Expression of nutritional traits in vegetable cowpea grown under various South African agro-ecological conditions

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Gerrano, Abe Shegro
Mbuma, Ntombokulunga W.
Mumm, Rita H.
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Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.), a traditional legume food crop indigenous to Africa, has potential as both a vegetable and grain crop in contributing to dietary diversity to support health and address malnutrition, especially for those relying heavily on wheat, maize, and rice. The expression of nutritional traits (protein content and concentrations of iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), and manganese (Mn)) in cowpea leaves was evaluated over diverse agro-ecologies of South Africa and typical agronomic practices of smallholder farmers. The genotypes evaluated displayed genetic variation for all four traits. The mean values of Fe, Zn, Mn and protein content varied from 33.11 to 69.03 mg.100.g−1; 4.00 to 4.70 mg.100.g−1; and 14.40 to 19.63 mg.100.g−1 and 27.98 to 31.98%, respectively. The correlation analysis revealed significant degree of positive association between protein and Zn (r = 0.20), while negative associations were observed between Mn and protein (−0.46) and between Mn and Fe (r = −0.27). Furthermore, the expression of these important nutrient traits was influenced by the climatic conditions represented by six environments (location by year combinations) as is typical of ‘quality’ traits. Additionally, genotype-by-environment interaction effects were detected, suggesting that local soil properties and soil health may play a role in nutritional content in plants, perhaps particularly for legume crops that rely on symbiotic relationships with soil bacterial populations to fix nitrogen, which is crucial to protein formation. Further studies are needed to understand how to coordinate and align agronomic and soil management practices in vegetable cowpea production, especially those workable for the smallholder farmer, to realize the full genetic potential and nutritional value of improved vegetable cowpea varieties.
Cowpea leaves, Vegetable cowpea, Genotype by environment interaction, GxE, Minerals, Protein content, Nutrition, Genetic improvement
Gerrano, A.S., Mbuma, N.W., & Mumm, R.H. (2022). Expression of nutritional traits in vegetable cowpea grown under various South African agro-ecological conditions. Plants, 11, 1422.