Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a protein-rich grain that complements staple cereal and starchy tuber crops, but also provides fodder for livestock, soil improvement benefits through nitrogen fixation, and household benefits in the form of cash and income diversity. It is commonly grown in the semi-arid tropics covering Africa, Asia, Europe, United States and Central and South America. The grains contain 25% protein and several vitamins and minerals.
Cowpea is highly drought tolerant with deep roots that help stabilize the soil and dense foliage that shades the soil surface, preserving moisture. This causes it to grow well in a wide variety of soils. Besides, being a legume, it replenishes low fertility soils when the roots are left to decay. It is mostly grown in the hot drought-prone savannas and arid Sahelian agro-ecologies, where it is often inter-cropped with pearl millet and sorghum. More than 5.4 million tons of dried cowpeas are produced worldwide, with Africa producing nearly 5.2 million.
Cowpea on-farm grain yields in Africa reach only 10–30% of their biological yield potential, primarily due to insect and disease attacks and drought.
Nigeria, the largest producer and consumer, accounts for 61% of production in Africa and 58% worldwide. It is estimated that 200 million children, women and men in West Africa consume the grain daily.