Drought tolerant maize is good for farmers and business in Mali

Vincent Defait, v.defait@gmail.com

Excellent outcomes in farmers’ tests of drought tolerant maize in Mali—where rainless spells persistently wilt harvests and hopes—have increased the demand for maize seeds and raised the crop’s appeal.

Finishing his meal, 67-year-old Malian farmer Bakary Touré smiles and looks over his homestead’s courtyard where friends are eating a traditional corn paste. Some children watch; some women wash pots; a goat wanders among scrawny hens; and a donkey’s sporadic braying shakes the dusty afternoon. This is Kolokani, a village in the heart of a town of 7800 homes some 120 km north of Mali’s capital, Bamako.

“In September 2011, I had nothing to eat, so I sold my goats and chickens to feed my family,” says Touré, referring to a particularly poor harvest. As the head of a household of 22 people he was ready to abandon his homestead at the time but, as he says, “…Maize saved me.” On the advice of fellow farmers in a local cooperative in May 2012, Touré bought 20 kg of seeds of Brico, a drought tolerant (DT) variety with yellow kernels. Sown and managed using recommended practices, the US$15 purchase of seeds grew into a 1.6 t harvest that brought food security to Touré and his homestead. “I gave three bags to friends who will pay me back later,” he says, standing in front of his storage room. “With the 13 bags I have, I can feed my family for six months.”

Other Kolokani farmers have profited by producing and selling seeds of the DT varieties. Near a small warehouse that stores grain sacks, Oumar Traoré, president of the cooperative “The Good Seed”, remembers the first trials with the varieties. “We usually grew more groundnut and sorghum,” he says, “but when we learned that this maize was profitable and drought tolerant, we wanted to try it.” He and his peers grew it on small areas the first year but soon expanded their plots. “The following 2 years, I produced 6 t of maize, mainly to sell as seeds,” Traoré says, as his friends nod in agreement. “It brought me 1.5 million FCFA ($2900) and I bought cows and a motorcycle. Today, our main problem is the cost and availability of mineral fertilizer on the market. If we cannot buy enough in a timely manner, we have to cut back the maize area,” says Traoré. Despite this, he says that production of DT maize allows him to easily feed his family with 13 members and sell seeds for as much as $1/kg.

A new movement toward maize
That maize can save the day is surprising news in Kolokani where the yearly rainfall, 600 mm or less, has favored more water-sparing crops, such as sorghum, groundnut, and sesame. But Bakary Touré and Oumar Traoré are among thousands of Malian farmers taking up DT maize varieties.
“Mali is one of the countries in West Africa where maize production has expanded into areas where drought stress occurs intermittently,” says Abebe Menkir, IITA’s Maize Breeder, who works with Mali’s Institute of Rural Economy (IER) to develop DT maize varieties and make them available to farmers. “With these varieties, Mali has the opportunity to expand maize production into areas where it was not possible before because of droughts.”

“In Mali, DT maize could revolutionize the lives of farmers,” says N’Tji Coulibaly, an IER agronomist and head of its maize research program who is testing and promoting the new varieties with farmers. Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa of 15.5 million inhabitants. Less than 4% of the land is arable; 8 of every 10 citizens are engaged in agriculture or fishing around the Niger River. Since the mid-1990s, domestic maize production and consumption have grown significantly, based on the crop’s high yield potential and responsiveness to fertilizer, its capacity to alleviate food deficits, as well as its export potential and value for processing and food industries. “The introduction of DT maize seeds can speed the attainment of the Government’s main objective of food sufficiency for Malian farmers.”

Smallholder farmers earn a surplus by growing seeds
The varieties that Coulibaly and Menkir test and promote are products of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, implemented since 2006 by IITA and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, USAID, and the British Department for International Development.
In the IER office in Bamako, Coulibaly traces the beginnings of the DTMA project in Mali. “We worked with farmers to select the best seeds, those that adapt best to areas where drought is endemic,” he says. “From 2009, two early maturing open-pollinated varieties were released that farmers have dubbed Brico, the name of a town in Mali, and Jorobana, which means “no worries” in the Bambara language. In areas where drought can reduce production by 70%, DT maize is a godsend. Ideally, we should introduce one or two new DT varieties each year.”

IER also helps to teach farmers the skills and know-how to produce certified seeds. Among other things, this requires them to follow a schedule for applying fertilizer, weeding the plots, and maintaining enough separation between maize crops to avoid cross-pollination.

Best and timely practices
Coulibaly describes a series of marketing challenges that need to be addressed. “We must find a way to produce more basic seeds,” he says, referring to the seeds that are multiplied by companies and other commercial seed producers. “In particular, it is often necessary (for someone) to quickly buy the seeds the farmers produce because without money (from those sales), they have nothing to eat; they cannot wait for a potential buyer to knock on their door.” Coulibaly adds that, by the same token, farmers are not able to plan well for their own needs over the medium term. “In general, when a drought is looming, they all want DT seeds at the same time.”

These considerations do not seem to have reached Tanabougou, a village where only the minaret of the tiny mosque stands over the lot of concessions. The capital is only 40 miles away, but to get there one first needs to reach the paved road along a track on which only a few vehicles raise clouds of sand. Run down and often closed businesses in the city of Koulikoro, the capital of the eponymous region, give the impression that there has never been any impact on life in the villages. The Niger River is close, but it seems to belong to another world. In Tanabougou, it is the rain that supplies water to the crops. Animals, mainly goats and donkeys, crop the residues of harvest and the few tufts of grass under the trees.

In his banco concession where bright yellow maize cobs dry on a nga, a wooden roof and branches, another farmer, Benkeba Traoré, 56, says, “With traditional maize varieties, I was producing about 300 kg per year. Last year, with the drought tolerant variety Brico, I produced 2 t of maize and sold 800 kg as seeds to Faso Kaba, a seed business owned by a woman entrepreneur.” In two seasons Benkeba Traoré, who has to feed four adults and 12 children from 3.5 ha, was able to buy a pair of oxen and a plow, “Soon,” he says, “I will replace the branches which surround the concession with corrugated iron.”

The progress was also made possible by the training provided by the agronomists of IER and the technicians of Faso Kaba. For the past 3 years, the farmer has learned to isolate his seed production from other plots, to meet deadlines when spreading fertilizer, to recognize the quality of the soil, and to sow suitable seed varieties.

Rotating crops
When asked if he was not tempted to abandon the other crops, given the high yield of DT maize and the money it generates, farmer Traoré replies, “Last year, I reduced the area of sorghum and groundnut in favor of maize. Sorghum was a failure and maize saved me. But next year, it may be the other way round, so I prefer to continue to grow more cereal crops.”

The farmer now hopes to marry off his two oldest children and buy a motorcycle (about 300,000 FCFA or US$580) to travel to the village. “Today, I have no problems with the soudure,” Traore insists. All farmers in West Africa know about this difficult time between the end of the stock and the next harvest.

Lassana Diakite, 64, is reassured too. He chairs the cooperative from Koula, a neighboring village at the center of a little town with 25,000 inhabitants, several hours walk from the marketplace. Sitting on a wooden bench in the shade of a tree overlooking his concession, the farmer describes in a serious voice the various stages of maize cropping. “From plowing to sowing and harvesting, each step is recorded. I know when I need to weed, when I have to spread fertilizer, when I have to harvest … I even know my yields in advance. ” That is a lot of advantages for this head of a family of 35 people who inhabit parts of the banco concession.

In the first year, the farmer used 1.5 of his 12 ha for production of Jorobana seeds. The result: 1.7 t of maize harvested. Three years later, production has climbed to 4.6 t. “Drought tolerant maize beats conventional maize as the horse beats the donkey,” asserts the farmer.

The next tcheba seeds…
Looking at the nga, where the sun shines on his maize spread like gold nuggets, the farmer adds, “Next year I will sow 3 or 4 ha.” It is impossible for him to devote all his 12 ha to maize. “I do not have the labor,” he continues. “I would have to stagger the fields and interventions and that would compromise performance.”

Diakité acknowledges his new comforts, the oxen he recently acquired, the taxes he pays “with ease,” the education of his children, which is now more affordable, and the fertilizer for the sorghum that he can buy with the money generated by maize.

Back in Bamako, in his office at IER, Coulibaly dreams of the next generation of DT maize varieties. His team has just completed tests on hybrid varieties which are more productive. In 2013, Malian farmers should be able to grow the Tcheba variety meaning ‘big’ in Bambara. The agronomist said, “In Mali, with DT maize, we can speak of a success story…

IITA at 45: 1967 to 2012 and beyond…

This year, IITA marks its 45th year of service to the African farmers and national agricultural research systems.

In 1962, two years after the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations helped launch the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, Los Baños, the Philippines), both Foundations began discussing the possibility of establishing centers concerned with improving the yield and quality of tropical food crops other than rice. Thus, was the idea of an institute that would conduct research in the tropics of sub-Saharan Africa conceived by IITA’s founders1.

The Institute was established in July 1967, as the first major African link in an integrated network of international agricultural research centers located throughout the developing regions of the world.

IITA is under the umbrella of the CGIAR, a global research partnership that unites 15 organizations engaged in research for sustainable development for a food secure future that carries out research in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Funding for IITA came initially from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and the land for the headquarters in Ibadan was allotted by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Currently, the Institute is one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. IITA’s award-winning research for development (R4D) addresses the development needs of the poor and vulnerable in the tropics. Together with scores of partners, IITA is contributing to enhance crop quality and productivity, reduce producer and consumer risks, and generate wealth from agriculture.

For the last 45 years, IITA has delivered over 70% of the impact from the CGIAR in sub-Saharan Africa. The Institute has achieved this by focusing on key tropical food crops, such as banana and plantain, cassava, cowpea, maize, soybean, yam, and tree and vegetable crops.

For the next decade, IITA plans to raise over 20 million people out of poverty while simultaneously making available over 25 million hectares of farm lands for agricultural production. This is important as demand for food in the midst of the rising population and limited natural resources will remain as important challenges.

IITA will tackle these challenges by pursuing high quality research that improves food security, increases the profitability of foods and other agricultural products, and helps national entities to expand agricultural growth.

With the help of partners and other stakeholders, IITA endeavors to continue to improve the lives of the poor in the region through R4D.

1 Excerpts taken from Ortiz, R. 2004. IITA: 40 yeas after. Historical account for the Handbook of IITA Board of Trustees. IITA Report. 36 pp.

A 10-year strategy for the banana sector in Africa

Banana is an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA.
Banana is an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA.

The Banana 2008 Conference held in Mombasa, Kenya, provided the opportunity for developing a strategy to help propel the banana industry as an important engine of growth in Africa.

It was attended by more than 300 participants from the research and development arena, the private sector, and the business development, production and processing, policymaking, and marketing sectors.

Identifying priorities
The week-long conference focused on the themes markets and trade, production, and innovation systems. Within each theme, subthemes were identified along the whole commodity chain.

The participants identified priorities under the themes that cover the three banana types (dessert banana, plantain, and East African highland banana or EAHB) at three market levels: local, regional, and international.

The table shows the priorities identified by participants for each banana type and market level.

From priorities to action
Priority setting was the first step in strategy development. The next step was identifying who needs to do what to achieve these priorities.

Improving linkages
Improving linkages across the value chain is urgent if the banana sector is to be transformed. Better linkages, which depend on improved information provision and communication between actors, are important in achieving many of the identified priorities. Within markets and trade, for example, the successful matching of supply and demand depends to a large extent on an information flow through effective linkages.
Similarly for production, improved linkages are critical to solve the current gap between science and practice, and allow farmers to have access to knowledge so that they can address production constraints.

All stakeholders must recognize their responsibility to nurture synergistic relationships along the commodity chain. Principal actors (growers, traders, agribusiness, processors, retailers, and consumers) must be open to sharing information with other stakeholders. Supporting actors (those who provide services, inputs, and technologies) and those determining the operating environment (Governments and subregional trade organizations) have a key role to play in initiating and promoting new ways of working that encourage stronger linkages. Extension services provide a particularly important link in the banana chain and need to be strengthened—a role and responsibility of Governments.

To improve linkages across regions, participants suggested creating “knowledge platforms” to share current knowledge and to facilitate multisite testing, training, and education with farmers’ groups. Regional systems would feed into a pan-African system for consultative priority setting that is charged with exchanging information, strengthening capacity, forging partnerships, and developing policy to support banana production and trade across the continent.

Empowering farmers
The banana sector will be successfully transformed only if infrastructure is improved and the position of producers is strengthened. Farmers are greatly empowered by working together in cooperatives or farmers’ associations. Such farmers are in a much better position to address production constraints and to respond to markets. Information sharing and training are greatly facilitated, and effective innovation systems can develop more easily as the economy of scale is increased from individuals to organizations. Supporting actors, such as NGOs and community based organizations, have a crucial role in promoting the development of farmers’ groups. It is also in the interest of agribusinesses to support their creation and operation as it is more efficient and therefore financially viable for them to work with groups for example, in the supply of inputs and purchase of greater volumes of products.

Better linkages and farmers’ organizations will greatly facilitate the optimization of production practices, and also help to guide research priorities. Key actors who work with farmers in addressing production priorities are those providing technical services, particularly the extension services, and those working to develop new technologies and stimulate innovation, particularly NARS and the international research community. Actors determining the policy and operating environments also have a role in facilitating access to technologies and services. Banana genetic resources support production systems. Collecting, characterizing, and sharing banana germplasm will require the continuing efforts of the international agricultural research centers, NARS, advanced research institutes, and regional research organizations and networks.

Markets and trade
Again, effective linkages and participation in farmers’ organizations are needed to enhance farmers’ abilities to understand and respond to markets at all levels. However, markets are rapidly changing, and responding effectively and appropriately will be a major challenge across the banana chain.

At the local and regional level, expanding urban markets and the flourishing supermarket sector will offer many opportunities for banana growers and traders. Improved transport and market infrastructure, provided by local and national governments, is critical to stimulating growth in this area. Processing into innovative and durable new products will become more important to reach more distant regional markets and to smooth out seasonal discrepancies in supply and demand. Agribusinesses and regional trade organizations can guide interventions, with support from governments. Market information will be critical; the need to share this information will bring in actors in the communications field, such as the providers of mobile phone networks.

At the international level the dessert banana will continue to dominate trade, but changes in European trade tariffs will mean that production and freight systems in Africa will need to become far more competitive. There may be opportunities for well-organized farmers’ groups, for example, in supplying “fair trade” and similarly certified bananas. The main actors include international traders, airlines and shipping companies, supermarkets, standard-setting and certification organizations, governments, and regional and international trade organizations. Inland production areas are seriously disadvantaged with regard to transport costs and will require creative market opportunities, such as value-added processing.

Banana being transported by truck to city centers, Uganda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.
Banana being transported by truck to city centers, Uganda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.

Promoting innovation
Effective linkages are at the heart of successful innovation systems.

The Agricultural Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI) system was adopted as the take-off point for promoting innovation.

In this model, effective linkages and empowered farmers were recognized as holding the key to innovation in the banana sector. Information and communication pathways are also fundamental. There is potential for innovation in all relationships across the banana chain, with all principal actors involved. Those who focus on supplying new technologies and promoting innovation are particularly important, specifically research organizations at all levels (national, regional, and international). The private sector also has a crucial role in facilitating innovation as a source of new technologies and also as a conduit for transferring technologies that may be familiar in a different context to a new set of banana producers or marketers.

Implementing the strategy
The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and its various elements will be pivotal to transforming Africa’s banana sector. The framework of FARA is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which has four pillars. Pillar IV aims to enhance agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption, and its implementation is governed by the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity. The goals are to integrate natural resource management, encourage adoption of appropriate germplasm, develop sustainable market chains, and stimulate policies for sustainable agriculture. The banana strategy addresses these goals specifically for the banana sector, and thus fits squarely into the mandate of FARA.

Implementation of the strategy will begin by building an informed knowledge base organized around innovation platforms that both involve stakeholders and encourage ownership. Implementation of the strategy can happen under existing institutional arrangements. For research issues, NARS join into the subregional organizations such as West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and the Southern African Development Community. For trade issues the key bodies are the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). All of these, in turn, feed into FARA. Technical backstopping and technology validation at the regional level will be facilitated by the research centers of the CGIAR and their numerous and diverse research partners, both within Africa and outside the continent. Additional support in specific areas will come from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

Banana fruit. Photo by IITA.
Banana fruit. Photo by IITA.

Banana researchers in Africa have been accustomed to collaborating within regional networks: Réseau Musa pour l’Afrique Centrale et Occidentale is a part of WECARD and the Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa is under the auspices of ASARECA. These networks have recently been widened to include NGOs and private sector participants. Links to banana researchers in other regions, for the exchange of information and technologies and for collaborative problem-solving research, are promoted through the global ProMusa network, which also constitutes the Banana and Plantain Section of the International Society for Horticultural Sciences.

Innovation platforms are now envisaged that will unite researchers, extension agents, farmers and farmers’ organizations, agribusiness staff, traders, policymakers, and development partners. Research priorities and technology dissemination strategies will need to be market-oriented and participatory, and use approaches such as collective action by farmers, farmer-to-farmer learning, market-led technology adoption, and mutual learning in the market chain.

The strategy for transforming the banana sector in Africa fits precisely in the FARA model for agricultural innovation and economic development, and can be implemented under existing institutional arrangements. Participants believe that this would facilitate increased visibility and the mobilization of the breadth of expertise and depth of resources needed for its successful implementation. Such an outcome could indeed help banana to realize its full potential as a major economic driver for sustainable and equitable development in Africa.

Combating the threat of CBSD

Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) is a virus disease that has emerged as a serious threat to production in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Brown streak-affected cassava. Photos by L. Kumar, IITA.
Brown streak-affected cassava. Photos by L. Kumar, IITA.

Two virus species, Cassava brown streak virus and Cassava brown streak Uganda virus, the cassava brown streak viruses or CBSVs, have been recognized to cause CBSD. The infection results in mosaic symptoms on leaves, brown streaks on stems, and a corky necrosis in tuberous roots.

Root necrosis has the most damaging effects on the use and marketability of the tubers and thus affects the livelihoods of cassava farmers. It can make susceptible varieties unusable if the roots are left in the ground for over 9 months.

CBSVs are spread through the planting of infected stem cuttings and also by a vector, a whitefly, Bemisia tabaci. The foliar symptoms of CBSD are less conspicuous and farmers are often unaware of the problem until they harvest the roots and the corky, yellow-brown necrotic rot becomes evident.
There is no cure for the disease. Once plants become infected, the only option for growers is to uproot and destroy them. The use of virus-free planting material and the cultivation of resistant varieties are the only options for the control of CBSD.

Where is it and where is it heading?
CBSD is endemic in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda and its occurrence is suspected in Burundi, Gabon, Madagascar, DRC, and Rwanda. Available evidence suggests a westward spread of the disease.

What is IITA doing about it?
IITA has adopted a multipronged strategy to tackle CBSD, to reduce the effects on cassava in epidemic areas, and prevent a further spread of the disease. Its efforts begin with informing governments about the threat. The four technical pillars of this strategy are as follows.

-Monitor disease spread and assess its impact: Key outputs include (a) the development of disease distribution maps, (b) estimates of yield loss, and (c) identification of targets for development.

-Understand disease etiology and epidemiology; develop tools for monitoring and forewarning: Key outputs include (a) understanding the effects of the viruses in cassava, (b) examining the characteristics of virus spread, (c) creating diagnostic tools for CBSVs, and (d) using digital-enabled field surveillance tools for real time reporting and a monitoring network.

-Develop and disseminate durable CBSD-resistant cassava cultivars: Key outputs include (a) screening and selecting over 40 elite cassava cultivars with dual resistance/tolerance to CBSD and cassava mosaic disease (CMD) appropriate for various countries, (b) deploying tolerant varieties for farmers to cultivate in East Africa, (c) developing molecular markers and modern molecular breeding tools for the accelerated development of CBSD-resistant varieties, (d) pre-breeding in areas currently not affected by the viruses, and (e) developing clean seed systems for the multiplication and dissemination of virus-free planting material.

-Capacity building through the transfer of knowledge, technology, and products to stakeholders: IITA has (a) built a coalition of international teams to combat CBSD, (b) trained scientists, extension workers, and plant quarantine officials in disease recognition, monitoring, and diagnostics, (c) established regional diagnostic labs, (d) created awareness through the use of the mass media, and (e) provided technical backstopping to national efforts in combating CBSD.

A suite of knowledge, technologies, and products derived so far from IITA’s R4D efforts is playing a vital role in checking the spread of the disease and has contributed to reviving cassava production in areas affected by the epidemic. However, complete recovery and the prevention of any further spread of CBSD are still a long way off. They require a strong commitment from national and international communities to sustain the ongoing and emerging research and development efforts that are devising effective and eco-friendly technologies for sub-Saharan Africa.

Prof Mike Thresh, Scientist Emeritus, Natural Resources Institute, UK (right), during his visit to IITA-Ibadan. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.
Prof Mike Thresh, Scientist Emeritus, Natural Resources Institute, UK (right), during his visit to IITA-Ibadan. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.

Advice to stakeholders
In countries where CBSD is already established, IITA recommends that governments require the use of available CBSD control programs, including the adoption of promising CBSD-resistant cultivars, and the production and distribution of clean cassava planting material.

Countries not yet affected need to increase their vigilance and develop the capacity to recognize CBSD and deploy eradication programs; establish plans for preemptive action to reduce the risk of CBSD spreading from affected regions; and put in place programs to produce and distribute clean planting material.

All the cassava-producing countries in Africa should:

-Organize large-scale awareness creation programs to inform farmers, extension workers, CSOs, and national research entities about CBSD, the eradication of infected plants, and the steps for disease control.
-Strengthen the monitoring capacity of the national quarantine authorities and other relevant bodies including the establishment of communication systems for a rapid response to prevent disease and eradicate infections where they are identified.
-Develop resistant varieties most urgently, through breeding, using both conventional and transgenic approaches.
-Put in place a strategy for the production and distribution of clean cassava planting material, and adopt improved varieties with resistance to CBSD and CMD.
-Affirm financial and political support for collaboration, cooperation, and coordination to prevent the further spread of CBSD in tropical Africa.

Climate change & plant health

Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon*, i.zeledon@cgiar.org or sp-ipm@cgiar.org
*Coordinator of the CGIAR Systemwide Program on Integrated Pest Management (SP-IPM) convened by IITA

Diverse crop production system. Photo by IITA.
Diverse crop production system. Photo by IITA.

The discussion on the impact of climate change (CC) on agriculture has often focused on how changes in temperature, rainfall, and CO2 concentrations will affect the suitability of temperate regions for crop production and how crops will react in terms of yields. The effects of climate change on biotic factors in the tropics, such as weeds, pests, and pathogens (hereafter referred to as pests), have not received much attention.

Empirical data exist, however, to show that these biotic factors have major effects in determining productivity in the tropics. For instance, during the 1997 El Niño phenomenon, the mean temperature on the Peruvian coast increased by about 5 °C above the annual average, causing a decrease in potato infestation by the leafminer fly Liriomyza hydobrensis, which otherwise was a major pest. However, the abundance and infestation severity of all other pests increased in all crops, including potato (Kroschel et al. 2010). The complex consequences of CC particularly on pests and pathogens are still only imperfectly understood (Gregory et al. 2009).

CGIAR’s work on climate change
What are IITA and the other centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) doing to mitigate the impacts and adapt to the effects of CC on pests? Historically, CGIAR centers have a broad R4D focus; centers have been developing knowledge (e.g., pest profiles), products (e.g., new crop varieties, biocontrol agents against invasive pests), and technologies (e.g., predictive models, diagnostic tools) that are suitable for diverse agroecologies including the tropics, wet, humid, semiarid, and dry, and to some extent the temperate zones as well. The broad knowledge and experience of centers provide an unprecedented advantage to assess the products and technologies in different agroecologies and weather settings and to determine their resilience and ability to cope in altered climatic situations.

Several programs directly focus on managing pests. For instance, the breeding of crop varieties for resistance to pests and pathogens has always been a focus of the CGIAR. With the uncertainties of CC, this work has become more relevant. Breeding for resistance to drought and waterlogging, although not the primary objectives, also aim at making varieties better able to tolerate biotic threats, since drought and excess water in the soil both increase the plants’ vulnerability to these factors.

A good example is the effort to develop drought-resistant maize cultivars by CIMMYT and IITA. These will not only allow the expansion of maize production into areas with less reliable rainfalls but also ensure the continued production in regions that are prone to future water scarcity. Drought- tolerant cultivars also reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination in the field. Additional characters are incorporated into the drought-tolerant maize, such as resistance to maize streak disease which is endemic in Africa. Similar programs are ongoing to develop drought-resilient cassava and cowpea, and yam with tolerance for major pests.

The CGIAR centers are also working towards the development of cropping systems with greater intra- and interspecific diversity to increase resilience to CC-induced threats from biotic factors. For example, IITA is promoting maize–cowpea intercropping to reduce the pest pressure on cowpea.

Bioversity International is exploring how intra-specific crop genetic diversity on-farm not only reduces current crop losses to pests and pathogens, but also decreases the risk of genetic vulnerability and the potential of future crop damage, thus enhancing the impact of other IPM strategies and providing farmers with increased adaptive capacity to buffer against climatic changes.

CIP developed a temperature-driven phenology model for the potato tuber moth, Phthorimaea operculella that provides good predictions for the population in areas where the pest exists at present (Kroschel et al. 2010). Linked with geographic information systems (GIS) and atmospheric temperature, the model allows the simulation of risk indices on a worldwide scale to predict future changes in the distribution of the species due to increasing temperatures. The approach can also be used for other insect species. Hence, CIP created the Insect Life Cycle Modeling software (ILCYM) to facilitate the development of other insect phenology models. With its support, the phenology model can be implemented and allows for spatial simulation of insect activities.

Many centers support the collection and conservation of plant genetic diversity that can be built into new cultivars to enhance their resistance to biotic stresses. Diagnostics capacity is continuously augmented for the accurate and timely recognition of endemic pests, new variants, and invasive pests. Crop biodiversity—landraces and wild relatives that are the reservoirs of genes for abiotic and biotic factors—is conserved ex situ to protect the species from erosion by CC-induced changes.

In a collaborative effort, CIP, IITA, icipe, and partners in Germany and Africa are implementing a project to understand the effects of rising temperatures on the distribution and severity of major insect pests on main food crops. ILCYM will be further improved and adapted to cover a wide range of insect species. The results will contribute to filling the knowledge gap about CC effects on economically important insect herbivores and their natural enemies.

IITA is planning to research the effect of changes in temperature on the invasion potential of major biotic threats in the Great Lakes region of East Africa and elsewhere: Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV), Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), and Panama Disease–Tropical Race 4, cassava brown streak virus disease, cassava mosaic disease, maize streak, soybean rust, and pod borer pests, among others.

As whiteflies and aphids are considered to become more problematic with increased temperatures, IITA is also preparing research on the biocontrol of different whitefly and aphid species in vegetables and staple crops.

A project has been proposed on the bio-enhancement of seeds and seedlings of cereals and vegetables for East Africa to stimulate the plants’ defense mechanisms against pests and pathogens expected to increase in number, frequency, and severity. This project also addresses the registration of biopesticides and the availability of endophytes to the tissue culture industry.

CGIAR research programs
Under the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs), centers are addressing CC-induced crop health issues in various ways. Breeding for resistance to predicted biotic stresses continues to be a major focus in CRP3 (roots, tubers, banana) and its subcomponents. This component, coordinated by CIP, specifically recognizes CC and agricultural intensification as drivers for higher pressure from pests. Hence, this program aims at developing management strategies for priority biotic threats to these crops. These include the development of improved detection and monitoring tools, and surveillance methods for detecting and mapping existing, emerging, and resurgent molecular pests and pathogens. It will look into increasing general plant and root health through the enhancement of the natural disease suppressing potential of soils, and the antagonistic pest and disease potential of the aboveground agroecosystems.

The CRP on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, led by IITA, will have a substantial focus on CC, its impact on pests, and plans for mitigation. For example, research will establish the relationship between CC and key cassava pests to develop integrated pest management (IPM) strategies including those for whitefly, African root and tuber scale, termite, green mite, aphid, and mealybug.

Phenology models for insect and mite pests and their antagonists on several crops will be developed and validated and their potential for changes in warming will be determined.

In collaboration with CABI, community surveillance for pests and diseases will take place through the expansion of the mobile plant clinic network.

Larva of the noctuid moth feeding on the pistil of cowpea. Photo by S. Muranaka, IITA.
Larva of the noctuid moth feeding on the pistil of cowpea. Photo by S. Muranaka, IITA.

Knowledge and decision support tools for the management of potato and sweetpotato pests (diseases and insects) will be developed and assessed in relation to the expected intensification of the agroecosystems in the humid and subhumid tropics.

Sustainable management of cassava virus disease in the cassava-based system will also be studied, and the vulnerabilities of these systems to CC- induced pest and disease problems will be determined.

The CIAT-coordinated CRP on CC, Agriculture, and Food Security began operations this year. It will continue the activities initiated by the CGIAR Challenge Program on CC. This CRP aims at mainstreaming strategies that address the management of CC- induced pest and disease threats among international and national agencies. It will identify and test innovations that enable communities to better manage and adapt to climate-related risks from biotic factors.

A lot of surprise shifts in ecosystems could come. It is therefore important that research capacity and knowledge bases are maintained to understand and rapidly react to mitigate any debilitating impacts (Shaw and Osborne 2011).

To accomplish this, it is necessary to establish good baseline data on current pest status in agroecosystems. This knowledge base will serve as a reference point to measure the fluctuations and the effectiveness of interventions.

It is important to determine the key weather variables that could change as a consequence of CC and their influence on agroecosystems and pests, and establish preemptive coping strategies. Available CC models could be handy for predicting CC factors.

A diverse scientific base including specialists in pathology, entomology, ecology, taxonomy, and epidemiology is required. They should work together to ensure that the outcomes of their research are linked to existing knowledge, economic forces, and common understanding (Shaw and Osborne 2011).

As it generally takes more than 10 years to breed a new resistant cultivar of a crop, breeding programs must start well in advance of the serious risk of a biotic threat Breeders need to be informed on the problems which might become important in the future (Chakraborty et al. 1998 in Juroszek and Tiedemann 2011).

Crops being bred for abiotic threats such as drought, waterlogging, and salinity should be prepared for the pests that could flourish under these conditions and select varieties that can tolerate pests as well.

Changes in occurrence, prevalence, and severity of infections and infestations will also affect crop health management (CHM) practices. There is a need to effectively disseminate and use those techniques that are currently underused (Juroszek and Tiedemann 2011).

Significant contributions could be made in improved field monitoring of pests and diseases, and better delivery systems for pest control products (Strand 2000 in Juroszek and Tiedemann 2011). Preventive crop protection measures may become more relevant under CC to reduce the risks (Juroszek and Tiedemann 2011).

CC is a global problem that affects all countries. Hence, global cooperation is required. However, given the nature of plant pests and pathogens, more local or regional strategies need to be put in place that define potential risks and measures to tackle expected threats. Investments in early detection systems, including border controls to monitor the migration of pests through plants, plant products, and other goods, will be the key to avoid the spread of invasive pests and reduce high management and eradication costs (FAO).

New farming practices, different crops, and IPM technologies must be developed to control the established pests and prevent the spread of new ones (FAO).
Governments should consider developing country-specific strategies to cope with CC-induced changes and put in place favorable policies for the introduction and promotion of new technologies for CHM.

It is also crucial to create and augment awareness about the effects of CC among policymakers and other officials involved in developing agricultural strategies.

Chakraborty S and Newton AC. 2011. Plant Pathology 60: 2-14.

FAO. unknown. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/i0142e/i0142e06.pdf

Govindasamy B et al. 2003. Climate Dynamics 21: 391-404.

Gregory PJ et al. 2009. Journal of Experimental Botany 60: 2827-2838.

Juroszek P and von Tiedemann A. 2011. Plant Pathology 60: 100-112.

Kroschel J et al. 2010. http://www.spipm.cgiar.org/ipm-research-briefs

Shaw MW and Osborne TM. 2011. Plant Pathology 60: 31-43.

Climate change is everyone’s responsibility

Climate change (CC) is a long-term change in the statistical distribution of global weather patterns over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. Several factors, known as climate forcers, usually natural events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, solar radiation, and ocean currents shape climate change.

Life on earth is a dynamic process and intimately connected to the biotic forms in cohabitation, farmin systems, and the environment. A shift in one parameter alters the delicate balance in an interconnected world. Source: L. Kumar, IITA.
Life on earth is a dynamic process and intimately connected to the biotic forms in cohabitation, farmin systems, and the environment. A shift in one parameter alters the delicate balance in an interconnected world. Source: L. Kumar, IITA.

However, the climate forcer of the 21st century CC—carbon dioxide (CO2)—is mainly human-induced and attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and tropical deforestation. The property of CO2 to trap heat within the earth’s atmosphere is contributing to global warming. Thus, a rise in CO2 levels increases the warming effect. Trapped heat in the atmosphere warms oceans, melts ice caps, raises sea levels, and increases average surface temperature, all of which are affecting normal weather patterns.

Some of the abnormal changes experienced over the last two decades include severe and prolonged droughts, extreme storms and prolonged rainfall pattern, high temperatures, and heat waves. These sudden and extreme variations in weather patterns due to ‘global warming’ have profound effects on living organisms on earth. The altered conditions create risks as well as opportunities favoring certain living beings over others and contribute to shifts in niches. In addition, it could lead to long-term variations in climate (e.g., permanent increase in average temperature) that might irreversibly affect biodiversity in a given region.

In the context of agriculture, sudden and abnormal changes in weather could change the suitability of a given environment for cultivation of crops. This could be due to abiotic factors such as drought, heat (cold), or excessive water directly linked to weather or simply due to increased pests and diseases that would severely impede performance of the crops. Since crops, diseases (pathogens), and pests (including vectors) are intimately associated and influenced by the environment, any shift in these factors will alter the balance, and could have a positive impact (e.g., decreased pest pressure) or negative impact (e.g., increased pest pressure) on overall crop performance.

Using simulation models, attempts the world over are being made to determine the impact of CC on agroecosystems to establish appropriate coping strategies, particularly for the negative impacts. Although this appears simple, it is the most complex issue confronting researchers, policymakers, governments, and entrepreneurs worldwide.

Communities are working together to bridge the gaps and establish global coordination networks to mitigate the impact of CC. IITA and other CGIAR centers, together with national and international organizations, are contributing to these endeavors with a primary focus on conserving biodiversity and improving the resilience of smallholder agriculture in the developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.


1 Akara

1/2 pound dried black-eyed peas/ cowpeas
2 onions
1 red pepper
Ground white pepper
Olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes
1 green pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves

1. Soak peas for 24 hours or overnight in lots of water. Drain. Peel the outside skin from the peas.
2. In a processor, pulse the 1 onion and red pepper to coarsely chop. Add soaked peas and puree to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and using a whisk, whisk the mixture adding salt, white pepper and just a little soaking liquid — not too much as the mixture needs to retain its shape for frying.
3. Using an ice cream scoop, form into balls about the size of a ping-pong ball. Drop into a pot of hot olive oil, heated to around 180 ËšC. Fry until golden brown. Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Season again with salt and pepper.
4. To serve, make a quick dipping sauce by pulsing 2 de-seeded tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 green pepper, and some parsley in food processor. Add olive oil and season with salt and pepper to make a chunky salsa.

2 Lobia (Black Eyed Beans Curry)

2 cups Lobia (black eyed beans)
1 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 (3/4-inch piece) ginger root, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp Scant cumin seeds
1 medium tomato, chopped

1. In pot soak beans overnight in water to cover generously. Next day, drain beans, cover with fresh water and bring to boil.
2. Add salt, coriander, cumin and turmeric. Simmer until beans are just tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Heat oil in deep saucepan. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and cumin.
4. Fry 10 minutes and add tomato. Cook another 5 minutes and add lobia (black eyed beans) and cooking liquid. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until lobia are soft but not completely dissolved. Mixture should be soupy.

Lobia Tomato Masala Curry

1 cup cooked black eyed beans
1 onion, chopped
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
Chopped coriander leaves

2 tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 garlic pods
3 dry red chillies

Dry fry the peppercorns, coriander seeds, poppy seeds, cumin seeds, and fennel seeds and simmer for a while. Add the fried seeds and tomatoes, garlic pods with 1 cup water and grind them coarsely. Then add ¼ cup of the cooked black eyed beans to the spices and grind everything as a fine paste.

Heat oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds n fenugreek seeds and let them splutter. Add the chopped onion and stir them until they turn translucent. Next, add the grounded paste and simmer for a while. The mixture will stick very easily to the bottom of the pan, so keep on stirring, adding enough water and salt to the gravy. Once the oil separates from the gravy, add the rest of the black eyed beans and cook the mixture for a few more minutes. Add the chopped coriander leaves, and then turn off the stove.

3 Red-Red (Cowpea stew, also known as Black Eyed Pea Stew)
A traditional Ghanaian recipe for a classic stew of black-eyed peas in a tomato and red palm oil sauce that’s usually served with fried plantain. It might have bene named for the combination of red pepper and red palm oil.

240 g black-eyed peas (cooked)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp chilli powder
2 tbsp red palm oil (or 2 tbsp groundnut oil + 1/2 tsp paprika)
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Soak the black-eyed peas in water for at least an hour or overnight. After soaking them, rub them together between your hands to remove the skins. Rinse to wash away the skins and any other debris. Drain them in a colander.
2. Mash the black-eyed peas and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion and tomatoes until soft. Add all the remaining ingredients (including the peas) and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. While peas and sauce is simmering, prepare fried plantains.
5. Serve peas and plantains side by side on a plate.

4 Hoppin’ John

• 1 1/2 cups dry black-eyed peas
• 1 pound ham hocks
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• salt and pepper to taste
• 4 cups water
• 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
• 1 cup shredded smoked Cheddar cheese

1. In a large pan place the peas, ham hock, onion, red pepper, salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
2. Remove ham hock and cut meat into pieces. Return meat to pot. Stir in the rice, cover and cook until rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shredded cheese over top, if desired. Serve.


1. Cowpeas are thought to get their name from when they were a key livestock feed in the USA.

2. The cowpea is 25% protein.

3. Fifty two percent of the cowpeas produced in Africa are used for food, 13% are used for animal feed, 10% are used for their seeds, 9% goes to other uses, and 16% are wasted.

4. In the Southern United States eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is considered good luck because they symbolize money.

5. In Yoruba cowpeas are called ewa or ere. In Hausa they are known as wanke. And across the French-speaking regions of West Africa they are called niebe.

The quiet revolution

B.B. Singh, drbbsingh@yahoo.com

Cowpea was a relatively minor tropical legume about 50 years ago, but it is now emerging as one of the most important food legumes in the 21st century because of its early maturity and ability to fit as a niche crop in multiple cropping systems. There has been more than a 6-fold increase in the world cowpea production in the last few decades—a quiet revolution that is greater in magnitude compared to that of cereals and all other pulses.

Women farmers growing 60-day cowpea in Nigeria. Photo from B.B. Singh.
Women farmers growing 60-day cowpea in Nigeria. Photo from B.B. Singh.

Based on FAO data and correspondence with scientists in different countries, annual cowpea production has increased from about 0.87 million tons in 1961 to 1.2 million tons in 1981 to 2.4 million tons in 1991, to more than 6.3 million tons in 2008. The major increases have been in Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Myanmar, India, and Brazil. These successive increases in cowpea production over time have occurred due to the concerted efforts and coordinated cowpea research and development activities of IITA and its national, regional, and international partners over the last four decades and the release of new improved short-duration cowpea varieties in different countries.

It is expected that cowpea production will significantly increase in the coming decades also as more short-duration and pest-resistant varieties become available and cowpea cultivation makes further inroads as a niche crop in the cereals and root crops-based systems.

Improved 60-day cowpea in northern Nigeria. Photo from B.B. Sungh.
Improved 60-day cowpea in northern Nigeria. Photo from B.B. Sungh.

Significant advances in cowpea research
Cowpea originated in the southern African region several thousand years ago and spread to the different parts of the world covering over 65 countries in Asia and Oceania, the Middle East, Southern Europe, Africa, Southern USA, and Central and South America. The nitrogen-fixing crop with great versatility was entrenched into local cropping and food systems. It was given indigenous names such as ‘lobia’ in India, ‘kunde’ in east Africa, ‘beans’ and ‘wake’ in Nigeria, ‘niebe’ in francophone Africa, ‘southern pea’ and ‘blackeye pea’ in the USA, ‘feijão caupe’, in Brazil, and a host of other names in different countries around the world.

Its nutritious young leaves, green pods, green seeds, and dry grains are used in various food preparations, while the nutritious fodder is fed to livestock and the crop residue in the field contributes to improved soil fertility.

Limited efforts in cowpea improvement began in a few countries in the 1960s but it was the establishment of IITA in 1967 that gave cowpea some well-deserved attention. IITA actively collaborated with its NARS partners in catalyzing and supporting research on cowpea improvement and distributing improved cowpea materials.

Cowpea research received another boost when the USAID-funded Bean/Cowpea CRSP (now The Dry Pulses Project) became operational in the 1980s as it complemented IITA’s efforts in strengthening cowpea research and development in Africa. The recently established Network for Genetic Improvement of Cowpea for Africa (NGICA) has further strengthened cowpea research in the region.

The major successes include a collection and use of over 15,000 germplasm lines and development of a range of improved varieties with diverse maturity, plant type and seed type combined with high protein, iron, zinc, and resistance to major biotic and abiotic stresses. Using a combination of field and laboratory screening, several varieties have been developed with combined resistance to cowpea yellow mosaic, blackeye cowpea mosaic, and many strains of cowpea aphid-borne mosaic, Cercospora, smut, rust, Septoria, scab, Ascochyta blight, bacterial blight, anthracnose, nematodes, Striga, Alectra, aphid, thrips, and bruchid.

Similarly, using simple screening methods for tolerance for heat, drought, and low P, major varietal differences for all the three traits have been identified and incorporated into improved varieties. Also, varieties with 30% protein and enhanced levels of iron, zinc, and other micronutrients have been identified.

Joint efforts are being made by IITA, The Dry Pulses project, advanced laboratories in the USA and Australia, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), NGICA, and Monsanto Corporation to exploit biotechnological tools and complement conventional methods for improving insect resistance in cowpea. Efforts are also under way to develop markers and protocols for marker-assisted selection (MAS) for Striga resistance and other traits in cowpea.

Development and release of improved varieties
Using the vast genetic pool and useful genes already identified, a great deal of progress has been made in breeding a range of high-yielding cowpea varieties with combined resistance to major diseases, insect pests, Striga and Alectra, and drought tolerance. Combining erect plant type with early maturity and resistance to major pests, several new extra-early cowpea varieties have been developed which yield up to 2 t/ha within 60 days compared to <1 t/ha in local varieties, which mature in 100 to 140 days.

Similarly, several medium-maturing dual-purpose varieties have been developed which yield over 2.5 t/ha grain and over 3 t/ha fodder in 75–80 days. These varieties have been tested and based on their good performance, over 40 improved varieties have been released in 65 countries covering Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

The new varieties have been given specific and interesting names such as ‘Big Buff’ (IT82E-18) in Australia; ‘Bira’ (TVx 3236) in Angola; ‘Titan’ (IT84D-449) and ‘Cubinata’ (IT84D-666) in Cuba; ‘Asontem’ (IT82E-16), ‘Ayiyi’ (IT83S-728-13), and ‘Bengpla’ (IT83S-818) in Ghana, ‘Akash’ (IT82D-752) (sky) and ‘Prakash’ (IT82D-889) (light) in Nepal; ‘Sosokoyo’ (IT84S-2049) in Gambia; ‘Pkoko Togboi’ (IT85F-867-5) in Guinea Conakry; ‘Korobalen’ (IT89KD-374) and ‘Sangaraka’ (IT89KD-245) in Mali; ‘Dan IITA’ (TVx 3236) (son of IITA) and ‘Dan Bunkure’ (IT89KD-288), IT90K-76, IT90K-82-2, IT90K-277-2, and IT93K-452-1, in Nigeria; ‘Melakh’ and ‘Mouride’ in Senegal; ‘Pannar 31’ (IT82E-16) in South Africa; ‘Dahal Elgoz’ (IT84S-2163) (gold from the sand) in Sudan; ‘Umtilane’ (IT82D-889) in Swaziland; and ‘Bubebe’ (IT82E-16) in Zambia; ‘Vamban 1’ (IT85F-2020), ‘Pant Lobia-1’ (IT98K-205-8), and ‘Pant Lobia-2’ (IT97K-1042-3) in India; and many more.

Improved cowpea-sorghum strip cropping system. Photo from B.B. Singh.
Improved cowpea-sorghum strip cropping system. Photo from B.B. Singh.

Cereals-cowpea intensive cropping systems in the tropics
With support from USAID, UK Department for International Development (DFID), GATSBY Foundation, Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and others, several improved intensive cowpea-cereals cropping systems have been developed. The improved strip cropping system involving two rows of cereals and four rows of cowpea has enabled farmers in Nigeria and Niger to produce one to two cowpea crops in the same season while maximizing the cereal yields.

Similarly experiments conducted using 60-day cowpea varieties in northern Nigeria and India have demonstrated successful triple cropping involving ‘wheat-cowpea-rice’ each year. The additional cowpea crop in the summer season after the wheat harvest not only provides extra employment but it also improves soil fertility and provides nutritious food grain and fodder.

60-day cowpea in wheat-rice system in northern India. Photo from B.B. Singh
60-day cowpea in wheat-rice system in northern India. Photo from B.B. Singh

Future outlook
In the wake of increasing global warming and declining rainfall and water table, it is expected that cowpea production will increase in the future using heat- and drought-tolerant 60-day cowpeas as a niche crop in the cereals and root crops systems covering millions of hectares in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Northern India alone has about 10 million ha under wheat-rice system. An additional crop of 60-day cowpeas as a niche crop between wheat and rice can produce between 10 to 15 million t of cowpea which would double the current pulses production in India.

A similar possibility exists for double cowpea cropping in several parts of Africa and wheat-cowpea double cropping in southern United States covering several million hectares. Brazil is adding thousands of hectares of new land each year under cowpea cultivation.

Thus, there is a need to develop a diverse set of region-specific and niche-specific varieties to expand cowpea cultivation in the world and help improve family food security and nutrition.

Contact details:
B.B. Singh, Visiting Professor
Department of Soil and Crop Sciences,
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77840, USA

A classical approach to saving life’s variety


The beginning of the tragedy to come wasn’t so clearly understood, but it became more visible as scientists studied the demise of the dinosaurs and came to consider, over the centuries, the reduction of species. The destructive trend is clear and fast encroaching on domesticated plants and wild animals alike, putting some species such as the whales and panda bears on the endangered list and threatening food security.

Consequently the world is losing biodiversity at rates not seen before.

In Nigeria, for instance, the country has lost some 6.1 million hectares or 35.7% of its forest cover since 1990. Worse, Nigeria’s most biodiverse ecosystems—its old-growth forests—are disappearing at an even faster rate. Since 2000, Nigeria has been losing an average of 11% of its primary forests every year, twice as fast as in the 1990s.

Adeniyi Jayeola, a Senior Lecturer in plant systematics, Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Ibadan, says, “The deterioration we find worldwide today is unprecedented. Unless we act together, and quickly too, we may sooner than later induce a global ecological crisis far beyond the control of any technology. It is a multi-faceted challenge requiring all hands to be on deck.”

Areas visited in Nigeria in particular and the world in general have shown that man has demonstrably failed to accord the environment the respect it deserves, whether this is the air, sea, or land.

Consequently, out of more than 10,000 species in the past people today depend on only 12 species for 80% of all their food.

To stem the loss of biodiversity, in 2002, 10 years after the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 193 nations participating in the treaty had agreed to “achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional, and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth.”

This year, parties are converging to take stock of the journey so far but the general assumption is that more action needs to be taken.


What is biodiversity worth?
As the world prepares to take a retrospect on set targets, we can, however, no longer expect nature to provide us with a free lunch. Efforts to protect natural resources could depend on our putting a price tag on the goods and services they provide us. The United Nations Environment Programme’s 2007 Global Environment Outlook 4 report states that the pollination of crops by honeybees alone is worth US$2−8 billion, and the global herbal medicine market was worth US$43 billion back in 2001.

In addition, the tropical forests provide a whole variety of leaves, fruits, barks, roots, and nuts which form the mainstay of the modern pharmaceutical industry. We depend totally on the variety of life for our food security. The loss of biodiversity therefore presents us with one of the toughest puzzles, and concrete steps are needed to slow down the tide.

Innovative approaches to contain biodiversity loss
Despite the decline in species, which are currently disappearing at 50–100 times the natural rate, a regenerated forest on IITA’s campus in Ibadan has proved that indeed we can restore nature if we so desire. The forest, located on the west bank in IITA, sits on 350 ha of land and was initiated from abandoned farmland.

Forty three years after its establishment, this swathe of securely protected trees stands out as one of the least disturbed patch of forest in Nigeria with floristic characteristics ranking almost at par with a natural forest. The regeneration of the forest has brought appeal from the scientific community as researchers are seeking to uncover and understand the variation in plant species, composition, and structure of a forest regrowing from abandoned farmland and the causes of the variation.

David Okali, Chair, Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team, who plans to do the study on the IITA forest with other colleagues, says such long-term studies are rare. The results on the rate of growth will be used in calculating directly the rate of carbon storage in the forest.
As the world marks the International Year of Biodiversity, Okali says deliberate efforts to conserve nature are important to stem biodiversity loss, stressing that the reestablishment of the IITA forest presented a good scenario for conservation.

Apart from forest regeneration, Okali says local communities could adopt other initiatives to curtail the loss of biodiversity. These include a return to traditional practices that made it a taboo for people to cut some species of trees or kill sacred animals. Also traditionally regulating hunting practices, and planting and protecting shade-providing fruit trees that adorn the village squares will help.

The success of the regenerated forest at IITA has reinforced the possibility that the opportunity is still within our reach.

Based on this experience, it is clear that the plan by parties to the CBD to create a global network of terrestrial and of marine protected areas can be done if there is the will and the means. How this will happen and funded is a question that all Governments must answer.