Smallholder farmers in West Africa may get free access to newly developed Bt cowpea seed that are resistant to the Maruca pod borer pest in the coming year.
The cowpea is one of Africa’s indigenous crops, and is a good source of plant based protein for human consumption, as well as high quality fodder. This pulse also provides the extra service of increasing soil fertility.
Cowpeas are also an important crop for smallholder famers due to its drought tolerance.
However, the legume forms part of the diets of several insects, leading to substantial crop losses to smallholder farmers in Africa. One the main pests are the Maruca caterpillar, or legume pod borer. If left uncontrolled, the legume pod borer can destroy up to 80% of a crop
Insecticides and microbial biopesticides can be applied successfully, but these options are expensive to smallholder farmers and not environmentally friendly.
As a solution to the problem, scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at the Queensland University of Technology and the Biotechnology Centre at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, have engineered a cowpea to produce the insecticide Bacillus thrungiensis (Bt) protein. This new Bt cowpea will have the ability to produce its own pesticide against the pest.
TJ Higgins from CSIRO, lead scientist of the study, said that this new pest resistant variety can yield up to 25% more compared to other varieties.
Farmers usually don’t have to pay for cowpeas and Higgins and his team made sure to put all necessary steps in place so farmers don’t have to pay for this new technology, either.
The new Bt cowpea could be available to farmers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana at no cost by 2018.
“There are no additional costs because this work has been publicly funded all the way through.”
According to Higgins, farmers will also be able to save the seed and re-sow it the next year.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation has developed a management plan for farmers to follow to help prevent the insects from developing resistance.
To ensure that this technology keeps up with traditional breeding that enhances yields, cowpea breeders are also committed to incorporating this variety into their breeding programs.