MSU lands grant to boost yields of critical West-African crop

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Cowpea is a critical, affordable source of protein for countless millions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, pests decimate more than 50 percent of the crop annually.

Michigan State University’s Legume Innovation Lab will use a $1.45 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to implement sustainable approaches to fend-off pests and potentially double cowpea yields.

The focus of the project will be approximately 10 million smallholder farmers in five West African countries. The three-year initiative will develop integrated pest management solutions, which involve managing the entire crop production process – from planting and maintenance to harvest to crop storage – to reduce the impact of pests on yields.

To sustainably manage cowpea pests, farmers need to diagnose insect problems early and have access to better pest management options, said Irv Widders, director of the Legume Innovation Lab.

“This project is exciting because of its high potential to benefit smallholder farmers,” he said. “Through biocontrol agents and decision aids, the farmers will be able to utilize for the first time ‘precision IPM’ practices that are safe to humans and the environment, low-cost and effective, potentially doubling their cowpea yields.”

The initiative will provide:

A smart phone app to diagnose pest problems and determine the best management optionsSystematic release of biological pest management agents, including scalable tracking and assessment toolsAn economic assessment of the potential use, benefits and impacts of IPM

Many scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and MSU will be involved in this project.

For more information, contact Cynthia Donovan or Marguerite Halversen at (517) 355-4693,

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