In northern Nigeria, farmers are getting help with new farming and preservation techniques for the cowpea, or black-eyed pea. Nigeria is the world?s largest grower and consumer of the crop. Voice of America reporter Isyaku Ahmed reports.
It?s the beginning of another farming season. Scores of farmers have come to the conference hall on Sabon Bakin Zuwo Road. The hall belongs to the Kano branch of the IITA ? the Institute for International and Tropical Agriculture. The IITA?s main branch is in the southern city of Ibadan.
Today is the start of a two-day workshop for farmers, extension agents and others interested in improving food production. Some have come to buy high-breed cowpea seedlings from the IITA, while others want the most effective pesticides.
Besides the IITA, representatives from two other organizations are here, including USAID, which has a special program called Maximizing Agricultural Revenue for Key Targets Sites. There are also 60 extension agents and representatives working with the Kano State Agricultural Development Authority, or KNARDA.
Crop and livestock specialist Dr. Hakeem Ajeigbe coordinated the pre-season training. He says the workshop aims to equip the extension agents and farmers with the latest tools for improving yields of cowpea. ?We do a lot of training. We train both the extension agents and technicians we think will be involved. Then we train farmers. These last two days, we are having what is called on-station training of extension agents. Because these are improved [methods], we have to train the extension agents. In Kano State, for example, we are working in 29 local government areas [and with their agents.]?
One element of training is improved methods of cultivation, including strip cropping. This means the repetitive planting of two rows of cereals followed by four rows of cowpeas. The system puts more space between the legumes and cereals, a practice that helps reduce erosion on hills and helps increase yields. In the traditional method, over a meter of space is left between the two crops.
Some of the latest skills acquired by the farmers and extension agents include what?s called triple bagging for preserving the grain and a solar method for killing bugs that can infest stored cowpeas.
To triple bag the produce, you need three 50 kilogram plastic bags. The cowpeas are placed in the first one, which is put inside the other two. Insects are not likely to penetrate the three bags. The system allows cowpeas to be stored for five months without using preservatives.
Workshop participants also learn how to kill the insects that infect cowpeas before storage. The sun?s energy will kill the insects when the cowpeas are laid on a hot black plastic sheet. Afterwards, the produce is moved into airtight tins. It?s a cheap, easy and non-toxic way to preserve the crop, and it doesn?t change the physical shape or nutritive value of the cowpea.
The training was also aimed at improving food production and revenue generation. Ajeigbe says: ?These days now everybody is talking about cooperatives, so we bring experts in cooperative formation to also train these extension agents and also go and train farmers on how to form viable cooperative farmer?s equitable association.?
Ajeigbe says forming cooperatives will make it easier for farmers to buy fertilizers, pesticides and farm tools or machines. It will also make it easier as a group to get loans from banks and financial institutions.
Isa Malami is the assistant director of the Agricultural Credit and Marketing at the Kano State Agricultural Development Authority. He says the major challenge facing farmers in the rural areas is illiteracy: ?The issue of illiteracy has been a problem to our farmers; most of this training has to be translated into the local language to be effective, so I will suggest that if IITA or any other organization has to conduct anything on capacity building they should translate some of the training documents into the local language.?
In Nigeria, cowpeas are consumed directly as a nutritious meal at homes and restaurants, often as a porridge or pudding. It can also be combined with cooked rice cereal or prepared as cowpea cake, made from mashed and fried seed popularly known as ?Kwose.? Cowpeas are consumed another way -- as a fast food called "Akara," sold along Nigerian roadsides. It?s also used as fodder in some parts of Nigeria.
Millions of farmers in Africa cultivate cowpeas, and some 200 million Africans consume them. Cowpea grain is inexpensive and nutritious; it serves as a cheap form of protein for both rural and urban consumers. The IITA said an estimated 3.3 million tons of cowpea grain were produced in 2000.
Nigeria is both the largest producer and the largest consumer of cowpeas; Dawanau market in Kano is the largest cowpea market in the world.