New cowpea varieties offer promise in South Africa, other parts of the world

AgriLife Research and Buffett Foundation partner on research project
Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. B.B. Singh, 979-845-3041, bsingh@ag.tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – New cowpea varieties developed by Texas A&M University and tested at the Nature Conservation Trust Ukulima Farm in South Africa could make a major contribution toward production in other tropical and subtropical countries, according to one of the breeders.

Dr. B.B. Singh said he is seeing good performance by many other cowpea varieties under test at Ukulima Farm. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo Dr.  B.B. Singh)

Dr. B.B. Singh said he is seeing good performance by many cowpea varieties under test at Ukulima Farm. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo Dr. B.B. Singh)

Dr. B.B. Singh, a visiting scholar and cowpea breeder with the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department,  in the greenhouse with cowpea plants at  Texas A&M University in College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Dr. B.B. Singh, a visiting scholar and cowpea breeder with the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department, in the greenhouse with cowpea plants at Texas A&M University in College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

(left to right) Drs. Joseph Asiwe and B.B. Singh with two students from the University of Limpopo show off the pod load on cowpea varieties at Ukulima Farm in February. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

(left to right) Drs. Joseph Asiwe and B.B. Singh with two students from the University of Limpopo show off the pod load on cowpea varieties at Ukulima Farm in February. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Cowpea is a major food legume and a source of dietary protein for masses in Africa, Asia and South America, according to Dr. B.B. Singh, a visiting scholar and cowpea breeder with the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department in College Station.

“The dry grains from cowpeas are used as a pulse (edible seed) and its young leaves, pods and green seeds are also used as a vegetable,” Singh said. “It is also a good source of nutritious fodder for livestock and the fallen cowpea residues and roots contribute to soil fertility.”

The varieties being tested at the Ukulima Farm, and also in College Station and Beeville, are varieties developed during the last five years from crosses involving the best cowpea lines from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and those from Texas A&M, he said.

Singh said the new stress-resilient cowpea varieties combine extra-early maturity (60-70 day), high protein and high yield potential with resistance to major diseases and aphids, as well as high levels of tolerance to heat and drought.

These were first tested at two locations in Texas and at the Ukulima Farm in South Africa in 2012-13, he said.

The Ukulima Farm, which spans about 9,200 acres in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, is owned by the Nature Conservation Trust and funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Part of the farm is dedicated to agricultural research. Buffett Foundation research partners include Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University, the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization and Penn State.

Among several research projects at Ukulima Farm, AgriLife Research approved a project entitled “Improved Cowpea Varieties and Pulse Legume-Based Cropping Systems to Reduce Biotic Stress in Sub-Saharan Africa” for three years in 2012. This project is led by Singh, Dr. Joseph Awika, Texas A&M soil and crop science assistant professor in College Station, and Dr. Jamie Foster, AgriLife Research forage agronomist at Beeville. They are joined by Dr. Joseph Asiwe, as a research partner from the University of Limpopo, South Africa.

For the project, the first set of four cowpea variety trials comprising a total of 97 varieties ranging in maturity and plant type were planted on Dec. 13-14, he said. Singh said he visited the trials on Feb. 22 and noticed excellent pod load and early maturity in most of the new varieties.

“The excellent performance of the new cowpea varieties was a great attraction to all the scientists in other programs and visitors passing through Ukulima Farm,” Singh said. “While we wait for the actual yield data after harvesting is complete, we are confident that the new cowpea varieties have tremendous potential to increase cowpea production in the Southern African region.”

The same varieties have yielded between 1.5 to 2 tons per hectare within 60-65 days in the 2012 trials at the two Texas locations, he said.

He said the project will need to continue for a few more years to enable the scientists to test and distribute the seeds of these varieties to many national programs in the region.

Singh said other programs, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Program for Mozambique and Zambia in partnership with the Norman Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M, could greatly benefit from the experiences gained at Ukulima Farm.

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