By Abdallah el-Kurebe
Courtesy of a Private Public Partnership (PPP), the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea Project which is coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the USAID, will make about eight million Sub Saharan African farmers have access to improved cowpea varieties that would lead to increased yield with the development of MarucaResistant Cowpeas.
The pod borer, popularly known as Maruca Vitrata is a major Lepidopteran pest that inflicts damage to the cowpea for which, till date, between 70-80 percent yield losses have been reported. Control of the infestations 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.
A news release issued by AATF’s Communication Unit stated that the improved varieties were “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.
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.
According to the statement, 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.
While paying tribute to African scientists and international development partners involved in the project, Dr Dennis Kyetere, Executive Director with AATF said during the annual review and work planning meeting held at IITA- Ibadan, Nigeria that, “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.”
While 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 partnership tends to develop and test cowpea varieties with a genetic trait that would make the plant resistant to the borer and provide farmers with an alternative to costly and hazardous insecticide spraying as well as transferring the Bt gene, which confers resistance to the pod, into improved cowpea varieties.
The project is being implemented in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Malawi.