Lead Organization:

Makerere University

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa


Uganda and Kenya




Cowpea is a multipurpose legume crop that can thrive under semi-arid conditions prevalent in Uganda and other African countries. Cowpea is the third most widely grown legume crop in Uganda, after common bean and groundnut (peanut). The crop’s rapid maturation can help families to survive the “hungry season” between cereal harvests, and provides protein to complement the heavily starch-based diets that dominate in the region. The leaves (which can be harvested in under a month) and fresh pods can be consumed as a vegetable and the mature seeds as a pulse.In spite of the importance of this crop to food security, there is no active cowpea improvement program in Uganda. A program initiated with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation was discontinued due to lack of sustained financing. Without input from a strong breeding program, farmers find their crops decimated by pests and disease attacks. As a result, low yields lead to poor nutritional intake and income generation. The project, led by Makerere University, brings together a team of national and international agronomists, plant breeders and pathologists, development practitioners and farmers with the aim to establish and distribute improved cowpea cultivars to resource-poor communities in Uganda to help improve food security and livelihoods.

Grant Aims:

Establish a farmer research network to support farmers to adapt cowpea technologies to a range of contexts while gaining a deeper understanding of how cowpea germplasm and management interact with socio-ecological factors.Collect cowpea germplasm and document farmer and consumer preferences with regard to cowpea attributes and production constraints for cowpea in eastern and northern Uganda.Assemble and characterize local and elite cowpea germplasm; multiply seed to identify promising lines to test against major pests and diseases through participatory approaches.Develop desirable and acceptable high-yielding, improved cowpea varieties with resistance to major pests and diseases suitable for zonal farming conditions in Uganda.Improve agronomic practices and pest management methods for cowpea.Develop integrated management techniques for major cowpea pests and diseases, adapted to zonal farming conditions.Develop seed production and delivery systems through outreach, training, demonstration/farmer field schools, and community seed multiplication groups.Train two MSc students and one PhD student.Build stronger inter-sectoral and inter-institutional linkages.

Outputs and Outcomes:

121 local cowpea genotypes were collected. 100 locally-collected cowpea accessions were evaluated for P&D resistance. 20 of the accessions were found to be promising for resistance to viral diseases and 10 accessions showed different levels of multiple resistances to various pests and diseases.Elite cowpea varieties MU-93 (spreading growth habit) and IT85F-2841 (spreading growth habit) gave consistently the highest leaf yield. More research is needed on culinary aspects. Elite variety IT82D-889 was the earliest; this variety could be ideal for planting during short rain seasons.Four pre-released elite and two farmer-preferred cowpea varieties were investigated for performance under different plant spacing and intercrop systems. Elite lines out-performed the local ones in performance and grain and leaf yield. The best intercropping advantage occurred in one row maize: two rows cowpea arrangement because of less inter- and intra-specific competition among component crops.Characterization of viruses was done on 153 cowpea accessions. Four viruses were detected in mixed infections on 89% of the accessions. 11% of accessions tested negative for viral infection.Intercropping cowpea with sorghum significantly reduced pest infestation levels (in particular aphid, thrips and pod borers) but had less effect on fungal foliar diseases (leaf spots and scab).