S01.B1–UIUC, IPM-omics: Scalable and sustainable solutions for pest management of insect pests of cowpea in Africa

Michigan State University as Lead University

U.S. PIs and Institutions and Collaborating Host Countries

Lead U.S. PI

  • Barry Pittendrigh, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Illiniois

Collaborating Scientists: U.S.

  • Julia Bello-Bravo (Co-PI ), University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Illinois

Collaborating Scientists: International

  • Dr. Manuele Tamò, IITA–Benin
  • Dr. Clémentine Dabiré-Binso, INERA–Burkina Faso
  • Mr. Laouali Amadou, INRAN-Niger
  • Dr. Ibrahim Baoua, INRAN–Niger
  • Dr. Stephen Asante, SARI, Ghana
  • Dr. Haruna Braimah, CRI–Ghana
  • Mr. Eustache Biaou, INRAB-Benin INRAN-Niger


Annual Technical Project Reports

Workplans and Technical Description

Project Problem Statement and Justification (Brief)

Cowpea is an important protein source for tens of millions of West Africans, many of whom live on less than $2.00 per day. The greatest biotic constraints on cowpea production are insect pests, which dramatically reduce crop yields for cowpea farmers in West Africa. Pesticides and/or transgenics will not provide the long-term solutions needed to bring these pest populations under control within the economic constraints of cowpea farmers. The remaining logical strategy is Integrated Pest Management, involving a pipeline of diverse pest control solutions. Our program is focused on the development and deployment of scalable pest control solutions involving a combination of traditional pest control and deployment strategies and cutting-edge technologies, including genomics and geographic information systems (GIS) to direct the deployment of these approaches most effectively; testing and deploying cutting-edge ICT (information and communication technology) tools is also part of these solutions.

The major pests of cowpea in the field in northern Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso include:

  1. the legume pod borer (Maruca vitrata Fabricius)
  2. the coreid pod-bugs (Clavigralla tomentosicollis Stal and Anoplocnemis curvipes)
  3. the groundnut aphid (Aphis craccivora Koch)
  4. thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti Trybom)

Foundational work has been initiated to understand these insect pests and has provided a good understanding of pest biology and population structure, which will help direct current and future pest control strategies. Over the past several years, our program has developed multiple promising integrated pest management (IPM) solutions for the pests of cowpeas. Up until the last phase of this project under the Pulse CRSP, there were few alternatives to pesticide sprays for many of these pest species. By the close of the Pulse CRSP project, there were several.

Our program, termed IPM-omics, involves defining the pest problems, bringing forward appropriate solutions through a biocontrol/biopesticide pipeline, and scaling of solutions through multipronged strategies that will include farmer field flora, ICT approaches, women’s cooperatives and partnerships with small-scale industries. We have and will continue to develop online interfaces that make our outcomes easily available to other groups who can benefit from the materials and we will continue to develop approaches where we can share solutions with outsides groups that can help in the scaling and sustainability of these solutions. We will develop, deploy, and test training/technology packages/programs that will be passed-off to groups (e.g., NGOs, national/international agencies) and we will determine the potential for impact with this approach.

Additionally, for M. vitrata, there exists a potential biotechnology-based pest control solution. Transgenic cowpea expressing the Bt-protein Cry1Ab, effective against M. vitrata already exists, but has not been released, and may be a component of IPM in the next phase of this project. However, before transgenic Bt-cowpea can be released, there will be a need for an insect resistance management (IRM) plan and our program has already set the stage for just such a plan (Onstad et al., 2012). Bt-cowpea, even if/when it becomes available to farmers, will only control one of many pests that attack cowpea. Thus, for more immediately tangible control strategies, we have other pest control solutions at hand for M. vitrata. Additionally, host plant resistant traits are being brought forward by Dr. Phillip Roberts at California at Riverside (UC-R), some of which is being done in collaboration with our collaborators at INERA and IITA. We will continue our work with the aforementioned investigators, to bring forward such host plant resistance traits. However, over the past phase of this project we have developed multiple IPM pest control options for cowpea systems, many of which will require the next phase of research to bring them forward to larger-scale release and testing of impact.

Although biocontrol agents, transgenic plants, and traditional plant breeding for insect resistant varieties are all potentially effective methods for controlling pests of cowpeas, a continued refinement of our understanding of pest populations is needed in order to integrate these and other pest control options into an overall integrative pest management (IPM) plan to maximize cowpea production in the field. IPM refers to a pest control strategy where a variety of complementary approaches are used to minimize the negative effects of pests on a given crop or cropping system. As we develop, refine and deploy IPM strategies, we must understand the important life-history parameters of these pest insects in relationship to their environment. In the past phase of CRSP we developed a more in depth understanding of M. vitrata populations and have recently determined that M. vitrata living on cowpea have a great diversity of alternative host plants and common populations – this insight (due to the use of genomics tools) is extremely important as it means all alternative host plants, for M. vitrata, can likely act as a refuge for Bt-cowpea and when releasing biocontrol agents onto alternative host plants, programs can choose the host plants that are most useful and cost effective. We term the use of genomics tools to help direct IPM strategies as IPM-omics. The IITA group has demonstrated that the release of biocontrol agents, for M. virata control, on different alternative host plants can be done with varying levels of cost-effectiveness. Thus, as we move forward over the next four years we will determine the population genetic structure of the other pests of cowpea. We have developed molecular tools to accomplish such a task (Agunbiade et al., accepted). We will also investigate the presence of these insects on cowpea and the population structure of these species, as well, if they prove to be pests causing significant economic losses.


  1. Define the Pest Problems
  2. Develop Approppriate Solutions
  3. Scaling of Solutions
  4. Capacity Building

Target Outputs                

Defining the pest problems.
We expect to collect 1 year of data on the major pests of cowpeas (beyond Maruca) in terms of timing, location, and wild alternative host plants.  We expect to perform initial molecular work on these populations and we expect to lay these data over known GIS data.

Appropriate solutions.
We will bring forward in the biocontrol pipeline new promising agents.  We expect to bring forward biopesticides and develop tools and an understanding to take them to the next step towards commercial production (not only the technology, but a better understanding of who to work with to “pass off” the technologies to the marketplace.  We also expect to have an understanding of the potential for a low-cost neem press.

Scaling of Solutions.
We expect to continue to perform inoculative releases of natural enemies in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin; we expect these to ultimately suppress insect populations.  We expect to have developed and expanded on partnerships that can help us scale our solutions – in the first year (FY14) we expect the most immediate tangible results will be NGOs using our educational materials.  We expect this to be the beginning of developing larger-scale in country deployment networks for our materials.  Also, as SAWBO materials have been translated into languages beyond these countries, we also expect to work with and interact with NGOs and other organizations that will use these materials in their educational programs.  We also expect some of our assessments on the potential for scaling will give us important insights for continued scaling.