Over 66.5% of the Ethiopian arable land falls within dryland environments where rainfall is usually inadequate, poorly distributed, and varies with years and seasons. To support crop production in dryland areas of the country, there is a need for selection of drought tolerant and short-season crop varieties that fit the growing season of such areas. Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a drought-tolerant food legume crop that is adapted to the semi-arid regions of the tropics and sub-tropics.
Ethiopia is a center of diversity for cowpea, and the crop is of vital importance to the livelihood of many of the people in Ethiopia. From its production, rural families derive food, animal feed, and cash income. It provides nutritious grain and an inexpensive source of protein. Production statistics for cowpea in Ethiopia are not available, and the crop is often confounded with common beans. Cowpea production in Ethiopia is constrained by several factors including unavailability of improved varieties, poor crop management practices, prevalence of insect pests and diseases and drought conditions.
Since early 1970s, a few cowpea varieties with recommended “production packages” have been released in Ethiopia in a one-size-fits-all fashion. The Ethiopian Government has not given this crop due research attention. It is therefore important to revive research in this crop and to develop more varieties that are adapted to various areas in Ethiopia. The aim is to increase cowpea production, improve small holder household nutrition, improve the soils and possibly increase household incomes from the sale of the cowpea.