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Development of resilient cowpea varieties by the application of Marker Assisted Breeding (MAB) for the West and Central Africa Sub-Region

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The cowpea improvement research team at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Centre de Maroua, Cameroon. Left to right: Dr Liliane Iyale, Dr Arlette Zaiya Zazou, Dr Sobda Gonné, Ms Merline Fankou, Ms Yvonne Djeoufo, Mr Dieudonné Gnapou and Mr David Amedep.




The Kirkhouse Trust (KT) cowpea breeding programme in Cameroon focuses on the improvement of two varieties important in the country: Lori and Vya. In the first phase of the project, Lori and Vya were respectively crossed to IT98K-205-8 and IT99K-573-1-1, two varieties resistant to the parasitic weed Striga, a major constraint to cowpea production in Cameroon. Backcross breeding populations were developed, and selection was assisted by the use of C42B-2B, a molecular marker linked to the gene conferring Striga resistance in IT98K-205-8 and IT99K-573-1-1. Resistance to Striga was also confirmed by growing the plants in the screen house in pots with soil containing Striga seeds: the weed is only able to germinate and grow on susceptible plants.


Two Striga resistant improved Lori derived varieties IR15 MA02 and IR15 MA33 (Lori-2 and Lori-3) were released in 2019. They are very similar but differ in seed size. The release of Vya derived Striga varieties is to follow: three promising lines were identified in 2019 (IR16 MA-P; IR16 MA-K and IR16 MA-A).


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Improved Striga resistant Lori-derived varieties released in Cameroon in 2019: Lori-2 (i and ii); and Lori-3 (iii and iv).

Disease resistant and early maturing cowpea varieties used in other West African cowpea breeding programmes were gathered to identify potential donors for a marker assisted backcross programme. In order to incorporate resistance to aphid, the Striga resistant Vya derived varieties (IR16 MA-K and IR16 MA-P) were crossed with the aphid resistant donor variety SARC-1-57. Backcross populations were also developed from the cross between the Striga resistant Lori-derived varieties (IR15 MA02 and IR15 MA33) and SARC-1-57.


The cowpea varieties developed at IRAD combining resistance to Striga and aphid are currently being further improved to incorporate resistance or tolerance to Brown blotch and Fusarium (important diseases) and early maturity. Screenhouse trials to identified sources of Colletotrichum and Fusarium resistance were also performed.

The July 2021 edition of the Kirkhouse Trust newsletter was dedicated to the Cameroon team. Read it here.

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First year trials for the Lori-derived Striga and aphid resistant lines (2023).



The overall goal of the cowpea improvement programme is to develop farmer preferred cowpea varieties resistant or tolerant to multiple constraints to production (Striga, insects, and key diseases in the region) which are well adapted to the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Cameroon, using modern molecular breeding tools. The objectives of the current grant (2023-2025) are:


  1. To advance cowpea improved lines combining Striga and aphid resistance for field trials.

  2. To further improve the cowpea varieties developed which combine resistances to Striga and aphid with resistance or tolerance to Brown blotch using marker assisted selection.

  3. To introduce resistance or tolerance to Fusarium in the Striga and aphid resistant varieties developed by the programme using marker assisted selection.

  4. To develop early maturing cowpea varieties well adapted to the local semi-arid conditions.

Progress to date

  1. First year trials for the Lori-2 and Lori-3 derived cowpea lines combining resistance to Striga and aphid were carried out at the IRAD research at Guring with good results.

  2. The best performing lines have been selected for further improvement to incorporate resistance to brown blotch disease and to Fusarium (currently at F1).
  3. F1 populations were developed between the Striga and aphid resistant Lori derived advanced breeding lines (4) and CB27, and early maturing cowpea variety.
  4. Seed multiplication (in the screenhouse) is underway for the multi-location tests during the next 2024 rainy season.
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Cowpea plants growing in pots on soil containing seeds of Striga to select resistant plants resistant to the parasitic weed, pictured are (i); susceptible plants because Striga weed were able to germinate and grew (arrow); (ii); aphids feeding on the young leaves of a cowpea seedling; (iii); Dr Gonné making crosses in the greenhouse; (iv); IR19 MA33 field trials, 2019.


Sobda plus team
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Dr Sobda Gonné

Principal Investigator, Institut de Recherche Agricole pour le Développement (IRAD), Centre de Maroua, Cameroon.

Dr Gonné, a former KT PhD Scholar, has led the KT-funded cowpea improvement programme in Cameroon since its inception in 2008. He holds a Master's degree in Crop Protection from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and a PhD from the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), entitled “Genetic studies of cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] for resistance to thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti Trybom) in Cameroon".


Dr Arlette Zaiya Zazou

Molecular Breeder

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Dr Liliane Iyale Laboratory Technician

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Mr David Amedep Data Management Scientist

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Mr Dieudonné Gnapou

Data Management Scientist

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Mr Ba-Ada Sawil

KT MSc student

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Ms Yvonne Djeoufo

Data Management Scientist

Mr Serges Tebaya Zabi

KT MSc student

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Mr Pierre Metsena

PhD Student

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Ms Merline Fankou 

Former KT Scholar, MSc Completed

Graduated 2018


  • Metsena, P., Kosma, P., Fankou, D.M.Y and Ndouvahad, L. (2021).  Identification of Fusarium oxysporum sf tracheiphilum strains responsible of cowpea wilt in Far-north region of Cameroon. Journal of Applied Biosciences 164: 17001-17011.

  • Iyale L., Noubissie J.B., Mapongmetsem P.M., . and Djile B. (2018). Genetic screening of cowpea varieties [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] for Aphis craccivora resistance in the Sudano-Sahelian Zone of Cameroon. Asian Journal of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering 1: 1-15.

  • Gonné, S., Mewounko, A., Sakati, P.D. and Ndaodeme, K., 2018. Farmers' cowpea production constraints and varietal preferences in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Cameroon. International Journal of Innovation and Applied Studies 24: 968-977.

  • Gonné, S., Atemkeng, F.M., Boukar, O., Fatokun, C., Tongoona, P.B., Ayertey, J. and Offei, S.K., 2018. Generation mean analysis in cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] under flower thrips infestation. Journal of Agricultural Science 10: 86.

  • Gonné, S., Boukar, O., Tongoona, P.B., Ayertey, J. and Offei, K.S., 2017. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for cowpea resistance to flower bud thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti Trybom). International Journal of Plant Breeding and Genetics 4: 292-299.

  • Gonné, S., Venasius, W.L. and Laminou, A., 2013. Characterization of some traditional cowpea varieties grown by farmers in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Cameroon. International Journal of Agriculture and Forestry 3: 170-177.


Video Report

Video report 2024, IRAD Cameroon.



Location of Research Station, IRAD Cameroon

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