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The challenge

Food security at threat from insect pests

Cowpea is a significant crop in West Africa, however farmers face challenges from pests and diseases. These reduce harvest yields, with significant implications for food availability in the region, and harm farm profitability.

Overcoming these challenges will improve food security in West Africa and lead to improved economic outcomes for the region's communities.

Our response

Proven science delivery

Our Legume Engineering Team has been working in the field of legume biotechnology for the last 30 years. It has developed transformation protocols for several species including chickpeas, cowpeas, garden peas and lupins. The team has worked with these species in different areas including improving nutritional composition and insect protection.

Our Legume Engineering Team. From left to right: TJ Higgins, Gonzalo Estavillo, Andy Moore, Helen Le, Jose Barrero (Team Leader), Luch Hac, Sue Allen, Jenny Gibson and Javier Atayde.

Our team recently achieved a major milestone with the development and commercial release in Nigeria in 2019 of the Bt cowpea variety Sampea 20-T, the world first GM cowpea. This cowpea is resistant to the pod-borer, Maruca vitrata, a major pest of this crop in West Africa. It is expected that this research will have a major impact and help to reduce hunger and rural poverty of a large portion of the Nigerian population and broader West African region.

The sowing of PBR cowpea is now approved and it is estimated by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to have a net present value of US$350 million. This project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is one of CSIRO's substantial contributions to Australia's participation in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

We are also a partner of the RIPE (Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the RIPE project we are now trying to use our unique technical capability and proven translation experience with cowpea to improve the photosynthetic its capacity and to increase yield in the farms.

The below case studies highlight our projects to deliver improved varieties of cowpea.

Boosting cowpea yield with biotechnology case studies

  • Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is an international research project that is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis.

  • Following the release of the world’s first pod-borer resistant cowpea variety, our team is developing a second-generation variety to stay one-step ahead of crop pests.

  • We are part of a global project to improve cowpea production in Africa and are making progress towards incorporating ‘built-in’ insect pest protection that could help to reduce food shortages in the region.

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