Cowpea is an herbaceous (without woody stem) crop widely grown in West and Central Africa and Asia. It is one of the staple food items in Nigeria.
The scientific name of this leguminous plant is vigna unguiculata but it is commonly called black-eyed pea, field pea, southern pea, crowder pea, bachapin bean, china pea, among others.
It has taproot with many lateral roots spreading on the soil surface. It produces green pods which turns yellow at maturity.
The pods vary in size, shape, colour or texture. Some may be erect, coiled, green or yellow when they ripe.
The green leaves, immature pods, immature seeds, and the mature dried seeds are food for humans while the stems, leaves, and vines are used to feed animals and are often stored to feed them in the dry season.
However, Nigeria is both the largest producer and consumer of cowpea in the world. It produces 56 percent of total world production.
Cowpea is very nutritious crop highly rich in protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A and C, Vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus etc. Its high protein content makes it the toast of Africa and Asia where malnutrition, hunger and diseases reign supreme as a result of poverty, strife, insurgency and inclement climate change.
Cowpea is cultivated in semi-arid areas as it requires low rainfall and grows well in sandy soil. It is drought-resistant but detests cold weather.
It can be inter-cropped with maize, sorghum and millet with the cereals planted first and the cowpea after some days. As a cover crop, the seeds are not planted very close to one another.
The advantage of the crop is that it suppresses weeds’ growth and prevents erosion. It also improves soil fertility because of its nitrogen. The maturity time may be 100 or 120 days. The hotter the climate, the faster the maturity period. The cowpea is harvested before the cereals.
The crop grows better in drier climates in Nigeria. Borno, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kano, Gombe and Yobe states are major growing areas while Dawanau Market in Kano is the largest market for cowpea. Other states in the country can also grow cowpea.
Diseases And Pests
Cowpeas are attacked by insect pest, parasitic weeds and diseased caused by viruses, fungi and nematodes.
These diseased are prevalent in cool and moisturised environment. Ensure that parasitic weeds such as striga and Alectra are weeded in time to prevent them from choking the plants. It is advisable to plant during late spring when the soil is hot.
Scientists of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have developed new and improved cowpea varieties that have consumer-preferred traits. The varieties are high yielding and fast maturing, while some have resistance to some of the major diseases, pests, nematodes, and parasitic weeds. They are also well adapted to sole planting or intercropping. Some of the rust resistant varieties released into country areTGx1835-10E and TGx1987-62F. You consult the research institute to get the species.
Large Scale Farming
Although cowpea farming is done mostly by smallholder farmers, anyone who has land and access to huge capital and machinery can go into commercial farming.
As a major staple crop, there is a wide demand-supply gap, such that any who invests in it would get high return on investment.
Cowpea can be processed into flour used in the preparation of fried paste called akara or steamed paste known as moi-moin.
Marketing and Profitability
The demand for cowpea is very high because of its nutritional and medicinal properties. It is a cheap source of non-animal protein and carbohydrate.
A 50kg of cowpea goes for between N22,000 and N25,000. The cowpea whether seeds or flour can be packaged and marketed through market traders, food canteens, supermarkets, schools, hospitals and hotels. Even the leaves and stems create wealth as animal feeds. Whichever part you play along the value chain either as a farmer, trader, processor, it is a win-win situation. It cheap and so provides food security for the families.