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Scientific Name: Vigna unguiculata

Family Name: Fabaceae
Origin of the crop (place)
Cowpea is a food and animal feed crop grown in the semi-arid tropics covering Af
rica, Asia, Europe, United States and Central and South America. It originated a
nd was domesticated in Southern Africa and was later moved to East and West Afri
ca and Asia.
Plant Description
Cowpea is an annual summer leguminous plant with varying growth forms. It may be
erect, trailing, climbing or bushy, usually indeterminate under favourable cond
Root: cowpea has a strong taproot and many spreading lateral roots in surface so
Leaves: The first pair of leaves is basic and opposite while the rest are arrang
ed in an alternate patterns and are trifoliate. The leaves are usually dark gree
n in colour. Leaves exhibit considerable variation in size (6 to 16 x 4 to 11 cm
) and shape (linear-lanceolate to ovate).
Stems: Striate, smooth or slightly hairy with some purple shades.
Inflorescence: Flowers are arranged in racemose or intermediate inflorescences a
t the distal ends of 5 to 60 cm long peduncles. Flowers are borne in alternate p
airs, with usually only two to a few flowers per inflorescence. Flowers are cons
picuous, self-pollinating, borne on short pedicels and the corollas may be white
, dirty yellow, pink, pale blue or purple in color.
Fruit and seeds: Seed: Usually the number of seeds per pod may vary from 8 to 20
. The seeds are relatively large (2 to 12 mm long). The testa may be smooth or w
rinkled; white, green, red, brown, black, or eyed or mottled in color. Fruit: po
ds that vary in size, shape, color and texture. They may be erect, crescent-shap
ed or coiled. Usually yellow when ripe, but may also be brown or purple in color
Site Selection
Best soil: Cowpea performs well on a wide variety of soils and soil conditions,
but performs best on well-drained sandy loams or sandy soils where soil pH is in
the range of 5.5 to 6.5.
Climate: Cowpea is a warm-season crop well adapted to many areas of the humid tr
opics and temperate zones. It tolerates heat and dry conditions, but is intolera
nt of frost.
Temperature: Cowpea requires temperatures above 10 C for germination, while optim
al temperatures for growth and development range from 20 to 30 C.
Black-eyed or pink-eyed/purple hull peas
the seeds are white with a black eye ro
und the hilum. The eye can be other colours: pink, purple or shades of red being c
ommon. Upon drying, the eye colour darkens to a dark purple. The pods are purple
-like on the pink-eyed/purple hull type. The seeds are not tightly packed or cro
wded in the pod and are kidney-shaped or oblong.
Brown-eyed peas
pods range in colour from green to lavender and in length. The i
mmature seeds, when cooked, are a medium to dark brown, very tender and have a d
elicate flavour.
Crowder peas
seeds are black, speckled, and brown or brown-eyed. The seeds are cr
owded in the pod and also tend to be globular in shape.
seeds are cream coloured and not crowded in the pods. This is an intermedia
te between the black-eyed and Crowder types.
White acre type
seeds are kidney-shaped with a blunt end, semicrowded and genera
lly tan in colour. Pods are stiff with small seeds.
Clay types
these older varieties are medium to dark brown in colour and kidney- s

haped, but are rarely grown.

Cultural practices and management:
Land prep
The land must not be waterlogged but well drained. During land preparation, the
existing fallow weeds, trees and shrubs in the site are cut down manually, or sla
shed with a tractor and fallen trees should be removed. This should be followed
by plowing and harrowing, using a disc plough and harrow. Some 4 to 6 days betwe
en each operation should be allowed to enhance good soil tilth for good seed ger
mination. The land may be ridged or left as flat seedbeds after harrowing.
Cowpea is grown directly from seed.
Plant population: 150 000 plants per hectare
Row width: 45-75cm
In-row spacing: 10-20cm
The seed should be planted at 3 to 4 cm deep.
Water/fertilizer management:
Cowpeas are grown under both irrigated and non-irrigated regimes. The
nds positively to irrigation but will also produce well under dryland
. Cowpea is more drought resistant than common bean. If irrigation is
vegetative growth and some delay in maturity may result. Application
ld insure that the crop is not overwatered.

crop respo
used, more
rates shou

Fertilizer application in cowpea production depends on anticipated yield and soi
l fertility. As a legume, cowpea fixes its own nitrogen, and rarely requires nit
rogen fertilizer.
Application of a phosphate fertilizer is usually beneficial. It is always advisa
ble to conduct soil analyses and apply fertilizer according to recommended rates
Pest and diseases and control weeding
More than 100 field pests of cowpea can be found in most of the crop production
agroecologies in the world, but four of these
aphids, flower, the legume pod bor
er, and pod sucking bugs are commonly encountered. The diverse cowpea pest compl
ex dictates that a single control strategy is unlikely to produce satisfactory c
Earlier field studies done in eastern and northern parts of Uganda demonstrated
that close spacing (30 20?cm) effectively reduces aphid infestation (early seaso
n pest) but seems to promote thrips, legume pod borers and pod bugs infestation.
The other option for management of early season pests and nematodes is seed dre
ssing, especially with carbofuran. Late season pests are more effectively contro
lled by the use of foliar sprays, the type of pesticide depending on the pest pr
ofile. Intercropping also offers remedial control, but the crop combination must
consider the pest profile, cowpea/sorghum intercrop being effective against aph
ids and thrips, and cowpea/greengram against legume pod borers and pod sucking b
ugs. Selected combinations of agronomic, chemical and cultural control measures,
especially when combined with early planting, offer better management options t
han the use of sole treatments.
Fungal and viral diseases can be reduced by:
treating high quality seed with fungicides labeled for cowpeas
applying cowpea-labeled fungicides in the furrow
avoiding throwing soil against plant steins during cultivation
a four or five year rotation with other crops
seeding into warm, well-prepared soils

planting certified seed of resistant varieties

controlling weeds
the removal of virus-affected plants
1. Mechanical: Use of the rotary hoe and row cultivator in cowpea is similar to
that of soybean. One or two rotary hoeings followed by timely cultivation should
be done when no herbicides are used. One or more cultivations should also be do
ne when herbicides are used.
2. Chemical Control
Cowpea can be harvested at three different stages of maturity: green snaps, gree
n-mature, and dry. Depending on temperature, fresh-market (green-mature) peas ar
e ready for harvest 16 to 17 days after bloom (60 to 90 days after planting). Me
chanical harvest requires the use of a snap bean or green pea harvester. Most do
mestic cowpea production is mechanically harvested, however, hand harvested cowp
eas suffer less damage and the harvest season may continue over a 1 to 3 week pe
riod. One person can hand harvest 12 to 20 bushels of cowpea pods per day.
Mature green cowpeas are normally harvested mechanically by some type of mobile
viner. Dry cowpeas may be windrowed to facilitate drying or straight combined us
ing a small grain or soybean combine.
Post Harvest
The leaves are dried to store for the dry season. Usually they are first steamed
or boded, but not in all places. Sun-drying requires 1 to 3 days; storage for u
p to a year is possible because dried cooked leaves are not damaged to the same
extent as by insects as dried seeds. Excessive losses of P-carotene, vitamin C,
and the amino acid lysine often occur in sun-dried leaves, however, these can be
reduced by minimal cooking followed by drying in the shade.
An estimated 14.5 million hectares of land is planted to cowpea each year worldw
ide. Global production of dried cowpeas in 2010 was 5.5 million metric tons. The
average yield worldwide is estimated at 450 kilograms per hectare. The recent P
hilippine price per kilo is P50.
1. Commercial crop: Cowpea is commonly cultivated as a nutritious and highly pal
atable food source. The seed is reported to contain 24% crude protein, 53% carbo
hydrates, and 2% fat. The leaves and flowers can also be consumed.
2. Forage: Cowpea can be used as forage, hay, and silage.
3. Cover crop/green manure: Cowpea is a quick growing cover crop that produces 2
,500 4,500 lb/acre/yr of dry matter, while providing 100 150 lb/acre of N to the sub
sequent crop Its long taproot and wide, vegetative spread make it an excellent
plant for erosion prevention and weed suppression.
4. Wildlife: Cowpea is eaten by deer as forage, and is commonly used in food plo
ts for deer.
5. Ethnobotany: Cowpea has been a staple crop and important protein source for m
any cultures since the Roman Empire. It was the most commonly cultivated bean us
ed for human consumption in the Old World.
Nutritional value
Table 1. Nutrient content of mature cowpea seed
Protein 24.8%
Fiber 6.3%
Niacin 0.00281%

Production guidelines for Cowpeas. 2011. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries, Republic of South Africa