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Vigna unguiculata (cowpea)

Cowpea is one of the most important pulse crops grown in West and Central Africa. This drought-tolerant crop also has a number of medicinal uses.
Vigna unguiculata in flower

Vigna unguiculata in flower (Photo: ITTA Image Library)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. ssp. unguiculata

Common name: 

cowpea, black-eye bean, black-eye pea, China pea, marble pea (English); niébé, haricot à oœil noir, cornille, voème, haricot dolique (French); caupi, feijão frade (Portuguese)

Conservation status: 

Widespread in cultivation.


Wild types grow well in savannah vegetation, in disturbed localities or as a weed at up to 1,500m altitude. It can also be found in sandy areas, coastlines, woodland, forest edges or swampy areas.

Key Uses: 

Food, fodder, medicine, paper making, fishing material.


Leguminosae/Fabaceae - Papilionoideae
Genus: Vigna

About this species

Vigna unguiculata is a leguminous crop plant belonging to the same genus as bambara groundnut. It was first domesticated in West Africa 5,000-6,000 years ago and today is grown commercially in over 33 countries. It is a hardy crop which thrives in sandy soils and is relatively tolerant of drought. It is considered the most important pulse crop in the savannahs of West and Central Africa where it is also cultivated as a vegetable and to feed livestock.


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