Safe technologies for thrip control

icipe, Keele University and Harper Adams University (both in the United Kingdom), have received funding from UK Aid through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project, to develop novel technologies for the control of bean ower thrips in cowpea and other legumes, as an alternative to insecticides.

Across SSA, cowpea, Vigna unguiculata, is a major crop that is cultivated by an estimated 38 million growers, besides being the only source of protein for over 200 million people who cannot afford meat, fish or milk products. Indeed, close to 94% (5.2 million tonnes) of the annual global production of cowpea is harvested in Africa.

However, the bean flower thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti), a key pest of legumes, threaten the production of cowpea in the continent, causing yield losses of 20-100%. In an attempt to control the pest, many smallholder farmers over-rely on chemical insecticides, compromising the safety of the yield due to high levels of pesticide residues.

Previous research by icipe, Keele University and Plant Research International, The Netherlands, identified special chemicals (pheromones) released by male bean flower thrips, which can enhance the ability of traps to capture thrips by over 130%. 

Such behaviour modifying pheromones can be integrated with other thrips management options, such as biopesticides. For instance, the pheromones can be combined with other plant based attractants to draw thrips away from the crop to a focal point where the pests are then infected with insect pathogenic fungi. icipe and partners will develop this innovative thrips management strategy, commonly referred to as autodissemination, lure and infect or spot- spray, primarily for cowpeas, and other similar crops in Kenya. The researchers intend to build capacity for thrips research and provide opportunities for postdoctoral training for African researchers and facilitate scienti c exchanges between Kenya and the UK.