria’s 2021 Plant Variety Protection Act.” 

The Act has three main aims in this context. It seeks to ensure that Nigerian scientists enjoy the fruits of their labor, while also enabling investors to build stronger value chains and get seeds into the hands of the nation’s farmers. “As well as in licensing, the Syngenta Foundation can also play a key role in that third vital step”, says our local Seeds2B Manager Ephraim Manga. “Our robust program ensures that these products really do get over the ‘last mile’ and into smallholders’ fields.”

*L. Omoigui’s successful cowpea development team includes G Okeruo, M.F. Ishiyaku, A.Y. Kamara, O.O Olufajo, N. Iyorka, A.S Shiabu, I. Lolarmen, R. Solomon, M.S Ugbaa, and M.S Timko.