May 302014
Rogério Chiulele

Rogério Chiulele


Today, we travel the Milky Way on a voyage to Mozambique. Our man along the Milky Way is Rogério Marcos Chiulele (pictured), a lecturer at Mozambique’s Universidade Eduardo Mondlane’s Crop Science Department. He is also the lead scientist for cowpea research in Mozambique for the Tropical Legumes I (TLI) project. This gives Rogério a crucial tri-focal down-to-earth and away-from-the-clouds perspective on cowpea pedagogy, research and development. It is through this pragmatic triple-lens prism that Rogerio speaks to us today, once he’s captained us safely back from the stars to Planet Earth, Southeast Africa. After the protein and profit, next stop for him and team is ridding cowpeas of pod-sucking pests, among other things slated for the future. But back from the future to the present and its rooted realities…Problems, yes, but also lots of good scores, plus a deft sleight of hand that are bound to have you starry-eyed, we bet.

…cowpeas rank fourth as the most cultivated crop…”

Q: Tell us about Mozambique and cowpeas: are they important?

The devastating effects of nematodes on cowpea roots.

The devastating effects of nematodes on cowpea roots.

In Mozambique, cowpeas are an important source of food, for both protein and profit, particularly for the resource-poor households that benefit from cowpea income and nutrition. In terms of cultivation, cowpeas rank fourth as the most cultivated crop after maize, cassava and groundnuts, accounting for about 9 percent of the total cultivated area, and estimated at nearly four million hectares of smallholder farms. The crop is produced for grain and leaves, mostly for household consumption but it is becoming increasingly important as a supplement for household income.

But while its potential for food, protein and income is recognised, the realisation of such potential is still limited by drought due to irregular and insufficient rain; affliction by pests such as aphids, flower thrips and nematodes; diseases such as cowpea aphid mosaic virus and cowpea golden mosaic virus; and cultivation of low-yielding and non-improved varieties.

…we backcross to varieties with traits that farmers prefer…”

Q: And on cowpea research and breeding?
Since 2008, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane [UEM] established a cowpea-breeding programme for addressing some of the limiting constraints affecting cowpea production and productivity. This has been possible through collaboration with different funding institutions such as the Generation Challenge Programme.

Photo: UEM

2008: Screening of the 300 genotypes.

That same year [2008], a UEM research team that I coordinate qualified for a GCP capacity-building à la carte grant. In this project, we screened 300 Mozambican cowpea lines for drought tolerance. From these, we identified 84 genotypes that were either high-yielding or drought-tolerant. We further evaluated the 84 genotypes for another three seasons in two locations. From the 84, we identified six genotypes that not only had the two sought-after traits, but were also adapted to different environments.

In 2010, the UEM team joined the TLI project. For the six pre-identified genotypes, the UEM breeding programme is using marker-assisted recurrent selection [MARS] and marker-assisted backcrossing [MABC], combining drought tolerance and resistance to major biotic stresses occurring in Mozambique. In MABC, we are conducting a backcross to varieties with traits that farmers prefer, which includes aspects such as large seeds, early maturity and high leaf production.

…we conducted a farmers’ participatory varietal selection to glean farmers’ perceptions and preferences on cowpea varieties and traits…”

Q: What is the main focus in your work, and how and when do farmers come in?
The breeding work conducted by UEM is targeting all Mozambican agroecologies, but with particular focus on southern Mozambique which is drought-prone. In addition to drought, the area is plagued by many pests such as aphids, flower thrips, nematodes and pod-sucking pests. So, in addition to drought tolerance, we are conducting screening and selection for resistance to aphids, flower thrips and nematodes. In the near future, we will start screening for resistance to pod-sucking pests.

2009: field screening of the 84 genotypes in diff locations.

2009: Rogério during field screening of the 84 genotypes in different locations.

In 2009, we conducted a farmers’ participatory varietal selection to glean farmers’ perceptions and preferences on cowpea varieties and traits. From the study, six of the lines passed participatory variety selection with farmers, as they were large-seeded with good leaf production which provides additional food.

we hope to release three varieties in 2015…Our involvement with GCP has not only increased our exposure, but also brought along tangible benefits… I firmly believe black-eyed peas can really make a difference.”

Q: To what would you attribute the successes your team is scoring, and what are your goals for the future, besides screening for pod-sucking pests?
The success of the work that the Eduardo Mondlane team is doing is partly due to the collaboration and partnership with USA’s University of California, Riverside [UCR]. UCR sent us 60 lines from the GCP cowpea reference set* [Editorial note: see explanation at the bottom], which we evaluated for drought tolerance for four seasons in two locations – one with average rainfall and the other drought-prone. As these lines were already drought-tolerant, we tested them for adaptation to the local environment, and for high yield. From the set, we hope to release three varieties in 2015. In addition, for evaluating the different varieties, we also crossed the local varieties with black-eyed peas, which have a huge market appeal: local varieties fetch roughly half a US dollar per kilo, compared to black-eyed peas whose price is in the region of four to five US dollars.

2013: multilocation trials.

2013: multilocation trials.

Our involvement with GCP has not only increased our exposure, but also brought along tangible benefits. For example, previously, nothing was being done on drought tolerance for cowpeas. But now we receive and exchange material, for example, the black-eyed peas from UCR that we received through GCP, which are set to boost production and markets, thereby improving lives and livelihoods. Amongst the varieties we are proposing to release is one black-eye type. I firmly believe black-eyed peas can really make a difference.

In addition, besides funding a PhD for one of our researchers, Arsenio Ndeve, who is currently at UCR, the Generation Challenge Programme, contributed to improvement on storage and irrigation facilities. We purchased five deep freezers for seed storage and one irrigation pump. Presently, we have adequate storage facilities and we conduct trials even during the off-season, thanks to the irrigation pump provided by GCP.


And on that upbeat note even as the challenge ahead is immense, today’s chat with Rogério ends here. To both pod-sucking pests and all manner of plagues on cowpeas, beware, as thy days are numbered: it would seem that Rogério and team firmly say: “A pox on both your houses!”

*A ‘reference set’ is a sub-sample of existing germplasm collections that facilitates and enables access to existing crop diversity for desired traits, such as drought tolerance or resistance to disease or pests


Feb 282013

Drought stalks, some die
Despite the widespread cultivation of beans in Africa, yields are low, stagnating at between 20 and 30 percent of their potential. Drought brought about by climate change is the main culprit, afflicting 70 percent of Africa’s major bean-producing regions in Southern and Eastern Africa.Bean plant by R Okono

Today we turn the spotlight on Zimbabwe, where drought is a serious and recurrent problem. Crop failure is common at altitudes below 800 meters, and livestock death from shortage of fodder and water are all too common. In recent history, nearly every year is a drought year in these low-lying regions frequently plagued by delayed rains, as well as by intermittent and terminal drought.

The ‘battleground’ and ‘blend’
Zimbabwe is divided into five Natural Regions or agroecological zones. More than 70 percent of smallholder farmers live in Natural Region 3, 4 and 5, which jointly account for 65 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area (293,000 km2). It is also here that the searing dual forces of drought and heat combine to ‘sizzle’  and whittle bean production.

The rains are insufficient for staple foods such as maize, and some of their complementary legumes such as groundnuts. In some areas where temperatures do not soar too high (less than 30oC), beans blend perfectly into the reduced rainfall regime that reigns during the growing season.

A deeper dig: the root of the matter

Godwill Makunde

Godwill Makunde

Research from Phase I of the Tropical Legumes I (TLI) project under GCP’s Legume Research Initiative showed that deep rooting is one of the ways to confer drought tolerance in common beans. High plant biomass at pod-filling stage also confers drought tolerance. “These important findings from TLI refined our breeding objectives, as we now focus on developing varieties combining deep roots and high plant biomass,” reveals Godwill Makunde (pictured), a bean breeder at Zimbabwe’s Crop Breeding Institute (CBI), which falls under the under the country’s Department of Research & Specialist Services. Zimbabwe is one the four target countries in Eastern and Southern Africa for GCP’s bean research (the other three being Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi).

From America to Africa…the heat is on, so is the battle…

The battle is on to beat the heat: through the project, CBI received 202 Mesoamerican and Andean bean breeding lines from the reference set collection held by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, by its Spanish acronym). A ‘reference set’ is a sub-sample of existing germplasm collections that facilitates and enables access to existing crop diversity for desired traits, such as drought tolerance or resistance to disease or pests. The Institute also embarked on bringing in more techniques to breed for heat tolerance.

Kennedy Simango

Kennedy Simango

Drought, pests and disease
“We embraced mutation breeding in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we primarily look for heat tolerance in small-seeded beans,” says Kennedy Simango (pictured right and below), a plant breeder at CBI. “Preliminary results suggested that just like drought, the reproductive stages of common bean are when the crop is most sensitive to heat. Flower- and pod-drop are common. Yield components and yields are severely reduced. In addition, we also focus on developing pest- and disease-resistant varieties.”


Kennedy Simango at work a the Crop Breeding Institute.
Kennedy Simango at work a the Crop Breeding Institute.

The CBI project’s primary diseases and pests of focus are angular leaf spot (ALS), common bacterial blight (CBB), rust and bean stem maggot, and aphids. “This came from our realisation that drought co-exists with heat, diseases and pests,” Kennedy adds. “So, a variety combining drought, heat, disease and pest tolerance all together would increase common bean productivity under harsh environments or drought-prone areas.”

At first glance, piling up all these vital survival traits may appear insurmountable, but it is all feasible, thanks to advances in plant science. “Breeding methods are changing rapidly, and it is vital that we keep up with the technology,” says Kennedy.

The CBI team is using molecular breeding to identify drought-tolerant parents, and then cross them into preferred bean varieties to confer to the ‘offspring’ the best of both worlds – drought tolerance and market appeal.

All-round capacity and competence
GCP’s support does not stop at enabling access to breeding lines alone, or introduction to molecular breeding. “We got a lyophiliser, which is specialised equipment that enables us to extract DNA and send it for genotyping,” says Kennedy. “From the genotyping exercise, we hope to be able to trace the relationships among breeding lines so that we design better crossing programmes, and thereby maximise the diversity of our breeding lines. In addition, we hope to select recombinants carrying desirable genes in a short period of time, and at times without even needing to test them in the target environment.” GCP assists with genotyping through its Genotyping Support Service offered through the Integrated Breeding Platform.

For phenotyping, CBI has benefitted from a mobile weather station, a SPAD meter (for measuring chlorophyll content), a leaf porometer (for measuring leaf stomatal conductance) and water-marks (probes for measuring soil moisture).

Human resources have not been forgotten either. Godwill Makunde, a CBI bean breeder, is studying for a TLII-funded PhD in Plant Breeding at the University of the Free State, South Africa. A group of four scientists (Godwill and Kenedy,  plus Charles Mutimaamba, and Munyaradzi Mativavarira) are in GCP’s three-year Integrated Breeding Multi-Year Course (IB–MYC). The curriculum includes design of experiments, data collection, analysis and interpretation, molecular breeding and data management techniques. In addition, GCP also trains research technicians. For CBI, Clever Zvarova, Anthony Kaseke, Mudzamiri and Chikambure have attended this training. Their course also includes phenotyping protocols (data collection and use of electronic tablets in designing field-books). To date, CBI has received five tablets for digital data collection , of which two are outstanding.

Photo: CBI

Godwill doing what he does best: bean breeding.

Bringing it all together, and on to farms
But how relevant are all these breeder-focused R&D efforts to the farmer? Let’s review this in proper context: in the words of Mr Denis Mwashita, a small-scale farmer at the Chinyika Resettlement Scheme in Bingaguru, Zimbabwe, “Beans have always carried disease, but from the little we harvest and eat, we and our children have developed stomachs.”

“What Mr Mwashita means is that despite the meagre harvests, farm families fare better in terms of health and nutrition for having grown beans,” explains Godwill.

With this solid all-round support in science, working partnerships, skills and infrastructure, the CBI bean team is well-geared to breed beans that beat both heat and disease, thereby boosting yields, while also meeting farmer and market needs. Trials are currently underway to select lines that match these critical needs which are the clincher for food security.

“The Zimbabwe market is used to the sugar type, which is however susceptible to drought. We hope to popularise other more drought-tolerant types,” says Kennedy. “We plan to selected a few lines in the coming season and test them with farmers prior to their release. Our goal is to have at the very least one variety released to farmers by mid-2013.”

A noble goal indeed, and we wish our Zimbabwe bean team well in their efforts to improve local food security.

VIDEO: The ABCs of bean breeding in Africa and South America, with particular focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe

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