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All eyes on black-eyed peas: Experts to meet for World Cowpea Research Conference in September 2010

By Godwin Atser

IITA-Ibadan, Nigeria - Cowpea experts from across the globe will converge in the historic city of Dakar, Senegal from 27 September to 1 October 2010 for the 5th World Cowpea Research Conference. For five days, participants will tackle research issues related to enhancing the profile of cowpea as a viable income generating and food security crop.

The conference will cover a
wide gamut of topics ranging from cowpea genetic improvement and use of molecular tools, to human nutrition and processing and enterprise development.

Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.
Walp.), also commonly known as black-eyed peas , is an annual legume and is one of the most ancient crops known to man.

Worldwide, cowpea is grown
on about 10.1 million hectares, with annual grain production at approximately

4.99 million tons (FAO 2008). The largest production is in Africa, with Nigeria and Niger predominating. The largest areas under cultivation are in Central and West Africa. Brazil, Haiti, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Australia, the US, Bosnia, and Herzegovina also have significant production.

All parts of the plant that
are used for food are nutritious, providing protein, vitamins (notably vitamin

B) and minerals. It is also a highly variable crop, cultivated around the world not only for its seed but also as vegetable, cover crop, and fodder. The cowpea haulm is a great source of quality livestock feed. Cowpea is also used as a green manure crop, for fixing nitrogen, or for soil erosion control.

However, every stage of
cowpea s life cycle has at least one major insect pest. The crop is susceptible to a number of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases as well as parasitic plants such as Striga and Alectra. And since cowpea is grown mainly in the dry savanna areas where irrigation is practically non-existent, the irregular rainfall which is characteristic of the region adversely affects the crop s productivity.

Since 1970, the
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in collaboration with various partners in developing countries and advanced research institutions, has been working to develop and distribute improved cowpea seeds and new germplasm lines to over 60 countries. IITA maintains a collection of about 15,000 accessions of cultivated cowpea and 1,500 accessions of cowpea wild relatives.

Through the years,
considerable progress has been made worldwide in cowpea breeding, and a range of varieties has been developed with resistance to several pests and diseases and higher yields with lesser inputs. Improved varieties have also been developed for grain and fodder.

Among the most promising
technologies developed are varieties resistant to Striga, Alectra, aphids, and bruchids; improved storage techniques using solar drying; and the use of botanical pesticides in the field and in storage.

The conference aims to
present the state of the art in cowpea research, building upon these technological advances to move the science of cowpea forward, with the ultimate aim of identifying myriads of opportunities for cowpea growers to gain higher incomes, greater food security, and lead healthier lives.

With the range of expertise
expected to attend the conference and share knowledge and information, organizers believe that the event will also increase the public s awareness and appreciation of cowpea, hopefully leading to more support to scientists to carry out cutting-edge research to further develop the crop thereby realizing its potential.

The conference is organized
by IITA in cooperation with the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Programme (Pulse-CRSP), Purdue University, and the Institut Senegalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA).