Breeding of vegetable cowpea for nutrition and climate resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa: progress, opportunities, and challenges

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Mekonnen, Tesfaye Walle
Gerrano, Abe Shegro
Mbuma, Ntombokulunga Wedy
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Currently, the world population is increasing, and humanity is facing food and nutritional scarcity. Climate change and variability are a major threat to global food and nutritional security, reducing crop productivity in the tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. Cowpea has the potential to make a significant contribution to global food and nutritional security. In addition, it can be part of a sustainable food system, being a genetic resource for future crop improvement, contributing to resilience and improving agricultural sustainability under climate change conditions. In malnutrition prone regions of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, cowpea has become a strategic dryland legume crop for addressing food insecurity and malnutrition. Therefore, this review aims to assess the contribution of cowpea to SSA countries as a climate-resilient crop and the existing production challenges and perspectives. Cowpea leaves and immature pods are rich in diverse nutrients, with high levels of protein, vitamins, macro and micronutrients, minerals, fiber, and carbohydrates compared to its grain. In addition, cowpea is truly a multifunctional crop for maintaining good health and for reducing non-communicable human diseases. However, as a leafy vegetable, cowpea has not been researched and promoted sufficiently because it has not been promoted as a food security crop due to its low yield potential, susceptibility to biotic and abiotic stresses, quality assurance issues, policy regulation, and cultural beliefs (it is considered a livestock feed). The development of superior cowpea as a leafy vegetable can be approached in different ways, such as conventional breeding and gene stacking, speed breeding, mutation breeding, space breeding, demand-led breeding, a pan-omics approach, and local government policies. The successful breeding of cowpea genotypes that are high-yielding with a good nutritional value as well as having resistance to biotics and tolerant to abiotic stress could also be used to address food security and malnutrition-related challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.
Climate change, Cowpea, Food, Gene pyramiding, Nutrition security, Speed breeding
Mekonnen, T.W., Gerrano, A.S., Mbuma, N.W., & Labuschagne, M.T. (2022). Breeding of vegetable cowpea for nutrition and climate resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa: progress, opportunities, and challenges. Plants, 11, 1583.