Scientists gathering in Dakar to assess threats to the survival and production of cowpea
Dakar, Senegal – Hundreds of experts from around the world will gather in Dakar, Senegal from 27 September to 1 October 2010 for the Fifth World Cowpea Research Conference to discuss threats to the survival and farm production of black eyed peas – one of Africa’s oldest and most resilient and nutritious crops.
From its humble origins in the drier regions of West Africa, where farmers have grown the black-eyed pea, also known as cowpea, for 5000 years, it was carried to the United States in the bellies of slave ships, and then introduced to the world through international trade. Today, black-eyed peas are a global commodity, grown in nearly every region of the world. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 70 percent of total world production.
In years to come, scientists believe that black-eyed peas could lead the way in Africa’s effort to fight malnutrition among its growing population and confront the effects of climate change. The shifting weather patterns threatening to desiccate farmer’s fields across the continent put a spotlight on crops like the black-eyed pea that are rich in vitamins and protein and do well in hot, dry conditions. Black-eyed peas have the added benefit of releasing nitrogen that revives depleted soils.
“Black-eyed peas have been largely neglected despite their multiple benefits and the fact that developing new, high-yield varieties could boost farm incomes by as much as 50 percent while improving household nutrition,” said Hartmann, director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which is co-hosting the World Cowpea Research Conference with the Government of Senegal, the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program, and Purdue University. “Today we see scientists racing against time to rescue and conserve cowpea varieties that can help farmers deal with pests and diseases and adapt to changing environments.”
Scientists will meet in Dakar to discuss key constraints to cowpea production, share progress being made in advanced cowpea genomics, and consider the best ways to unlock cowpea’s potential as a hedge against climate change, hunger, and poverty.
Among the issues to be discussed:
- Rescuing cowpea from extinction: Progress on global efforts to rescue the cowpea gene pool.
- “Designer” peas: State-of-the-art genetic research to develop “designer,” insect-resistant black-eyed peas.
- Cashing in on cowpea: Improved varieties offer a pathway out of poverty.
- Space food: NASA’s efforts to use cowpea as food for astronauts because of its exceptional nutritional value and potential for cultivation in space station greenhouses.
- Cowpea genemap: Update work to produce a new genetic map for cowpea which has used methods developed through the Human Genome Project to accelerate efforts to breed improved varieties.
- Biological controls for cowpea pests: Utilizing genomics tools to develop and deploy biocontrol agents to manage insect pest populations.
- Green-er farming: How farmers are using cowpea as “green” fertilizers to revitalize degraded soils, and use crop waste as energy-rich feed for cows, sheep, and goats.
- Postharvest – Reducing insect damage to cowpea in storage is a cost-effective way to increase the food supply. Millions of African farmers are using hermetic storage without insecticides to safely store cowpea.
- Cowpea-based food entrepreneurship: Cowpea-based street foods provide income for thousands of women in West and Central Africa. New food technologies and better business methods have the potential to up their profits.
What: Fifth World Cowpea Conference
When: 27 September – 1 October 2010
Where: Palm Beach Hotel, Saly, Senegal (Palm Beach, Saly)
Web site: http://cowpea2010.iita.org/