Farmers in Benue State have expressed worry over the parasitic insects infestation of most cowpea (beans) farms which are threatening their harvest expected in the next few weeks.
Our correspondent who visited some cowpea farms in the state reports that the tiny black-looking insects have already affected the pod bearers such that if not adequately controlled at the current stage may spoil the seeds.
At Vitalis Tarnongu’s one and half hectare of cowpea farm along the University of Agriculture road in Makurdi, the insects have completely ravaged the plants which are fruiting at advanced stage and likely to be ready for harvest in 15 days’ time.
Tarnongu said he had tried using a particular chemical to control the insect but that did not work, fearing that the infestation would make further progress into the pods to spoil the seeds.
“You can see that 97 percent of the farm is covered with the termites. It is going to spoil the seed or change the colour and that would affect my harvest and the income expected to be generated,” he said.
According to him, if the harvest turns out good as earlier expected, then at least 50 bags would be harvested from one hectare of the farm since the seed planted was a special one being test run for multiplication next year.
“Like I said earlier, if everything goes well, I would have a minimum harvest of 50 bags per hectare. This farm is a special seed being test-run for multiplication and a bag of seed after harvest sells for as much as N80,000. So you multiply that amount by 50 bags, then you realise how much income would go down the drain in the event of poor harvest,” Tarnongu added.
Another cowpea farmer in Ugboju-Otukpo area of the state, Ejembi Audu, said his farm already fruiting has been affected as well and that he didn’t know what kind of chemical to use to fight the insects.
Audu also feared that his harvest from the three hectare of cowpea farm may not amount to much despite the effort made to acquire improved seeds and cultivating same with the hope of getting bumper harvest.
He said: “I don’t know how this harvest would turn out. I wanted bumper harvest and went for improved seed. But now, this parasitic infestation would likely ruin my harvest.”
Apart from Tarnongu and Audu, other local cowpea farmers in different parts of the state have also fingered the same problem on their fields.
However, a scientist and seed merchant at Syngeta Nigeria Limited, Mr. Akor Emmanuel, has said there was no need to worry as the black insect which he identified as cowpea “aphids” could be effectively tackled with systematic insecticides application alongside best agronomy practice.
Emmanuel, taking a clue from Tarnongu’s farm, maintained that the cowpea plant was at its fruiting stage and that the infestation he had seen could diminish harvest if not controlled immediately.
“It can affect an entire harvest. The insects are now at the pupa stage and could migrate to the larvae before becoming full-fledged insects. The insects have been on the soil and very stubborn. It requires an advanced form of insecticides to control the infestation on the farm,” Emmanuel said.
But Tarnongu, who insisted that his farm was well managed and protected against any infestation until the current development, appealed to government to help farmers as he noted that poor farmers cannot afford the cost of fighting against the insects following the high cost of the chemicals recommended by experts.
On his part, the Benue State chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Aondona Hembe Kuhe, admitted that the infestation constitutes a common problem for cowpea farmers in the state this year.
He said AFAN has advised its members to use chemicals approved by the agriculture ministry to mitigate against the challenge since the insects appeared too stubborn to succumb to some variety of the chemicals already used on the affected farms.
Kuhe who decried the high cost of chemicals and poverty rate among the farmers, stressed that the development would lead to low harvest as he noted, the insects attacked the cowpea seeds such that it wouldn’t produce well and thereby reducing expected bumper production.
Similarly, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, James Anbua, stated that the challenge was common to cowpea farmers in the state this year but that there were control mechanisms already in place to deal with the situation.
“It is a common problem because cowpea is attractive to insects. Some chemicals which are not harmful are available in the ministry for farmers to spread around their farm environment. They should do the spraying when the plants are flowering.
“However, it (insect) is attacking some farms but not ravaging. It will affect harvest as well but the effect would not be drastic. We have the control mechanism,” Anbua stressed.
Meanwhile, an Associate Professor of Plant Breeding and Seed Science, Dr. Lucky Omoigui, of the Federal University of Agriculture (FUAM) in Makurdi has advised cowpea farmers to always get their seeds from the institution.
Omoigui assured on helping to tackle the menace after on the spot assessment of some of the farms infested so that farmers can derive high returns.