Project Brief

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Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp) is considered the most important food grain legume in the dry savannas of tropical Africa, where it is grown on more than 12.8 million hectares of land. It is rich in quality protein and has energy content almost equivalent to that of cereal grains, is a good source of quality fodder for livestock and also provides cash income. Nearly 200 million people in Africa consume the crop.  Many biotic and abiotic factors greatly reduce cowpea productivity in the traditional African farming systems. Among these constraints is the pod borer, Maruca vitrata, which perennially damages cowpea pods on farmers’ fields. Efforts are under way to develop improved varieties of cowpea that can withstand such stresses, and enhance farmers’ grain and fodder production. As a part of this effort, AATF is collaborating in a public/private sector partnership project to promote technological interventions that will optimise cowpea productivity and utilisation in Sub-Saharan Africa.


To enable smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to farmer-preferred, elite cowpea varieties with resistance to insect pests especially the pod borer Maruca vitrata.

The problem

The pod borer (Maruca vitrata) is a serious Lepidopteran pest that inflicts severe damage to cowpea on farmers’ fields. In severe infestations yield losses of between 70–80% have been reported. Control through spraying with insecticide has not been adopted by farmers due to the prohibitive costs, causing resource-poor farmers to opt for cheaper but more toxic alternatives that impact their health. AATF is addressing this problem by facilitating development of transgenic cowpea varieties that are productive and resistant to the Maruca pest. This will also minimise insecticide use, and its effects on the environment.

These problems are being addressed through a combination of conventional breeding and genetic enhancement of the crop to improve its productivity and utilisation.

AATF interventions

  •    Accessing the cry1Ab gene to protect cowpea against the Maruca pod borer
  •    Facilitating licensing arrangements and regulatory compliance for development and deployment of Maruca-resistant cowpea varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa
  •    Providing product stewardship for responsible and sustainable use of Maruca-resistant cowpea varieties

Partner institutions

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