The challenges of cowpea production in Nigeria are in many phases, in the area of productivity, the farmers have been experiencing very low productivity, their harvests are in Kilograms, and not even in metric tons. The low productivity is as a result of many factors, ranging from soil fertility, farm Management, insect and pest infestation which is the most ravaging of all the farmers have been experiencing for years and that is managed by chemical sprays, the farmer has to do like 8 sprays on cowpea for him to be able to make high yield.
There is a problem with the use of chemicals, the number of time to spray is much, there is labour intensiveness and the cost attached to the chemicals is money. So cost effectiveness is not their and all these add up to high production cost to the farmer. If the farmer had to spend a lot to have high yield, he will have to recoup his money and ultimately, the cost of produce goes higher.
Other factors like the chemical spray, there is a problem with the chemical spray apart from the health hazard, because as you are spraying, everything is going into your lungs through inhaling.
Even when you do the spray, after spraying, it rains, if it rains and you are not lucky it rains on the day of your spray, the chemical will not work.
Those are the main thing that made the breeders to begin to look inwards, begin to find out how take care of this big challenge if the only solution of using chemicals to destroy the insects and this is not working during the rain.
So, the breeders started working hard thinking of how find a permanent solution and make like better for the farmer, I think they went into so many options like screening so many species of cowpea to see if they can find one has inherent resistance the insect (Maruca Vitrata), there are so many insect that cowpea is susceptible to, but the most ravaging of them all is the Maruca larva which is a caterpillar, the
Y eat up the flower, they eat up the leave and other important parts of the cowpea. Some of the farmers incur 100 per cent loss.
The breeders screened about 15 varieties of cowpea in International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to see if the pay could find one that has inherent trait that can put off the insect so that they can extract the gene, and they found none.
They now decide to use the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is a soil bacterium, it is safe to use, the Bt has been used for years in liquid form as an insecticide. Based on their knowledge on how DNA works, they decided to get a gene from the Bt. That gene to codes for insecticidal property, that gene that when you get and put it in cowpea, it will now get expressed in the cowpea, and now produce that protein which is the toxin puts off the insect.
They breeders then decided to get the gene that is responsible for that protein (endotoxin) so that once you put it in the beans, the plant will grow up with that in it so that the insect resistance trait will be inside the seed, that one relieves the farmer of having to spray chemicals, those properties are in the beans.
Another advantage this has is that when you are spraying chemicals, it destroys everything, all other insects, but this one is selective, it can only destroy insects within the butterfly family, the moth family, but other insects are not affected.
Do you think Nigeria is losing money as a result of this low productivity of cowpea?
Of course Nigeria is losing money because the low productivity means we won’t have enough to feed ourselves, Nigeria is the largest producer of Cowpea in West Africa, our domestic use for cowpea is high but what we produce is not enough, I think the deficit we run is 500,000 metric tons and it is being made up by importation, so we spend a lot of money to import in order to have enough for our teeming population.