The Kenya Cereals Enhancement Programme -Climate-resilient agricultural livelihoods (kcep-cral): Cowpea extension manual



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Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization


Cowpea Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. is an important grain legume in the farming systems of Kenya since it is a major source of dietary protein and income for the people. The crop is usually grown at subsistence level as an intercrop with maize, sorghum, millet and/or cassava. It also play an important role in soil fertility improvement, suppression of weed, supply of vegetables and dry grain after maturity. Cowpea rank second to beans in importance as vegetable protein food crops. It is consumed in the form of whole leaves or dried grains. The mean crude protein levels of leaves, grains and crop residues are 32 -34%, 23 – 35%, and 11 – 12% respectively. Cowpea is mainly grown as a green leafy vegetable in Western Kenya and for grain in the dry lands of Eastern, Coast and Nyanza regions. Cowpea grown as a vegetable requires rich soils and high rainfall. In contrast, cowpea grown for grain requires low rainfall and high temperature. About 85% of total area under cowpea production in the eastern region of Kenya, is under intercropping systems with maize and or cassava. Despite cowpea importance, its yields have remain low, or even declined. Low yields result from low soil fertility, poor agronomic practices, pest, diseases and poor postharvest management. Use improved and good crop management options could greatly reduce losses. The grain is rich in protein, up to around 30% in some varieties. It also has micronutrients such as iron and zinc, which are necessary for healthy living. Women particularly value cowpea, which helps to bridge the “hunger months” prior to the main cereal harvest and also a source of cash to the rural and urban households. Relative to other grain legumes and vegetable crops, cowpea possess multiple advantages for farmers. Cowpea is tolerant to drought and high temperatures as compared to other grain legumes. It is able to capture atmospheric nitrogen, providing symbiotic nitrogen fixation and hence improving soil fertility. Cowpea is cultivated with other crops as it tolerates shade and also covers the ground quickly, preventing erosion. It is thus a valuable component of farming systems in areas where soil fertility is limiting. It is intercropped with cereals in rotation.


Manual booklet




Esilaba, al. (2021). KCEP-CRAL Cowpea Extension Manual. Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Nairobi, Kenya