From Edmond Gyebi.
Cowpea farmers in the Savannah Ecological Zone of Ghana, comprising the Upper East, Upper West, Northern, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions, are crying foul over the continuous loss of over 80 percent of their crop yields annually to excessive destruction by the popular insect called ‘Pod-Borer’, also known as “Maruca-vitrata”.
The disgruntled farmers are, therefore, demanding that the government supply them with cowpea seed varieties that could control the attacks by these pests, in order to reduce the cost of cultivation, and increase the yield and income they get from the sale of the crop.
The Pod-Borer is a major Lepidopteran pest that inflicts severe damage to cowpea pods in the fields, leading to a high percentage of crop yield losses.
Controlling through spraying with insecticide has not been widely adopted by farmers, due to its prohibitive cost.
On the other hand, farmers who have adopted the use of the insecticide are always exposed to serious health hazards.
Meanwhile, the cowpea is one of the most important food grain legumes in the savannah regions of tropical Africa, where it is grown on more than 12.5 million hectares of land.
Apart from the income it provides to many homes, cowpea serves as an excellent source of protein in many West African nations. It is estimated that over 200 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa consume cowpea on a daily basis as their source of protein, and Ghana is amongst the world’s leading cowpea producers. It also provides quality fodder for livestock.
Unfortunately, very little or no efforts are made by successive governments to research into cowpea products, or the seed which is capable of protecting itself from attacks by Maruca and other diseases, in order to make it much easier for farmers to produce the crop.
At a day’s sensitisation seminar and field visit, organised by the West Africa office of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), in collaboration with Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology Ghana Chapter at Nyankpala, the farmers were introduced to a new variety of cowpea called “Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea”, which is still undergoing trials by scientists for possible future supply to farmers.
The seminar, which sought to sensitise the participants on the prospects and benefits of the Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea, and also create awareness on agricultural biotechnology and its benefits, was attended by farmers, seed companies, chiefs, regulators, journalists, students, agricultural extension officers, agro-dealers, government officials, and scientists, among others.
It was also intended to solicit the support of farmers for the adoption of the Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cowpea seeds, showcase the Confined Field Trial (CFT) site to stakeholders, through seeing-is-believing field visits, as well as to acquaint participants with the challenges and safety of Bt cowpea.
James Ayamba Anaaba, Chief and Farmer from Narango in the Binduri District of the Upper East Region, told the Northern File in an interview: “I have cultivated cowpea for more than 26 years now. I used to grow 100 acres every year with the help of some of my community youth. But, last year, 2015, and this year, 2016, I grew only two acres, because the losses are too much. I spend a lot of money. Sometimes I take the money from a rural bank, and at the end of the season, I have to sell some of my cows to go and pay the loan at the bank, all because of the way pests and diseases attack my farms. No matter how much you spray, the insects still attack, and after harvesting the remaining yield, they come to destroy them in few weeks.”
According to him, because of the threat by the Pod-Borers, he is now using his 100 acre cowpea field for maize and pepper cultivation.
Chief James Anaaba, who gave out a small portion (one and half acres) of his land for the demonstration of the Pod-borer resistant cowpea in his district, testified the vast difference between the new improved cowpea and the conventional ones.
“I can testify, because I have seen the difference. I was given some of the Pod-Borer resistant cowpea to try in my field, and, in fact, the result is far higher than when you grow the old seed. It helps increase production. There is no need for pesticide or chemical application, weevils can’t attack the crop, and this means more income.”
He, therefore, appealed to government to support the initiative by the scientists, so that they can produce more seeds for supply to farmers.
Another farmer, Mahama Lansah from Damongo in the West Gonja District of the Northern Region, was completely overwhelmed by the relief the Pod-borer Resistant Cowpea would bring to farmers, when adopted.
After 22 years of work as a cowpea farmer, Mahama Lansah claimed he had nothing to show, because of the attack by pod-borers.
“This year, 2016, I have cultivated only four acres, and I have mixed it with maize, because I know, with the cowpea alone, I can’t recover the money spent on the farm. As I speak now, I am battling with my health because of the chemical I use to spray my farm. I developed skin rash, and my palm and fingers are changing colour.”
Mahama Lansah said that he had a lot of land, but he was using it for a mango plantation, and reserved only 20 acres for cowpea and maize.
“I love growing cowpea, because it has a good market, but I will go into full scale farming of cowpea when government sees the need to adopt this Pod-Borer resistant cowpea, or any other variety that can fight against the Maruca. I can’t continue to waste money when I know I will not get good results.”
The Pod-Borer Resistant Cowpea project, which is being coordinated by the AATF, is being financed by the USAID. The project is being implemented in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
As at 2014, confined field trials for testing the efficacy of the Bt gene in controlling the Maruca had been successfully conducted in the three countries, and Nigeria and Burkina Faso have progressed into multi-locational trials.
The project, according to the Pod-Borer Resistant Cowpea Project Manager for West Africa, Dr. Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, is conducting studies on safety for food, feed, and environmental risks assessments for regulatory approvals in the target countries before seeds are released to farmers.