Concerns raised about commercialisation of cowpea seed

By Rehana Dada

This month the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) released a report on the commercialisation of cowpea seed production and distribution in West Africa, arguing that the push to commercialise cowpea coincides with growing interest from seed companies. Cowpea, one of the oldest crops known, has its centre of origin in southern Africa, and provides food during the ‘hungry season’ before cereals mature. According to Mariam Mayet of the ACB, “There is a corporate push backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition to harmonise seed laws and intellectual property rights legislation on the basis of the Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV) 1991. This push seeks to create regional markets for crops that otherwise would not have the economies of scale for corporate investment. Corporate investment in regional seed markets relies on varieties being released onto regional lists and that are immediately made available without further trials.”

The report argues that the cowpea push in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ghana coincides with interest from multinational and local seed companies to produce genetically modified seed in the region via the insertion of the Cry1Ab Bt gene. 

The authors draw attention to the resultant threats posed to traditional seed saving practices and locally adapted seed varieties, proven health risks associated with the use of this particular gene in other crops, ecological impacts if the gene escapes into the wild, and the high input prices associated with GM technology.
The report is titled, GM and seed industry eye Africa’s lucrative cowpea seed markets: The political economy of cowpea in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Malawi. It is available at