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Cowpea: Needs and Opportunities

by Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, Joan Fulton and Ousmane Coulibaly

Key Needs and Opportunities in Cowpea Marketing and Economics Research:

* Seed Systems - Improved genetics has little impact unless it is in the hands of growers. Seed systems in most cowpea-producing countries in Africa are poorly developed. Bt cowpea and other genetically modified cowpea varieties will put additional stress on these weak seed systems. Research is needed to:

  1. Develop business models for sustainable private seed organizations.
  2. Identify opportunities and threats for seed organizations in Africa linked to Bt cowpea and other genetically modified cowpea varieties.
  3. Assess grower preferences for cowpea seed, including preferences for packaging, seed treatment, and agronomic characteristics.

* Women and Cowpea-Based Food Enterprises - Cowpea fritters (called "kosai" in Hausa and "akara" in some other African languages) and other cowpea based street foods are sold throughout West and Central Africa . These cowpea based snacks and meals are consumed by people from a wide range of social groups, but especially by laborers and school children. Most of these foods are produced and sold by women on the street or in simple stalls. Preliminary evidence from Senegal and Niger suggests that many women are abandoning tradition cowpea based foods for less nutritious, but also less labor intensive wheat flour-based products that are cheaper to produce. Research is needed to:

  1. Adapt and transfer economical labor saving production techniques for cowpea based foods.
  2. Assess the preferences of kosai buyers, including preferences for texture, color, flavorings, etc.
  3. Develop sustainable business models that would allow these women cowpea food entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
  4. Identify gender related issues in cowpea food businesses (e.g., access to credit, regulatory issues).

* Cowpea Markets in Eastern and Southern Africa - The structure and functioning of cowpea grain markets in West and Central Africa were described by Langyintuo et al. (Field Crops Research, 2003) and this information is being used to guide production, utilization and marketing work in that region. The knowledge of cowpea markets in eastern and southern Africa is more rudimentary and inadequate for planning research and development in those regions. Research is needed to:

  1. Map where cowpea grain is grown, transported and marketed in eastern and southern Africa.
  2. Measure consumer preferences of cowpea grain and leaves (used as a vegetable).
  3. Identify cowpea production areas with a competitive advantage and cowpea consumption areas with unsatisfied demand.

* Cowpea Forage as Livestock Feed - Cowpea forage is widely used as livestock feed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cowpea forage is more profitable than cowpea grain in areas immediately around Sahelian cities. In South Africa , cowpea is widely used as forage by commercial farmers. The market for cowpea forage is poorly understood. A more complete knowledge of buyer preferences and constraints is needed to guide cowpea breeders, agronomic and pest management researchers and development efforts. Research is needed to:

  1. Map the production, transport and marketing of cowpea forage in Africa.
  2. Measure the preferences of cowpea forage buyers in West and Central Africa , including leaf to stem ratio, color and maturity stage at harvest.
  3. Develop economical production systems for cowpea forage, including attention to variety choice (e.g. forage or dual purpose varieties), rotations, pest management, harvesting methods, and transport alternatives.

* Improving efficiency of Cowpea Based Crop Production Systems - Market research indicates that the demand for cowpea grain in West and Central Africa is quite elastic. Because of export markets in Nigeria and elsewhere, there is usually a ready market for "surplus" production and the price collapses that plague cereal markets in high production years are less of an issue. To take advantage of this opportunity West African cowpea growers need to increase production, reduce labor requirements and lower unit cost of production. Interdisciplinary research is needed to:

  1. Identify key economic bottlenecks to increasing cowpea production and new opportunities in West and Central Africa.
  2. Adapt labor saving production techniques to local conditions (e.g. use of animal drawn planters or semoirs, whole plant harvesting and threshing to reduce labor requirements, herbicide use).
  3. Improve and transfer economical and environmentally sound pest management techniques for field and storage pests.
  4. Develop sustainable business models for cowpea input supply and marketing enterprises.

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