PS Seminar - A pod borer resistant cowpea is one step toward food security in West Africa

Abstract - Cowpea is the most economically important grain legume in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and a vital source of protein for over 200 million people. Pod borer (Maruca vitrata) often accounts for severe yield losses in cowpea in SSA. Farmer yields of cowpea are very low, on the order of 150-500 kg/ha, against a potential yield of 1500-2000 kg/ha. Without the availability of resistant varieties, farmers regularly spray with insecticides 5-8 times a season. A Podborer Resistant Cowpea Project was initiated with several international partners to control the pest through the introduction of a Bacillus thuringiensis gene that encodes a crystal protein called Cry 1Ab. Efficacy trials with artificial infestation of M. vitrata larvae have shown 98-99% reduction in pod and seed damage from the pest in the field in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana over several years. The cry1Ab gene has been introgressed into farmers’ preferred varieties through conventional breeding. The National Biosafety Management Agency of Nigeria has approved the commercialization of the first pod borer resistant cowpea variety and release to farmers is expected this coming season.

Biography - TJ Higgins is an Honorary Fellow at CSIRO Agriculture and Food in Canberra. He is interested in agricultural biotechnology particularly in improving nutritive value and resistance to pests of food legumes. TJ earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in agricultural science from the National University of Ireland and a PhD from the University of California, Davis. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Research School of Biological Sciences at the Australian National University before joining CSIRO.