Cowpea is an essential crop in sub-Saharan Africa. The resilient nature of Cowpea makes it easy to grow in regions with low-quality soils and little rainfall. At the same time, low phosphorus content and drought affect the crop and decrease its yield.
Therefore, researchers tried to determine the root characteristics in the current study. This study aims at helping plants grow in dry and low phosphorous soil.
Saba Mohammad, a researcher at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, has led the research. She said it is crucial to develop cowpea varieties that can produce maximum yield under stressful conditions. According to her, their research will help people to get more nutritious food.
This research about Cowpea varieties has been published in the journal of Crop Science.
Importance of Cowpeas
Here’re some benefits of the Cowpeas:
- Cowpea is the primary source of calories and proteins.
- One can use the Cowpea as green manure and animal fodder.
- Root nodules of the Cowpea contain microbes, which boost soil fertility.
- Microbes in the Cowpea roots also help in fixing atmospheric nitrogen. This process is known as nitrogen fixation. Thanks to this process, farmers can avoid the application of nitrogenous fertilizers.
Research Indicates That Improved Root Characteristics Could Improve the Cowpea Yield
Cowpeas are primarily produced in semi-arid regions. Poor soils and harsh environmental conditions hinder the production of Cowpea. Mohammed finds that yield of cowpea plants could be increased with the help of specific root characteristics even if the phosphorus content is low.
Specific root characteristics for better yield
Different root features decide the tolerance of the Cowpea plant to poor soils and drought.
Root features that could boost the yield of Cowpea plants are:
- Higher number of lateral roots
- Longer primary roots
- Root hairs
For instance, only cowpea plants with denser and longer roots hairs can give the best yield in soil with low phosphorous content. According to Mohammad, root hairs play a crucial role in phosphorus absorption from soil.
Roots are undoubtedly critical in helping plants adapt to stressful environmental conditions. Mohammed considers roots half of the entire plant system. Moreover, she is well aware of how under-explored roots are when finding solutions for farming problems.
How does the root system boost the yield?
The root system boosts crop yield by extracting nutrients from the soil through different strategies.
Just imagine your plant is experiencing drought. In such a condition, you will get a better yield from plants with deeper roots. On the other hand, shallow-rooted plants are suitable for soil with suboptimal nutrients. The reason is the higher concentration of required nutrients (phosphorous) in the upper soil layer.
So, if you’re growing the Cowpea plant in nutrient-limited and dry soils, the roots of the plants should spread wide and go deeper.
“Our study shows that we can focus on cowpea varieties with longer taproots for drought tolerance and higher numbers of shallower basal roots to extract soil nutrients,” says Mohammed.
No doubt, analysis of root features is a source of useful information. However, it is an exhausting process. Mohammad finds a solution for this process and mentions that it is economical to determine the root phenotype at the seedling stage.
Once you examine the Cowpea roots at the seedling stage, you can easily determine the beneficial root characteristics of a mature plant.
According to Mohammed, they want to develop new varieties with better yields. These new varieties can yield better even if the soil is phosphorus and water deficient.
Importance of current research
Phosphorus fertilizers are not affordable for many small farmers. The Cowpea varieties developed after this research are to help such farmers. Moreover, these new varieties are also valuable in systems that use intensive fertilizers and irrigation.
Some other benefits of new Cowpea varieties are:
- Reduction in production costs
- Minimization of fertilizer use
- Reduction of environmental pollution