A Virginia Tech collaboration is helping improve food security in Niger, while also opening a new income stream for farmers in the West African nation.

Muni Muniappan, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management at Virginia Tech, said that a recent trip to Niger showed evidence of key progress on managing the millet head miner using the pest’s natural enemy, Habrobracon hebetor, a parasitic wasp. With Niger being the leading producer of the protein-rich, drought-resistant cereal crop, a pest that threatens over three-quarters of the crop’s yields would be catastrophic to the nation’s people and economy.

“Millet is nutritious, and people truly depend on it in Niger, where the climate limits what can be grown,” Muniappan said. “That’s why we’re happy to see the teams on the ground there increase millet yields in addition to forming a new market out of the sale of natural enemies of pests.”

In Niger, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the University of Maradi are two of the teams initiating the sale of the parasitic wasps to farmer cooperatives.

The process is a win-win for producers who are looking to earn income in new ways and for subsistence farmers who want to increase their crop yields at an affordable price. In a year in Africa so far, up to 6,133 hand-sized bags filled with the millet head miner's natural enemies and the grains needed to multiply them before release have been sold to the cooperatives. Meanwhile, millet yields have seen an increase up to 34 percent, a major step toward food security.

“We want to strengthen the community unity approach,” said Ibrahim Baoua, a collaborator from the University of Maradi. “This biocontrol process minimizes the use of pesticides and gives more power to farmer organizations.”

The IPM Innovation Lab works in Niger based on an award granted from Kansas State’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet. With improved crop yields and new opportunities on the rise, the success of the project has also led to:  

  • Identification of a natural enemy that will attack the eggs of the millet head miner, not just the larvae.
  • Innovation in materials used to mass-produce natural enemies, such as the size of the release bag and the amount and quality of grain needed for rearing.
  • Determination of new, marketable products to include in the sale of natural enemies. 

While in Niger, the IPM Innovation Lab and its collaborators detected major damage on millet and sorghum by another dangerous pest, the fall armyworm. As sorghum is the second most important cereal in Africa, the teams already managing the millet head miner mobilized to find an efficient path to eradicate the fall armyworm – local natural enemies of the new pest in Niger are already being prepared.  

With the help of the project’s steady momentum, collaborators have transferred the technology of mass-multiplying natural enemies of pests from Egypt to Niger to Kenya over the past two years, making come true the teams’ goal of effectively dispersing technologies across multiple regions.

The IPM Innovation Lab is housed at Virginia Tech in the Center for International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Sara Hendery