The value added of new cowpea variety

The IT89KD-288 dual-purpose cowpea variety, producing grain and fodder for animal and human consumption is increasingly considered attractive, thanks to increased income per household improving livelihoods. Since the development in 1990s, as a key driver to agricultural income growth, the cowpea varieties have made impact on the poorest people in Nigeria.

The standalone innovation (variety) through its grains and haulm is a source of plant protein and vitamins for humans and fodder for animals. Thus, the fodder is an additional source of cash income for those farmers who do not feed many livestock. Then the crop itself, being rich in protein makes it an important source of low-cost nutrition for the urban and rural poor who cannot afford meat and milk. Indeed, cowpea grains contain on an average 25% protein and 64% carbohydrate, thereby helping alleviate hunger and malnutrition among resource-poor farmers and low income rural and urban people. The varieties in their diverse versions have been well-known to contribute to moving poor rural dwellers out of poverty. Improved cowpea varieties benefit rural and urban poor and helped reduce poverty by 5 percentage points in Nigeria in 2016, which is equivalent to about 929,450 people lifted out of poverty.

Providing positive impact on nutrition and livelihoods, on a systematic level this innovation contributes to food security (SDG2) and poverty reduction (SDG1).

What challenge does it address?

In general, the lack of access to information on the availability and benefits of improved cowpea varieties is one of the major constraints to the adoption of these varieties. Furthermore, the inadequate supply of improved seeds, high cost of seeds and insecticides, pests and diseases were revealed as the major constraints. According to researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA, 2006), every stage in the life cycle of cowpea has at least one major insect pest. In Nigeria, non-improved varieties are constrained by several factors which include low yield potential, day-length sensitivity, late flowering, biotic stresses (insect pests, diseases, striga and alectra infestations), abiotic stresses (drought, heat and low soil fertility).

Where does the innovation thrive?

The standalone variety IT89KD-288 is very attractive to mixed crop-livestock systems dominant in the Sahel and dry Savannah agro-ecologies of West Africa. In a first adoption study carried out in 1997, only shortly after its dissemination, the authors found that 75% of farmers surveyed in Bunkure Local Government Area in Kano State of Nigeria had adopted dry-season dual-purpose cowpea varieties, with T89KD-288 being the most popular (89%). Amongst its advantages, cowpea can fit as a niche crop in multiple cropping systems involving maize, sorghum, and millet. Being a legume, it provides soil nitrogen for its use and accompanying and subsequent crops.

Projects and partners involved

Since 2007, theTropical Legumes II and III projects have supported the development of additional varieties while also helping to promote their beneficial characteristics including high yielding, drought-tolerant, resistant to striga, alectra and resistance to insect pests. Thanks to the Tropical Legumes Projects, the cowpea seed systems have also been improved with 5,308 tons of certified seeds produced between 2008 to 2016 as essential and complementary innovations. Other projects, such as the Sudan Savanna Taskforce project, funded by the EU Department for International Development, helped to facilitate information flow and linkages which are key for the wide dissemination of improved cowpea varieties. Effectively, the Sudan Savanna Taskforce used Innovation Platforms (IPs) comprising a coalition of partners and stakeholders, one in Musawa Local Government Area and another in Safana Local Government Area, all in Katsina State of Nigeria to facilitate knowledge transmission, synergies and awareness of improved cowpea varieties. The project aimed at agricultural intensification and integrated natural resource management to improve the rural livelihoods in the Sudan Savanna using innovation platforms that bring together partners including scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, IITA, NGOs, private sector actors, policymakers (especially at the local level) and the Katsina State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KTARDA) which latter provides extension services helping to promote the adoption of cowpea varieties.

The innovation’s reach and results

Often, technological developments are constrained by structural barriers such as costs, location and know-how. However, cowpea varieties have been accessed by farmers without these barriers due to complementary innovations such as cowpea seed systems, and helping farmers access quality seeds, thereby experiencing an increase in productivity by their crops. Consequently, over 20 cowpea varieties including IT89KD-288 have been disseminated since their development and release.

Nigeria is estimated to have a 45% share of the global cowpea production and over 55% of the production in Africa. Since its development by IITA, the dual-purpose cowpea variety IT89KD-288 has been widely adopted. Effectively, results from a nationally representative survey involving more than 1500 households showed that over 40% of the cowpea growers adopted improved varieties on over 1 million hectares of land. Adoption of these varieties was also associated with an average of 26% yield gains, 14% decrease in production costs, and 61% increase in net returns per hectare (Manda et al., 2019a). Moreover, the results based on the observed and counterfactual income and asset distributions showed that adoption reduced both income poverty and asset poverty by 5 percentage points (Manda et al., 2019b).

What to include in the innovation package?

To increase the benefits derivable from the technology, there is need for putting in place the enabling policies that would increase the adoption, dissemination, and impact of these cowpea varieties in Nigeria. For example, the promotion of basic education among smallholder farmers can  increase the adoption. There is a positive correlation between the two (Onu, 2006). When farmers are more educated, they have the know-how to understand, search and access information more easily, thereby helping raise awareness about improved crop varieties and acknowledging the importance and benefits of growing them. Within projects that guide the dissemination of this innovation, information has been key. The findings of Onu (2006) showed that farmers who had access to extension services adopted improved farming technologies had 72% higher productivity growth rate than those who had no access to such services. Therefore, extension services are a complementary practice to include in areas where the services are weak or not available.

Next steps to scale

Going forward and targeting further adoption of this variety, it is suggested to increase the access to information and evidence-based research, which in turn should lead to increase in the awareness of the benefits of this dual-purpose cowpea variety.

The government together with other development agencies should incentivize women participation in crop production by subsidizing farming inputs to remove any barrier of women not being able to access inputs that hinder their participation in farming.

For sustainability, considerable investments should be made to strengthen and improve the cowpea seed systems to ensure that improved seeds are readily available at affordable prices to smallholder farmers. Hence, effective and sustained agricultural research for development is crucial for improving agricultural productivity and efficiency, which in turn will lead to an increase in income, food security, and poverty reduction.

Author: Victoria Clarke, Knowledge Management Research Fellow, CRP-GLDC


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This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.  

Featured image: A farming household harvesting from their cowpea field. (c) International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (Flickr).  

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