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African Cowpea Programme (ACP)


Release of improved local germplasm- an ACP reality!

  • FUAMPEA 1, FUAMPEA 2 (Striga resistant), FUAMPEA 3 and FUAMPEA 4 (Striga resistant and large-seeded)- Nigeria

  • Kirkhouse Benga and Wang Kae (Striga and aphid resistant), Zaayura Pali, Soo Sima, Diffeele (aphid resistant) - Ghana

  • Komcalle, Tiligre, Nafi, and Gourgou (Striga resistant) - Burkina Faso

  • IR15MA 02 and IR15 MA33 (Striga resistant) - Cameroon

  • CZ063 1 (Acar 1), CZ06 2 17 (Simbo), CZ06 1 12, CZ06 4 16, and CZ06 1 05 (Striga resistant) - Mali

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Farmers evaluate advanced breeding lines during field trials, Mali, 2015.

The legume cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is cultivated and consumed widely across Africa. The plant is well adapted to semi-arid conditions, requiring a minimum of both moisture and fertiliser. While the crop is cultivated mainly as a source of protein-rich grain, its vegetative parts also provide an important source of feed for livestock. The symbiotic relationship which cowpea, along with all legumes, establishes with the Rhizobium soil bacterium supplies the plant with soluble nitrogen, which both supports the plants’ growth and benefits the fertility and structure of the soil.


Nigeria, the biggest cowpea producer in the world, harvested in 2019 nearly 3.6 million tonnes of cowpea (global production was 8.9 million tonnes), yet the country needs to import about half a million tonnes annually to meet domestic demand, mainly from Niger, the second largest world producer (source: FAOSTATS).


Increasing the productivity of cowpea would both secure the supply of dietary protein for local populations and provide higher incomes for farmers able to grow cowpea as a cash crop. An additional benefit of breeding for improved resistance to insect depredation or disease is that farmers’ dependence on pesticide use is reduced. 

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ACP (formerly WACC) Annual Meeting, Dakar, Senegal, 2010. Since 2007, an annual ACP meeting has been held in one of the participating countries (the 2020 meeting had to be conducted online).

The African Cowpea Programme (ACP) (formerly West Africa Cowpea Consortium, WACC) was established in 2006 under the scientific leadership of Professor Mike Timko of the University of Virginia, USA. Under the Kirkhouse Trust model, breeders working for African research institutions are trained and supported in the use of marker-assisted selection. The use of molecular markers increases the rapidity and accuracy of selection for a trait introduced by a donor variety into a recipient local cultivar. Importantly, the tools needed to implement molecular breeding are readily available, easily applicable and affordable. In order to achieve the most rapid possible improvement of local farmer-preferred varieties, the consortium focuses on a small set of major production constraints, all of which are under simple genetic control.

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The Kirkhouse Trust (KT) team visit to Burkina Faso, 2010; top row, left to right: Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Dr Benoit Batieno, Sir Ed Southern, Mrs Wetta Sankara Ouramatou, Professor Mike Timko (i). Dr Jean Baptiste Tignegre; Dr Amos Miningou, Dr Robert Koebner and  Ms Deborah Ayeni in the cowpea breeding lab at the University of Makurdi, Nigeria (ii). Mr Colin Dexter, KT's former project administrator for ACP (iii).

During the initial phase of the ACP project, the breeders were engaged in introducing into farmer-preferred varieties resistance against Striga gesnerioides, a parasitic weed which can be highly damaging to the crop’s economic yield. The constraints being addressed have in the meantime been extended to include resistance against aphids and against some key bacterial and fungal diseases. Professor Mike Timko and Dr Robert Koebner provide regular scientific guidance to the projects, and the Timko research group in Virginia both supports the development of new markers and hosts ACP participants for training visits.

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Cowpea production constrains addressed by ACP projects, left to right: Striga parasytic weed; aphids (i); Alectra parasytic weed (ii); brown blotch disease (iii); Fusarium wilt (iv).

To support the breeders in Africa, KT has financed the establishment of a molecular biology laboratory and screen house in each of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. An important activity of KT is to ensure that the consumables and equipment requirements of these laboratories are met through the periodic dispatch of consignments.

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From left to right; Ms Ann Pearce, KT's Procurement Officer, packing a laboratory re-stock consignment in the store of KT's office in Long Hanborough, UK (i); Mr Frederik Awuku (far right) unpacking a KT's laboratory restock consignment at the CSIR- Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Tamale, Ghana (ii). 

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