The Nigerian government has approved four varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn, World Grain wrote citing a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report.

The move raised hopes of improved yields from crops with improved insect resistance and drought tolerance, the 14 February report said.

With its approval of four TELA corn (maize) varieties on 11 January, Nigeria joined South Africa as the only African nations to approve the commercialisation of GE corn, the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) said.

In the 2022/23 marketing year, Nigeria produced an estimated 12.7M tonnes of corn, with an average yield of 2.2 tonnes/ha, the report said.

According to the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), TELA maize yields could reach up to 10 tonnes/ha if grown under good agronomic practices.

According to the AATF, the four newly approved GM corn varieties – SAMMAZ 72T, SAMMAZ 73T, SAMMAZ 74T, and SAMMAZ 75T – are owned by the respective institutions that developed them, including national government research organisations, and they would be licensed royalty-free to local seed companies through the AATF.

In 2016, outbreaks of fall armyworm (FAW) were first detected in Nigeria, and quickly spread to other areas in West Africa and the continent.

According to several studies, FAW can reduce corn production in affected areas by 20%-50% and raise production costs through increased labour and pesticide applications.

“Compared to traditional hybrids, TELA maize could potentially reverse yield loss, reduce labour and input costs, and lower pesticide use,” the USDA report said.

“For comparison, South Africa doubled corn yields over the past 20 years, in part after adopting insect-resistant GE corn varieties following the approval of the ‘GMO’ Act of 1997.”

As an estimated 95% of Nigeria’s seed companies could not produce hybrid seeds, the USDA said it expected the first batch of TELA maize planting seeds to be imported from South Africa.

With a population of 223M, Nigerian domestic consumption of corn was estimated at 12.9M tonnes in 2022/23, with household consumption accounting for 10%-15% of total corn use.

An essential part of many families’ diets in the northern half of the country, corn could be consumed as corn flour, roasted or boiled whole, or prepared as porridge, the USDA said.

About 20% of production goes into animal feed, particularly poultry feed, with the remainder used as a processing ingredient by the food and beverage industry, according to the report.