Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei | August 22, 2022
Yaw Bitob lives in the Sampa area of the Bono East Region of Ghana. Mr. Bitob started cultivating cowpeas six years ago. Mr. Bitob uses integrated pest management to manage pests and diseases, saying it’s more cost-effective than using chemicals. He explains: “Integrated pest management in cowpeas includes cultural control practices like early planting, regularly checking the field for harmful insects, hand picking and destroying the pests, planting resistant or tolerant varieties, crop rotation, and avoiding close spacing between cowpea plants.” Yaw Gyarko is a local extension worker who says: “It is no longer recommended to spray pesticides regularly according to a calendar such as every three to five days. Calendar spraying is expensive, unsustainable, and environmentally unfriendly.” Although pests and diseases are a big challenge, Mr. Bitob says he will continue using integrated pest management practices in order to benefit from the crop and support his family.
It’s a cool Monday morning and clouds are slowly building up in a clear blue sky, indicating that it might rain soon. Yaw Bitob is in his cowpea farm, checking for pests and diseases.
The 27-year-old farmer stops at different places, inspecting cowpea plants and carefully looking at the undersides of the leaves. He says, “I conduct … early and routine scouting for pests or diseases in my cowpea field.”
Mr. Bitob lives in the Sampa area of the Bono East Region of Ghana. He has been farming for 10 years and started cultivating cowpeas six years ago.
He says that, although pests and diseases are a major challenge in cowpea farming, his area is suitable for the crop because the soil is fertile. Mr. Bitob explains, “We produce more cowpeas in our area than any other agricultural zone in Ghana. Almost every farmer here cultivates the crop.”
Insect pests can cause losses of 15 to 100 per cent in cowpea fields, while diseases such as bacterial blight and mosaic virus also cause problems. Mr. Bitob says: “The crop can be severely attacked at every stage of its growth. The most damaging insect pests are aphids, thrips, and maruca pod borer. The aphids transmit viral diseases while maruca pod borer feeds on every part of the plant.”
He adds: “Thrips occur every growing season and result in yield losses through the premature dropping of flowers. It is also common to find more than three insect pest species on the same plant. However, the emergence of Fall armyworm has worsened the pest situation in our area because it can wipe out an entire field [of cowpeas] within a short time.”
To manage these pests and diseases, Mr. Bitob relies on scouting and monitoring. He explains: “I visit the farm frequently, at least every three days. I walk through the entire farm and physically inspect the cowpea leaves by looking out for any signs of pest infestation.”
He adds: “Scouting starts as soon as the crop sprouts and starts growing leaves. This is because the pests prefer the early, soft leaves and it is easy to detect and control pests very early at this stage.”
According to Mr. Bitob, there are many pest management methods available to cowpea farmers. He says, however, that practices typically associated with integrated pest management are more cost-effective than using chemicals.
He explains: “Integrated pest management in cowpeas includes cultural control practices like early planting, regularly checking the field for harmful insects, hand picking and destroying the pests, planting resistant or tolerant varieties, crop rotation, and avoiding close spacing between cowpea plants.”
He says that, although many farmers apply chemical pesticides to cowpeas on a calendar basis, this approach is becoming too expensive. He explains: “A farmer needs to spray the entire farm every three days in order to effectively get rid of pests. But the prices of these pesticides keep skyrocketing every day.”
Sophia Adubea is one of the many women farmers in the Sampa area whose cowpea yields decreased tremendously because she was not able to control pests. She says: “As a woman, I don’t have money to help me manage pests. Two years ago, pests destroyed my field and the yield was very low because I could not afford to buy pesticides.”
But things have changed for better since Mrs. Adubea learned about integrated pest management through programs on Atoobu FM, a local community radio station. She explains: “The easiest way to control some of these pests such as aphids is to check if aphid populations are limited to just a few leaves or shoots, and [if so,] prune out the infestation to provide control.”
She adds: “Pesticides are generally only required to treat aphids if the infestation is very high. Cowpea plants generally tolerate a low or medium level of infestation. Pesticide soaps or oils such as neem or canola oil are usually the best method of controlling aphids.”
Yaw Gyarko is a local extension worker from the Department of Agriculture in Ghana in Sampa. He says that, although some farmers rely heavily on calendar applications to control cowpea pests, the department does not recommend this approach.
Mr. Gyarko explains: “It is no longer recommended to spray pesticides regularly according to a calendar such as every three to five days. Calendar spraying is expensive, unsustainable, and environmentally unfriendly.”
He adds: “Cowpea farmers should therefore try their best to use integrated pest management practices such as scouting for the incidence of pests in order to control the pests, and they should spray chemicals only when an infestation is too much.”
Although pests and diseases are a big challenge, Mr. Bitob says he will continue using integrated pest management practices in order to benefit from the crop and support his family.
He says: “I have been growing more cowpeas in the last few years. This is the most profitable crop, although it is affected by many pests and diseases which are expensive to manage if a farmer is not using integrated pest management practices.”
This resource was produced with support from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as part of the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA).
Photo: Yaw Bitob in his field. Credit: Gideon Kwame Sarkodie.