Monday, September 27, 2010

The total package for beating hunger and poverty

"Cowpea is the wonder crop," Professor Irv Widders, Director of Pulses-CRSP at the Michigan State University, told participants to the 5th World Cowpea Research Conference in Saly, Senegal. "Many people associate pulses with poor people. The message they should be pushin that cowpeas and other pulses are the food of an educated person as one understands the nutritional value of cowpea they will make a conscious effort to consume them."

Cowpeas are treasured for their high protein content (grains contain about 25 percent protein), leaves and stalks that serve as especially nutritious fodder for cows (hence the name cowpea) and other farm animals, and the fact that their roots provide nitrogen to depleted soils. For many in Africa, the crop is a critical source of food during the “lean period”–-the end of the wet season when food can become extremely scarce in semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

The many qualities of the cowpea are being discovered anew for a number of reasons. One is the potential of the cowpea’s high protein content to help satisfy dietary requirements in food-challenged developing countries, particularly in Africa, where over 200 million people remain undernourished.

Prof. Widders warned that the global food crisis was still on and the world remained vulnerable to price fluctuations citing the food riots in Mozambique. Therefore it was important that policy makers should be convinced of the nutritional, health and sustainability value of cowpea to trigger investment in research and improvement in production and market value chains.

"We are dealing with a quality food product and a solution to nutritional needs as well as global health. We would be misguided just to look at one aspect," Prof Widders said lamenting the immense challenges in the way of cowpea helping achieve food security.

Key challenges included dealing with pests and disease, poor storage and high post harvest losses, bad agriculture practises, poor supply and poor farmer-access market linkages. In addition, a decline in the consumption of pulses was also cited as a key challenge confronting scientists as projections suggest that 50 percent more food will be needed by 2050 to feed a world population of 9 billion.

End/Busani Bafana/

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