Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.) is an important crop in Malawi. It provides dietary nutrients and income to poor-resource farmers. However production and productivity are below the potential level due to lack of suitable varieties. The objective of the study was to select the productive and diverse cowpea varieties that are acceptable to farmers and consumers using a participatory variety selection (PVS) strategy. Farmers’ perceptions based on focused group discussions, and interviews varied little among the villages. Yield was the most frequently used selection criteria by farmers, regardless of gender profile. There was great variability for seed production among entries. Other agronomic traits such as days to maturity, seed size, pod shape, disease resistance, growth habit, culinary traits including taste, cooking time, broth color and thickness were used at different stages of the selection process. Initially, farmers were invited at the research stations to select the best 20 lines out of 127 entries. These selected lines were subjected to further evaluation in community plots managed by male and female farmers. The genetic analysis revealed a high level of genetic variation among accessions and confirms the absence of redundancy within the genetic materials used. At the end, farmers selected six entries that were released in the two agricultural development divisions (ADDs). The present study is the first documented case of multidisciplinary approach for the selection of elite accessions while maintaining biodiversity.
Key words: Participatory variety selection, Vigna unguiculata, Malawi, agrobiodiversity, indigenous knowledge.
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