Cowpea, known as beans in Nigeria, is an important economic crop whose seeds are consumed as a major source of protein, while the stems and leaves are used as animal feed during the dry season serving as a major source of income to its farmers.
Its acceptability and consumption demand, adaptability to different soil types and drought resistance makes it an attractive and profitable crop to grow.
Nigeria produces nearly 47 million metric tonnes of beans from an estimated 4.5 million hectares annually, making it the largest pulses producer in Africa and fourth largest producer of cowpea in the world.
Cowpea has been proven to improve soil fertility, manage soil erosion and could be harvested while the pods are young and green, mature and green, or when completely dry.
India’s $1 billion offer to Nigeria: On February 7, Head of Chancery at the High Commission of India in Lagos, Mr Jagdeep Kapoor, announced his government’s plans to encourage Nigerian farmers to plant more pulses that would be exported to India, adding that his government would send in Indian farmers to support their Nigerian counterparts in farming the crops.
Mr Kapoor listed such pulses to include dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches and lupines.
Few weeks ago, report has it that India had offered Nigeria a $1 billion (N367bn) deal for the supply of pulses to meet up consumption demand of its people.
Developments within the cowpea Sector: In recent past, IT89KD-288 (Sampea 11) and IT89KD-391 (Sampea 12) were developed by scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, in collaboration with IAR, University of Maiduguri, and Agricultural Development Programmes of Borno, Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina states.
Sampea 11 has an 80% yield advantage over the local varieties and a combined resistance to septoria leaf spot, scab and bacterial blight, as well as nematodes, and tolerance to Nigeria’s strain of Striga.
On the other hand, Sampea 12 is also a dual-purpose cowpea variety with medium-to-large brown seeds with a rough seed coat, which are preferred seed characteristics for commercial production in northeast Nigeria.
Again in March 2014, two additional cowpea varieties, Sampea 8 and Sampea 10 that could withstand short rainfall were developed by the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
The varieties were heat and drought resistant in addition to early maturing. Sampea 8 matures in 55 days while Sampea 10 is striga resistant and matures within 60 to 65 days.
The problem with Nigerian beans
In mid-2015, the European Union (EU) suspended export of selected Nigerian agricultural produce into their member countries.
The ban was due to identified loopholes in the country’s regulatory mechanisms and failure of government to properly equip the organisation responsible for certification of agro-commodities.
Dichlorvos, a harmful pesticide was found to be around 0.03mg per kg to 4.6mg per kg as against the acceptable maximum residue limit of 0.01mg per kg.
In addition to the aforementioned, Africa is reported to lose $750 million annually to strict mycotoxin regulations at international markets.
Dr Vincent Isegbe, who is the Coordinating Director, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) had told Daily Trust that the rejection of Nigerian beans was due to activities of middlemen who sometimes applied high doses of pesticide when preparing the produce for export.
NAQS, the agro-produce certifying body, lacks the legal backing to prosecute defaulters who export produce without proper certification since establishment of the service in 2007.
Similarly, the limited staff capacity of NAQS makes it extremely difficult to checkmate illegal import and export of agro-produce without the necessary certification by the service.
However, in April of 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) earmarked $10m for extension of cowpea project from 2014 to 2018 in Nigeria and three other countries.
The Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea project is to protect cowpea against the maruca pod borer to ensure production of maruca-resistant cowpea for the whole African region.
Prof Mohammed Faguci Ishaku, a plant breeder and geneticist who is also the Principal Investigator for Bt. Cowpea confirmed that scientists at the institute are working on introgressing the Bt. gene developed in Australia into the local Nigerian cowpea varieties to address the challenge of maruca pod sucking insect.
The maruca pod-sucking insect is often the reason why many farmers have abandoned cowpea farming because conventional breeding methods have failed to provide a solution to it.
This is why scientists at the institute turned to biotechnology/genetic modification because none of the over 15,000 cowpea varieties crossed and analysed was found to be resistant to the maruca pod sucking insect.
Significant successes have so far been recorded on trial farms in the North where farmers needed to spray thrice or even less as against spraying up to eight times on other conventional cowpea varieties.
Hindrances to certification of agro-produce: During the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, ordered NAQS officials out of Nigerian seaports, which made it difficult for the regulatory body to block uncertified agricultural produce brought in or taken out of the country.
Also in June this year, an executive order ordered the removal of NAQS officials from secured areas of Nigerian airports thus allowing free flow of agricultural produce without control.
These actions have further aggravated loopholes in the functioning of the agro-commodities certification body as neither National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) or the Nigeria Customs Service could certify nor guarantee quality of produce meant for international markets. These actions are yet to be reversed.
Furthermore, the ban on importation of dried beans from Nigeria by the European Union had been extended by three years from the June 2016 deadline.
Experts’ advice to farmers, exporters: In a phone interview with Daily Trust, Dr Maimuna Habib, Director of Laboratory Management Services at NAQS advised farmers to allow grains and pulse beans to dry properly before storage.
She noted that the recommended moisture content of the stored grains was 16% or less, adding that the use of jute bags would help to reduce moisture content of stored agricultural commodities since the bags absorb moisture and allow for proper air circulation.
She stated that it was the Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticum fungi that produces aflatoxins. Aflatoxin is one of the mycotoxins produced by contaminated pulses, grains and other food materials.
Similarly, an Agricultural Economist for IITA, Abdoulaye Tahirou (PhD), advised farmers to use Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) bag in order to prevent pesticide/chemical residue build-up in the produce, thus ensuring food safety and saving farmers from incidences of crop ban at global markets.
The PICS bag is a three layered plastic bag recommended for farmers to use for storing their produce without using chemicals.
Meanwhile, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim, has noted that government needs to create an enabling environment and develop a blue print for cowpea production in the country.
In addition, he said farmers need to practice good agricultural practices to be able to meet up international standard and specifications of cowpea.
In response to India’s demand for Nigerian pulses, he advised that free trade should exist where farmers would be able to determine the prices they are willing to sell their produce.
Therefore, all hands need to be on deck to be able to tap into the potentials that abound in the cowpea sector and its potential to earn the country foreign exchange, and ensure food and economic security to participants of its value chain.