In Niger, a project is underway to increase cowpea production by
improving farming techniques. The effort is called the Gatsby Crop-Livestock
Project, named after the London-based organization that is providing funding
for the effort. Among the implementers of the project is Niger’s National
Institute of Agronomic Research, the International Institute of Tropical
Agriculture, or IITA, and the US Peace Corps. Isiyaku Ahmed reports from Kano in northern Nigeria.
of cowpea in Niger is being hindered by a lack of arable land, poor crop
varieties and outdated farming methods. About 80
percent of Niger’s people there are subsistence farmers and herders who use fallow
farming techniques to grow cowpea. In this system, the land remains unplanted
for a period of time so nutrients needed for healthy plants can regenerate in
the soil. The system does not allow for the rapid growth of crops.
plant cowpea among crops with leaves that provide too much shade and thus
impede its growth. The older cowpea varieties are also susceptible to a
parasitic plant called striga, which competes with the food crop for moisture
Ajeigbe is the Gatsby Crop and Livestock project coordinator at IITA in
another challenge faced by farmers.
"Fertilizer," he explains, "is
not available in the quantity required in Nigeria, Niger or anywhere in Africa.
But we need fertilizer, so we are now teaching [farmers] them how to use their
livestock to generate manure."
But the new
project by the IITA and the Ministry of Agriculture is working to turn the
Dr. Hakeem says IITA
scientists are introducing better yielding strains of cowpea that take 65 to 70
days to mature – nearly half the time of old varieties. They are also resistant
Also, he says
farmers are taught how to enhance regular commercial fertilizers. The animals
eat crop residue for 60 to 70 days and generate manure that will be used to
provide nutrients to the soil.
digs a hole about 10 cm from the plant and puts a small amount of manure in
it.This method, called spot
application, reduces the amount of chemical fertilizers needed.
says the IITA livestock project includes improved farming methods.
brought a new system, he explains, "the strip cropping system, whereby the farmers can plant
either one or two rows of cereals: four rows of cowpea. This creates a window
for cowpea because with these four rows shading is minimized."
Kiri Saidon is a soil scientist at an institution also involved in the effort,
the National Institute of Agronomic Research of Niger (INRAN).
He says Peace
Corps volunteers from the United States will help train farmers in the regions
of Maradi and Zinder in the new farming techniques and application of the new
"The collaboration," he explains,"is more on the transfer of technology, working hand in hand with the peace corps
volunteers. They serve as a link between the project and farmers in the
villages and IITA is helping with funds, new technologies, even also in some
aspects of research."
produces nearly 700,000 tons of cowpea each year, making it the world’s second
largest producer, after Nigeria. It’s the country’s main agricultural export.
It is also an
indispensable part of the family diet, eaten as bean cakes and bean pudding. As
West Africa’s population grows, so does the demand for improved crops of the