Seed World

Cowpea: A Crucial Crop You Might Have Never Heard About

The recent meeting of the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) in Greenville, South Carolina, provided a platform for insightful discussions with some recipients of the George Washington Carver scholarship, formerly known as the NAPB Diversity Scholars. This scholarship aims to support undergraduate and early graduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the United States pursuing careers in plant breeding.

We sat sit down with Habib Akinmade, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida, specializing in cowpea breeding, to delve into his research and the significance of the George Washington Carver scholarship in shaping his journey.

The Significance of Cowpea Breeding

Akinmade, originally from Nigeria, shares his passion for cowpea breeding, citing its importance in Africa due to its protein-rich nature. The crop serves as a sustainable source of nutrition for those who cannot afford meat, contributing to food security and soil health. His interest in cowpea deepened during his first master’s program in Germany, where he worked with a diverse panel and witnessed the crop’s incredible diversity firsthand. Motivated by its potential impact and the similarities between Nigeria and the southeastern United States, he embarked on his Ph.D. journey at the University of Florida.

University of Florida Experience

Akinmade acknowledges the significance of his educational experiences at the University of Florida. At UF, he feels a strong connection to end-users, engaging with growers and participating in stakeholder meetings. The emphasis on practical application and interaction with end-users sets UF apart, providing a more holistic understanding of plant breeding and its real-world implications.

Childhood Influences and Plant Breeding

His childhood experiences in Nigeria played a pivotal role in shaping his interest in plant breeding. His desire to be a problem solver for people led him to pursue agricultural crop science, eventually delving into plant breeding as a means of making a meaningful impact.

The George Washington Carver Scholarship

As a first-generation Ph.D. student, Akinmade expresses immense pride in his family’s support and highlights the significance of the George Washington Carver scholarship in his academic journey. The scholarship not only sponsored his attendance at the NAPB meeting but also facilitated valuable connections with industry experts and peers. The mentorship provided through the scholarship serves as a crucial support system, offering guidance and insight into his budding career.