Brighter days for African farmers – as pod-borer resistant cowpea edge towards commercialisation

By Alex Abutu

February 16, 2017

Saharan African farmers will soon have access to improved cowpea varieties that will lead to increase in yield with the development of Maruca Resistant Cowpeas.

The development was made possible courtesy of a public-private partnership project, the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea Project: that has identified elite events and speedily advancing towards de-regulation and commercial release to farmers.

These varieties are expected to reduce grain yield losses caused by the Pod borer, Maruca vitrata, as well as reduce the need for insecticidal sprays. The expected yield improvement will impact household, national and global food security and economic status.

Considered as the most important food grain legume in the dry savannas of tropical Africa where it is grown on more than 12.5 million hectares, Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp) is rich in quality protein and its energy content almost equal to that of cereal grains. The legume is a good source of quality fodder for livestock and provides cash income. Nearly 200 million people in Africa consume the crop.

Cowpea farmer PHOTO|Courtesy of ScientificNG.

However, many biotic and abiotic factors greatly reduce cowpea productivity in the traditional African farming systems. Among these constraints is the pod borer, Maruca vitrata, which perennially damages cowpea pods in the fields.

The pod borer (Maruca vitrata) is a major Lepidopteran pest that inflicts severe damage to the cowpea plant. In severe infestations yield losses of between 70–80 percent have been reported. Control through spraying with insecticide has not been widely adopted by farmers due its prohibitive costs. On the other hand, farmers who have adopted control through spraying have been exposed to serious health hazards.

The deployment of a cowpea product that is capable of protecting itself from attack by Maruca will make it easier and cheaper for farmers to produce cowpeas in areas where this pest is a problem, says Dr Dennis Kyetere, Executive Director with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, during the annual review and work planning meeting held at IITA- Ibadan, Nigeria.

“ I am particularly excited about the prospects that the project holds given the excellent results from the trial fields across the four countries involved in this research, Countries like Nigeria will stop importing cowpeas in the coming years as it is expected to be cowpea sufficient with the advent of this variety,” added Dr Kyetere. He also paid glowing tribute and congratulated African Scientist and international development partners involved in the project.

The goal of the Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea Project is to develop and disseminate farmer-preferred and locally adapted Maruca-resistant cowpea varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea Project is a public private partnership coordinated by AATF with the funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote technological interventions that will optimise cowpea productivity and utilisation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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