Are changing preferences an opportunity for grain legumes from West Africa?

Current exports of pulses and other legume crops from West Africa to the EU are mainly niche food products for the African diaspora in Europe. This article considers whether these crops could play a bigger role in diversifying the consumption of plant foods in Europe.

Scientists from Wageningen University & Research have explored the potential of establishing export value chains for leguminous African crops. Their main aim was to understand the impact of aligning the demand for a more diverse supply on the EU protein markets with agricultural development and promotion of soil fertility through nitrogen fixation in Africa. Three legume-based value propositions have been assessed for their potential: deforestation-free soyabean; bambara groundnut as a superfood snack; and cowpea flour as a thickener. The assessment covered several criteria along the value chain, from downstream consumer acceptance to upstream sustainable farming (Figure 1).1

Cowpea as a thickening agent – business potential

A highly promising business innovation would be cowpea flour as a high-quality functional ingredient. Flour is one of the main processed cowpea products, aside from various traditional African dishes, as well as fortified foods. Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is an annual crop originating from Africa, grown mainly in semiarid tropical regions.

African legumes research Figure 1

Figure 1: Summary of the study ‘The Pulse of Africa’ by Wageningen University & Research