Cowpea is an important crop for poor rural households in semi-arid areas of Southern Africa. The crop provides an inexpensive source of protein and leaf vegetable for diets that tend to be heavily dependent on starchy foods based on millets, sorghum, maize and cassava. Women value cowpeas highly as early harvest of green pods and leaf provide a source of vegetable in the “hunger months” prior to the main cereal harvest and cash income from sales of grain, dried, processed leaves and snacks made from cowpea flour. Prior to 2006 there was little research on cowpea in Malawi or Tanzania where legume improvement efforts concentrated on beans, groundnuts and pigeon peas, crops of higher potential areas. Since 2006 CCRP has funded work within the national programs and universities to reduce cowpea losses from the parasitic weed A.vogelii that is widespread in fields of the main producing areas in Southern Africa. The project has selected early maturing lines of cowpea that perform well on parasite infested fields, established a breeding program to improve locally preferred cultivars, identified local seed systems for cowpea seed multiplication, developed labour saving methods of processing cowpea and established that there are local market opportunities. Previously farmers have depended on late flowering, low yielding cowpea landraces. They are now excited about the potential of early maturing lines (60 days to harvest) for providing food or cash income by late February/early March at the end of the “hungry period” ahead of cereal harvests when food is in short supply. A second four year phase of the cowpea project is working on the release of new and more productive cowpea cultivars in both Malawi and Tanzania. The project is led by Ilonga Agricultural research Institute in Tanzania, Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi and works with farmer groups in each country with government extension officers, seed agencies and the NGOs. Research is focusing on establishing sustainable local seed supply and will investigate opportunities to scale this out through seed contracts with local companies and seed sales through Agro-dealers. Cowpea marketing will be strengthened by linking growers to traders and testing systems to supply information on market demand and prices to producera. Awareness of the nutritional value of cowpea and methods of processing for use in recipes that have been developed with consumers will be promoted via village meetings, agricultural shows and the media including radio. Through partnership with the University of Virginia an MSc. student is investigating genotypic variation within A. vogelii,learning molecular based methods, skills that will benefit further legume breeding in the region.
Development and release of high yielding farmer preferred cowpea cultivarsLocal scale promotion of production and utilization of cowpeaIncreased capacity for research on parasitic weeds in legumes
Outputs and Outcomes:
A new cowpea variety known as ‘Mkanakaufiti’ with resistance to parastic weed (Alectra vogelii) has been released in Malawi.Two cowpea varieties namely IT99K-7-21-2-2-1 and IT97K 573-1 with resistance to A. vogelii have been selected in trials with farmers in Tanzania and submitted to TOSCI for National Performance Trial (NPT) and DUS-Test.Introgression of parasite resistance into lines with farmer preferred traits reached back-cross 6 and four lines were identified as resistant and are ready for on-farm evaluation in Tanzania.