IITA confers achievement awards to three cowpea researchers
At the Joint Pan-African Grain Legume and Cowpea Conference, IITA conferred “Lifetime Achievement Awards” to three researchers in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the development of grain legume and cowpea research. The scientists are Drs Issa Drabo of Burkina Faso, Irvin Widders of Michigan State University – Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab, and Jeff Ehlers of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The awarding ceremonies took place during the conference’s Gala Dinner held at the AVANI Victoria Falls Resort in Livingstone, Zambia on 3 March.
Drabo started his cowpea research journey when he joined the Agronomic Research Service of Burkina Faso after his BSc degree. He pursued MPhil and PhD degrees in breeding.
From 1992 to 1997, he was cowpea breeder at Kamboinse research station. Then from 1997 to date, in addition to his responsibility as cowpea breeder, he is the coordinator of the Legume Program at the Agricultural Research Center in Saria.
Since 2002, he has been the project leader of the Bean/Cowpea CRPS, Dry Pulse CRPS and Legume Innovation Lab, Tropical Legumes I, Tropical Legumes II projects, and AVEC-BF Project.
He released in Burkina more than 20 improved cowpea varieties, which included introductions but also varieties that he had developed himself. He has also trained hundreds of farmers in seed and crop production, and several students. Drabo is also known in the cowpea community as the “Grand Selectionneur”, which means “the Great Plant Breeder”.
The award was given in recognition of his contributions to cowpea improvement in Burkina Faso.
Irv Widders’ background is plant physiology and he has been mainly active in the field of horticulture. Those who know him can attest to his enthusiasm and passion for legumes. In some cases, some of his closest colleagues would call him a legume fanatic, or better, a legume maniac!
Irv has been the driving force behind thesuccess of the earlier phases of the Legume Innovation Lab (2013-2017), called Bean/Cowpea CRSP (2002-2007) and, later, Dry Grain Pulses CRSP (2007-2013).
The award was given to Widders for his outstanding leadership in the bean/cowpea CRSP , Legume Innovation Lab and the successful hosting of this and previous World Cowpea Research Conferences.
Ehlers started breeding cowpeas with IITA in 1985-1988. In 1992, he joined the University of California, Riverside, where he co-led the Bean/Cowpea and Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Projects (CRSPs) with colleagues at UCR. He mentored a majority of current active cowpea breeders in sub-Saharan Africa.
He was project leader of the cowpea component of the GCP (Generation Challenge Program) Tropical Legumes I project of CGIAR. Currently, he works as Program Officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Among his remarkable contributions to cowpea are: release of large-seeded, black-eyed, high yielding cowpea varieties such as CB46 and CB50 in California; some of the released early maturing cowpea varieties in Senegal and Burkina Faso resulted from populations he developed and shared with national partners; and contribution to genomics tools for cowpea such as development of a 1536 SNP marker genotyping platform for cowpea, development of a dense consensus genetic linkage map for cowpea, and development of a MAGIC population. Among the cowpea community, Ehlers is recognized as the Molecular Breeding Champion!
The award was presented to Ehlers for his rock solid support to cowpea improvement in sub-Saharan Africa.