- Researchers list outlets, planting methods
Cowpea, commonly known as beans, is an indigenous legume for most Nigerian families due to its high nutritional value and economic importance to farmers who earn their income by cultivating the crop in commercial quantities.
Over the years, more farmers are cultivating cowpea to better their earnings, as well as boost the production of the crop in the country. Researchers have also continued to successfully churn out improved seed varieties for the benefit of farmers and consumers.
Interestingly, Benue State, which hitherto was not known for commercial production of cowpea, is gradually becoming its hub, following the 2016 release of FUMPEA 1 and 2 by the Federal University of Agriculture (FUAM) in Makurdi in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
The FUMPEA is an improved cowpea seed variety that enables farmers to produce brown or white cowpea with sweeter taste. Other new hybrid and early maturity varieties are also available to farmers in the state, as well as those within the North Central region to grow for commercial purposes.
A plant breeder in the College of Agronomy, FUAM, Prof Lucky Omoigui, who developed the FUAMPEA, in collaboration with the IITA, told our correspondent in Makurdi that seven new improved varieties are currently available for farmers’ use.
Omoigui is also the seed system specialist of a project known as Accelerated Varita Improvement and Seed System Delivery in Africa (AVISA) currently being implemented in Nigeria and managed at the commercial farm of FUAM, in collaboration with the IITA.
The AVISA, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeks, among other things, to conduct mother trials of pre-released lines, released varieties and seed production.
“We (AVISA) are promoting seven improved cowpea varieties, including FUAMPEA 1 and FUAMPEA 2. These varieties are available in commercial quantities. Many seed companies within and outside Benue State are marketing the seed of the improved varieties.
“Famers are advised to buy the improved seeds from accredited seed companies. They should avoid going to the open market to buy seed. Buying from seed companies will guarantee genetic purity and viability.”
Omoigui said the improved varieties were r-esistant to parasitic weeds, viruses and thrips, noting that the seeds are high yielding, compared to the old varieties.
The plant breeder also advised farmers to select well-drained sandy loam soil for cultivation of the crop, and to avoid water- logged areas as cowpea does not tolerate excessive water condition.
He stressed that with best agronomic practices suitable for the new improved seeds, such as appropriate planting time and good plant population, plant on ridges, proper weeds management, pest management by using appropriate pesticides at the right time, farmers would surely get good result.
He added that many seed companies were marketing the seed and that most of them have sales outlets in Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara states, including Souvenir Seed Company based in Abuja, and that Value Seed Limited has sales outlet in several states in the North Central region of the country.
He further emphasised that, “All the seed companies listed above market all the improved cowpea varieties, including those developed by FUAM. The foundation seed is used to produce the certified seeds, which are sold to farmers.”
For Vitalis Tarnongu, a large-scale cowpea farmer, whose company, Teryima Nigeria Limited in Makurdi, has just been approved to commence seed production by the National Agricultural Seeds Council, the four available new cowpea seed varieties in his stock for interested farmers are high yielding.
He said available seeds in commercial quantities for sale to farmers were UAM 14-126 (Brown), FUAMPEA 2, IT99k-573-2-1 and Kwankwaso (40 days).
“I tried the seed on my farm and got 1350kg (13 bags) on one hectare alone. That’s good yield for cowpea. It is purely organic and anyone who ate it testified that the cowpea was tastier and in its original form.
“Right now, I have a market I doubt if I would be able to meet its demand. There has been high demand from farmers that I should reserve particular quantities for them. Even farmers outside the state can get it because I put up some in advert on social media platforms. At the moment, farmers from Nasarawa State are patronising me,” he said.
Tarnongu added that he wants the market for his seed to spread across states in the North Central region. He said he already targeted 40 farmers in Uke, Nasarawa State, for an out-grower scheme.
He expressed delight that the seeds are resistant to drought and striga, stressing that they do well on Benue soil but not on the swampy areas, even as land preparation remained the best agronomy practice for the new varieties.
He maintained the need for farms to be weed-free to enable high yield, while informing that the seeds have a three-year life- span. According to him, though he grows it twice (two planting seasons) consecutively on his field, however, the seed could effectively evolve a three-year maximal life- span.
“Farmers have to change after three years because that’s why researchers are working round the clock to turn in newer varieties for new seasons,” he stated.
Tarnongu further explained that he gets the foundation (first generation) seed developed by plant breeders at FUAM, which he in turn plants to multiply to certified seeds, which are now given to farmers for commercial production.
He advised farmers to change from their knowledge of using local varieties so as to have bountiful harvest, saying that hybrid seeds are different from local (old) varieties and that farmers must embrace modern technology to blend with the times if they are to generate good harvest.
“It is a new dawn for cowpea farmers, especially in Benue, with the advent of the new cowpea because seed constitutes 60 per cent of good yields. Therefore, farmers should always buy good seeds,” Tarnongu stressed.
On her part, a smallholder farmer, Margret Onu, who tried the FUMPEA variety on her farm located in Otukpo area of Benue, confessed that the early maturity of the seed was quite amazing.
Onu said what thrilled her most about the seed were its high yielding trait and nutritious taste, as well its resistance to infections common to the old varieties she used to plant.
Meanwhile, a seed systems principal investigator in FUAM, Dr. Teryima Iorlamen, encouraged farmers who plant the improved seeds to begin their harvesting when the pods turn yellow, and that they should dry, thresh the produce on clean platforms and store in recommended bags, which can be obtained from the university.
He said varieties such as FUAMPEA 1&2, SAMPEA, 14, 15, 17, 18 were available for farmers.
Iorlamen also said the new seeds may be planted for more than one season so as, he stressed, the necessity to test germination percentage.
He said interested persons outside the state could access the institution’s varieties from IITA Kano station and other seed companies while within the state, farmers could get it form the university’s College of Agronomy, Teryima Limited, the State Ministry of Agriculture and BNARDA.
Iorlamen harped on good land preparation, planting at recommended spacing and time, as well as the use of 20-25kg/ha, weeding, fertiliser application, use SSP fertiliser at planting: Insects pest control at flowers initiation, at full flowering, podding with repeat spraying after one week (seven days interval) to achieve desirable result.
“The seeds are resistant to striga, drought and alectra. We don’t encourage farmers to buy the seeds from the open market because they may be mixed. Farmers should obtain their seeds only from recommended seed companies or research institutions,” he concluded.