Ethiopia is a center of origin and diversity for cowpea, one of the few legumes that is well adapted to a warm semi-arid climate. Cowpea is a key component of the cropping systems and livelihoods for the smallholder farmers living in Ethiopia’s drylands, which cover more than 60% of the country. In spite of the importance of cowpea, little attention have been given to native cowpea germplasm. In the 18-month inception stage of this project, the team generated baseline information on cowpea genetic resources by collecting 177 cowpea landraces and by gathering information from farmers on cowpea production and constraints. The next step is characterization of these landraces for grain and vegetable use using phenotyping and molecular markers. The team aims to evaluate and select tolerant varieties for production constraints (drought, bruchid resistance, diseases, etc.). This allows the team to identify widely adaptable, superior landraces that can benefit smallholder farmers. Provision of farmer preferred cowpea varieties through multiplication and promotion of the collected landraces would be also a means to improve cowpea production and productivity in the country.
Cowpea landraces will be assembled, characterized, utilized and conserved. These landraces have economic, nutritional and/or social value for present and the future agricultural production. They can benefit rural communities as components of agro-biodiversity and can be used as parents in the development of new varieties as well. Landraces with drought tolerance and resistance to storage pests (bruchids) will be sought. Both men and women will be involved in the selection process to ensure that the full range of desired traits are considered. To ensure that cowpea performs to its potential, the project team will also identify strains of soil microbes (rhizobia) that allow the cowpea to fix nitrogen efficiently. The overall goal of the proposed project is to enhance production and productivity of cowpea to improve food security, nutrition, income generation and resilience of the resource poor farmers living in the drought prone areas of the country. Expected outcomes, as per objectives, are captured below .Characterization, evaluation of cowpea landraces across years and location. This will result in the development of improved cowpea cultivars with resistance to major biotic and abiotic stressors. The success of this objective would result in improved productivity of cowpea, thereby potentially improving the income and nutrition of smallholder farmers.Fast-track cowpea variety promotion: Highly popular cowpea landraces will be selected though participatory variety selection (PVS). These will go through a seed multiplication process, first by researchers, then through decentralized seed production by farmers. The varieties will be made available to farmers across cowpea growing regions, which should increase cowpea agrobiodiversty in these regions.Germplasm enhancement: Storage pests (bruchids) are considered a major constraint for cowpea producers. The project will transfer relevant traits like bruchid resistance to the varieties that are selected by farmers. Collection and screening of cowpea rhizobium: Rhizobial strain of cowpea will be collected from across cowpea growing areas of the country, Researchers are identifing the most effective rhizobium strains for future multiplication and use by the cowpea growers, thereby potentially enhancing N fixation. Capacity enhancement (human and breeding facility)