A long neglected crop with the potential to halt hunger for millions in Africa, sustain the livestock revolution underway in developing countries, rejuvenate nutrient-sapped soils, and even feed astronauts on extended space missions, is attracting scientists from around the world to Senegal this week for the Fifth World Cowpea Research Conference.
“It’s hard to imagine a more perfect crop, particularly for Africa, where food production lags behind population growth, demand for livestock products is soaring, and climate change is bringing new stresses to already challenging growing conditions,” said Christian Fatokun, a cowpea breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which is co-organizing the conference in collaboration with Institut Senegalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program, and Purdue University.
‘…The cowpea, which is also known as the black-eyed pea, is one of the world’s oldest crops. It is currently cultivated on 10 million hectares, mainly in Central and West Africa, but also in India, Australia, North America, and parts of Europe. It was brought to the Americas on slave ships and became a favorite of President George Washington, who was looking for a variety of peas?he called them “pease”?that could withstand the warm climates of the southern United States. Cowpeas are treasured for their high protein content (grains contain about 25 percent protein), leaves and stalks that serve as especially nutritious fodder for cows (hence the name cowpea) and other farm animals, and the fact that their roots provide nitrogen to depleted soils. For many in Africa, the crop is a critical source of food during the “lean period”?-the end of the wet season when food can become extremely scarce in semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa…’
‘…In addition, cowpeas can be used as cheap, high-quality animal feed. Today, livestock experts are drawn to the cowpea as they search for sustainable approaches to satisfying the fast-growing demand for meat and milk in developing countries. Scientists at IITA and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) say new “dual use” cowpea varieties bred to satisfy both human and animal nutrition needs could be generating US$299 million to US$1.1 billion by 2020, given their potential to simultaneously boost livestock production and reduce hunger…’
Read more at Science News, Scientists arrive in Senegal to give African hunger a black eye, 27 September 2010