CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION 1.1 Background of the study Agriculture in Nigeria is dominated by small-scale farmers who produce about 80% of the total food requirement (Fayinka, 2004). These farmers are characterized by strong dependence on agricultural labour market, little or no forms of savings or storage facilities and cultural practices adopted are highly labour intensive (Festus, 2005; Fakayodeet al., 2008). A review of the past performance of agriculture since 1970 in Nigeria clearly shows that it contributes more than 30% of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs about about 68% of the labour force, account for over 70% of non-oil exports, and provides over 80% of the food needs of the country (Adegboye, 2004). In Nigeria, Agricultural contribution to the GDP and exports has been low since the 1980s and food imports continued to rise in value. In terms of relative importance, food import as a percentage of total imports rose from 3.5% in 1991 to 11.8% in the year 2000 (Central Bank of Nigeria, 2000; Akosile, 2003; Nyanko, 2006). Nigeria has witnessed a considerable decline in foodproduction and a widening gap in the supply and demand brought about by population growth of about 3.5% per annum relative to food production growth of about 15% per annum (Gulati, 2000; Yai‘aisheModuetal., 2010). By 2014, the agricultural growth rate was 6.23% (FAO, 2014), yet this growth rate is still lower than expected. Although, opinions differ on the magnitude of Nigeria‘s food problem, at the national level, the main food problems are food supply deficits, poverty and uneven distribution of income in terms of ability to buy food (Ohajianya, 2004). This brought about a distortion of the labour market and distribution effects on the production of food and cash crops in the country. The production and socio-economic characteristics of the farmers, inconsistent government policies, the poor infrastructural base, all interact and affect the agricultural sector, resulting in low production, high price of food items, inflation, under-development and poverty. If Nigeria is ready to go back to agriculture, the problem of poverty, hunger and malnutrition could be alleviated. Adequate production of Nigeria most staple crops such as sorghum which is consumed in many parts of the country, will contribute positively to the agricultural sector. Cowpea is a popular leguminous crop in Africa which is known as beans‘ in Nigeria and niebe‘ in francophone countries. The largest production is in the moist and dry savannah of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where it is intensively grown as an intercrop with other cereal crops like millet, sorghum and maize as well as rice fallows (Ishiyakuet al., 2010). Nigeria is the world‘s leading cowpea (VignaUnguiculata), producing country, producing over 2.91 million ton of dry grain in 2008 (Food and Agricultural Organization Statistics, 2010). Countries in Africa such as Niger (1.57 million tons) Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Cameroon are significant producers. Outside Africa, the major production areas are Asia, North and South America.Cowpea is highly nutritious. The seed contains about 25% protein together with several other nutrients (Frank-petersideet al., 2002). In addition, cowpea contains bioactive antioxidants such as: vitamin C, carotenoids and phenolic compounds (Caiet al., 2003; Dobaldoet al., 2005). Apart from having much protein content than the cereals, cowpea is also a good source of dietary fiber and starch (Osorio – Diaz et al., 2005), minerals and vitamins (Kutoset al., 2002). They are staple food and low-cost source of protein in developing countries where Protein Energy Malnutrition is prevalent (Van Heerden and Schonfelft, 2004).Many reports claim that inclusion in the daily diet has many physiological benefits in controlling and preventing various metabolic diseases such as: Diabetes Mellitus, Coronary Heart Diseases and Colon Cancer (Thoronathan and Mehadenvarnma, 2003). Protein content of the leafy cowpea parts consumed annually in Africa and Asia are equivalent to 5million tones of dry cowpea seeds and this represents as much as 30% of the total food legume production in the lowland tropics (Steele et al., 1985). The tender shoot tips and leaves can be consumed as the plant reach the seeding stage and immature pods and seeds can be consumed during the fruiting stage (Fery, 2002). Cowpea has wide soil type adaptability and is considered more drought tolerant than groundnut in Niger (Fery, 2002).Tolerance to drought reduces the use of irrigation and subsequently the cost of production. It is used as a cover crop (Frank-Petersideet al., 2002) and as fodder for livestock (Erkut and Congiz, 2004). Another advantage of cowpeas is the addition of nitrogen to soil through nitrogen fixation and even benefitting a succeeding cereal crop. Cowpea production is beset by an array of pests and diseases that can cause serious devastation, thus leading to reduced yield and low profitability. Several foliage defoliators‘ insects, chiefly among which are: Acrididae, have been reported to cause severe defoliation of cowpea. A considerable number of Lepidoptera larvae have been reported to feed on cowpea leaves, skeletonizing and sometimes defoliating the plant. Other major defoliators belong to the family Chrysomelidae (Allen et al., 1996). NFRA (2008) revealed that the total land area cultivated by small holderfarmers and their output of cowpea in Nigeria has dropped drastically inrecent times. The low yield obtained in most cowpea producing areas of West Africa islargely due to field insect pests which feed on reproductive plant parts causing mosteconomic damage thereby necessitating appropriate control measure Karungiet al.,(2000). Effective control of pest infestation on cowpea can only be achieved through the use of convectional insecticides. The efficacy of pesticides (which include insecticides) depends mainly on their level of use which in turn depends on their market prices. Prices are particularly important since most of the pesticides are imported into the country (Tijani and Oshotimehin, 2007). With the low exchange rate of the Nigerian currency against major currencies of the world, the prices of the pesticides are becoming comparatively high. It is expected therefore that farmers would respond to changes in prices by adjusting the level ofuse of the resource alongside changes in its market prices. Scientist has attributed the low output per hectare of cowpea to the attack of pest and diseases. 1.2 Problem Statement Food is a basic human need. It‘s important for human survival as well as growth and good health. It enables us to be able to live decent and fulfilling lives. Kruger et al., (2008) emphasised that freedom from hunger is the most fundamental human right that can be attained. This right can only be enjoyed if an individual is food secured and poverty is alleviated. Production of cowpea in Nigeria is expected to be of high value; this flows from the fact that cowpea is low cost crop to produce because they require minimum input. Cowpea tends to have higher output to input ratio as compared to crops such as maize (Auko, 2006). This implies that cowpea should have high market value in terms of profitability. However, little is known about the profitability of cowpea production in Nigeria and more especially on how to use it to alleviate poverty among cowpea farmers. This is because despite the great potentials, cowpea has received little attention in terms of agricultural policy thrust and economic research (Auko, 2006). Most research on the crop focused on characteristics such as yield enhancement through breeding, soil management and agronomical practices (Tenywa, 1999). Hence, other factors concerning pulse and in particular cowpea are important such as production efficiency, market dynamics, consumer preference and indeed profitability because these factors have an influence on production. According to a study that was conducted on profitability of beans production in Honduras, some factors that are found to influence profitability are farmers characteristics, input use, land use, cost, whether the farmer produce for sale or for home consumption as well as method of production (Tschering, 2002). However, as there are no national data on food security and poverty, information on rural food security and poverty are not readily available especially in Nigeria (Omotosho, 2010). Hence, And there are limited study on how increasing farmers efficiency in cowpea production as a means of reducing poverty among farmers in Kwara state Nigeria. This study is designed to provide answers to the following research questions: i. What are the socio economic characteristics of cowpea farmers in the study area? ii. What are the technical, allocative and economic efficiency of cowpea production in the study area? iii. What are the costs and return associated with cowpea production in the study area? iv. What are the problems faced by farmers involved in the production of cowpea in the study area?