Is cowpea a 'women’s crop' in Mali? Implications for value chain development

Cowpea, produced primarily in West Africa, is valued locally for its agronomic benefits in dryland farming, nutritional content, and contribution to the livelihoods of farming families. Many consider that more investment in cowpea research and development is needed for the crop to achieve its economic potential. Cowpea has long been labeled a “women’s crop.” We test whether this is the case in Mali by exploring five indicators with a combination of primary and secondary databases, interpreting our results in the context of the regional literature. We conclude that in Mali, cowpea is better characterized as a “women’s enterprise.” Men dominate cowpea production, although depending on the agroecology, women specialize in cowpea. Women appear to earn more from selling the cowpea they grow on their individual plots and dominate the trade of processed cowpea products in open-air markets. In Mali, investments to develop women’s trade of processed cowpea products, including the provision of credit, storage, and training in organizational capacity, would enhance the economic potential of cowpea.