The varieties were developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and have undergone participatory varietal selection with farmers in the central and northern region of Burkina Faso.
Local farmers and researchers selected the varieties from a basket of options after a two-year trial, thanks to funds from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
The varieties being selected are early maturing and high yielding and are also resistant to Striga—a parasitic weed that limits the yield of cowpea.
“These varieties mature in about 60 days as opposed to local varieties that mature in about 80-90 days,” says Dr Haruki Ishikawa, IITA Project Coordinator for the Appropriate Varieties of Early maturing Cowpea for Burkina Faso (AVEC-BF) project.
Generally, cowpea is an important crop in Burkina Faso as it provides food and cash for farmers, and fodder for livestock. Most local varieties in the country record a yield of between 400 kg and 600 kg per hectare.
“But the new varieties have a potential yield of 2170Kg/ha,” Dr Ishikawa said.
Farmers love the varieties for their yield, color and cooking qualities and have given the varieties the following local names: Yiis yande, which means a crop that helps farmers to escape from shame arising from hunger; and Niizwe, meaning a crop that has brought an end to hunger.
Burkina Faso's Research, Science & Innovation Minister, Gnissa Isaïe Konaté, who is also a researcher, said that the physical qualities of the varieties such as color and bigger size were appealing and would make farmers more competitive in the region.
“Also these varieties will help farmers to adapt better with climate change,” he added.
Dr Satoru Muranaka, a scientist with the Japan International Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), who initiated the project while working for IITA, notes that the improved varieties offer a lot of benefits to farmers.
“For instance, because these varieties are early maturing, they will help cowpea farmers to escape from drought. Also farmers now have a crop that they can harvest early, consume, and sell to generate income when other crops are still on the field. Such incomes help farmers to pay school fees for their children. Again, with protein content of about 20 percent, cowpea provides a good option to tackle malnutrition in local communities,” Dr Muranaka added.
Dr. Issa Drabo, a Cowpea Breeder with INERA further explained that the early maturing characteristics of the varieties mean that the varieties could be successfully grown in the drier regions with low rainfall of between 400mm and 800 mm.
The AVEC-BF project is a research for development project that aims to disseminate improved varieties.
The project is developing new dissemination system for cowpea that combines selection of appropriate varieties for the region, community seed system, and farmer field school activities with the ultimate goal of improving access of farmers to improved varieties and technologies.
Japanese Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Tsutomu Sugiura called for the scaling up of the project, having recorded significant milestones in a short period of time.
“This is the kind of project that should be supported to continue. I hope it will not stop at this stage,” he said.