Monday, January 25, 2010


Cowpeas are eaten by 4 million
people around the world.
The humble cowpea will be the centre of attention at the 5th World Cowpea Research Conference in September 2010. Taking place in Senegal, the meeting will showcase cowpea expertise from around the world and is aiming to raise the profile of the under appreciated bean.

The cowpea is one of the most ancient crops known to man and has been grown in Africa in particular for thousands of years. Nutritionally amazing, the cowpea or as it is more commonly known the black-eyed pea is eaten all over the world but is perhaps most well known for its part in “soul food”, the cuisine of African Americans in the southern United States.

Cowpeas are also highly regarded by farmers, aside from their importance in human diets; because they can also be used for animal feed and as a green manure.

Bacteria, fungi, viruses,
nematodes, parastic plants
and insects all attack cowpeas.

In recent years there has been considerable progress in worldwide cowpea breeding and research. New varieties have been developed with resistance to pests and diseases, produce higher yields with lesser inputs and that are better for grain and fodder.

At the conference scientists will discuss research related issues, such as improved varieties. They will present the state of the art breakthroughs in cowpea research and build upon these technological advances to move the science forward. The ultimate aim is to identify opportunities for cowpea growers to gain higher incomes, greater food security, and lead healthier lives.

The conference is being organised by IITA, the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Programme (Pulse-CRSP), Purdue University, and the Institut Senegalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA). It is taking place in Dakar, Senegal from the 27 September to 1 October.

Friday, January 22, 2010


70 million people across sub-Saharan Africa
rely on bananas.
IITA is set to conduct a training course for a number of institutions across Africa so they will be able to control different banana diseases with more efficiency.

Staff from Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia will then be able to recognise disease symptoms in the field and confirm their presence with biotechnological tools in the laboratory.

Participants will also be trained on spatial disease surveillance methods using GPS. This will help in the development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) maps showing the presence and spread of the diseases.

The event will focus on two main diseases Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) and Banana Xanthomonas Wilt. In terms of BXW, the course will attempt to forge links between ongoing and planned surveillance activities in order to create a regional disease surveillance network. There is also an in-depth survey scheduled for BBTD.
Banana Bunchy Top Disease is a virus that kills banana trees by causing narrow bunched leaves and stunted, fruitless plants. It is very difficult to spot in newly infected plants so is often missed leading to an unabated spread in some areas.
Banana X Wilt is a bacterial disease spread quickly between plants. It causes leaves to yellow and wilt, creates uneven, premature fruit and the plant eventually rots and dies. Symptoms of BXW are often confused with Panama Disease.
Stunted BBTD infected banans.
The training is a collaboration between IITA, the Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority (RADA) and the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda - ISAR). It is funded by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and will take place from 25 to 29 January 2010 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A cassava is a hardy and very useful crop that does well in droughts and poor soils. It requires little input from farmers and is valuable because every part of the plant can be utilised, from its leaves to its roots. However, Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is disrupting cassava production on a massive scale.

CBSD is caused by the Cassava Brown Streak virus which induces a dry rot in the cassava tubers preventing people from eating them. As an important staple food to over 200 million people CBSD is one of the greatest threats to food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reacting to this crisis, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have given US$ 2.4 million to a number of agricultural institutes across Africa, including IITA, to further the creation of cassava varieties resistant to the disease.

A cassava infected with CBSD
The four year project aims to identify the DNA markers associated with the resistance genes in different varieties and integrate marker-assisted selection into cassava breeding programs.

Marker-assisted breeding will enable scientists to determine whether or not the desired genes with CBSD resistance have been successfully transferred from the parents to the offspring at the seedling stage by using DNA testing. This will dramatically reduce the time taken to develop improved varieties which currently takes between eight and 12 years.

According to Dr. Morag Ferguson, IITA Plant Molecular Geneticist and the team project leader, breeding for disease-resistant cassava is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to control the devastating effects of the virus.

She says: "The use of molecular markers can reduce this time by allowing selection earlier on in the breeding cycle and by increasing the accuracy of selection. It is like using a magnet in a game of find the needle in the haystack!"

The grant forms part of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to provide millions of small farmers with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes and build better lives for themselves and their families.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Northern Nigeria as part of West Africa's savanna region has vast expanses of rich arable land. However, a number of problems keep farmers in poverty. Pests, parasites and disease as well as poor soil fertility and crop management have had dire consequences on food security in the area. Furthermore, more frequent bouts of droughts and floods due to climate change have also had a great effect on the livelihoods that are based in agriculture.

Now help is coming to the resource-poor farmers of the North. They are benefiting from innovations in agricultural research, brought about by IITA and its partners working on the Sudan Savanna Task Force of the Kano-Katsina-Maradi (SS TF KKM) Pilot Learning Site (PLS) part of the Sub-Saharan Challenge Programme.

The scheme has introduced improved seeds and better farming practices to the small-scale farmers that has raised their incomes, increased overall productivity, led to better nutrition and created a sense of optimism.

Mohammed Mustapha, a cowpea farmer in Kunamawa village in Katsina State, has seen his crop yield double in the last year. He says: “My family is happy that I am now a successful farmer. I can now provide them with enough food and send my children to school.”

At a recent Farmers’ Field Day in Jikamshi, Katsina State, Hajia Fatima Shema, Wife of the Executive Governor of Katsina State; and Dr. Lawal Musawa, the Honorable Chairman of Musawa Local Government Area confirmed that the research done by this project was reducing poverty and improving the livelihoods of millions of people. They also encouraged more farmers to take advantage of the technologies offered by IITA and pledged their support to the ongoing scheme.