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IRIN Africa | KENYA: Pigeon peas, the new maize? | Kenya | Environment | Food Security | Health & Nutrition | Natural Disasters

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KENYA: Pigeon peas, the new maize?
MBEERE SOUTH, 5 August 2009 (IRIN) - Faced with increasingly unreliable rains, farmers in Kenya's eastern
district of Mbeere South have started growing drought-tolerant crops to meet their food and subsistence
needs instead of the staple maize.
"The rains have become [scarce]... This is the fourth year we have had insufficient rain," Harrieta Nyaga, a
farmer from the Rwika area, told IRIN. "We expected rains in March, but they came in January. People got
confused, some planted, some did not... the crop was affected."
Nyaga, a mother of four, said she had planted 0.8ha of maize but was unsure whether she would harvest more
than two 90kg bags. "Normally, I get up to 20 bags," she added.
Declining maize yields, due to climate variability and high fertilizer costs, have caused maize prices to soar. The
cost of a bag has doubled to about 2,000 shillings (US$25) in the area.
Photo: C.L. Ramjohn/Wikimedia

Pigeon peas are a high protein dietary staple

Four new drought-tolerant pigeon pea varieties are being piloted in Mbeere, and specialists say the crop is
hardy and can grow in a range of environments and cropping systems.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is providing farmers with free seeds.
"They select the preferred varieties and sizes," said Richard Jones, ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa assistant director. The selection is based on maturity
times, plant height, stem thickness, amount of leaves, susceptibility to disease, cooking times and soil types.
Representatives from 30 farmers’ groups have been selected to pilot the project. Across Kenya, pigeon peas are being grown on about 196,261 ha of land,
according to ICRISAT. Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania grow considerable quantities too.
"Depending on rainfall availability, one can harvest 750kg per 0.5ha," said Jones. The new varieties mature in about 120 days while the traditional varieties flower
at the end of the long rains, growing to maturity from October to August.
"These new varieties are very elastic. Because they mature quicker, one gets a harvest even with just the short rains [October-December]... if there is more rain
[the long rains] one gets a second rattoon [crop]," he said.
"Old varieties will not give you a crop until after the long rains [April-June]. If the long rains fail, then there is no harvest."
Nyaga said the uptake of the new varieties would be higher if pesticides were provided during the first planting. "The pesticides are very costly for a first-time
farmer," she said.
Nutrition value
Pigeon peas are a high protein dietary staple providing 20 to 22 percent of the protein where it is grown
extensively (India, Myanmar, Nepal, China, and south-eastern Africa).
Besides its de-hulled split peas, its immature green seeds and pods are also used as a vegetable.
"We have been experiencing a lot of hunger and the first harvest really helped my family. I did not have to
look for beans to mix with the maize to make githeri [a maize and bean stew]," John Ngari, a farmer in Mbita
area said. "I am now trying to move my wife away from growing maize. We can sell some of the pigeon peas
and buy maize instead."
Crushed dry pigeon pea seeds are also fed to animals, while the green leaves are quality fodder. The dry stems
are used for fuel.
Bonus crop


About 20 percent of the farmers in Eastern Kenya have adopted new
pigeon pea varieties

According to Jones of ICRISAT, the pigeon pea is a bonus crop, which can be grown alongside early maturing cereals while acting as a nitrogen fixer.
"I have not had to add manure or fertilizer like I would have for maize," said Carol Maringa, a farmer in Gachoka, adding that it was also not labour-intensive. She
planned to increase her pigeon pea production.
"Even when I combine the cost of ploughing, seeds, weeding and spraying, I am still able to make a good profit," Samuel Mulinge Kyalo, 45, a farmer from
Riakanau said.
According to Fred Njeru, Gachoka Division crops officer, food production in the division has fallen: "Now a big number of people are getting famine relief food and
this is not sustainable."
The hardest-hit localities, he said, are selling their livestock and burning charcoal to meet their food requirements.
"We are encouraging farmers to adopt drought-tolerant crops, but this will take time," he said. "In the long term, farmers should plant drought-tolerant crops to
not only meet their food requirements but also to get more income."
According to Jones of ICRISAT, there is a need to scale up planting of drought-tolerant crops.


"Often. Already. which have been developed using conventional breeding. "It is like lighting a fire.aspx?reportid=85579 2/2 . All rights The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. This material comes to you via IRIN. The boundaries.11/7/2014 IRIN Africa | KENYA: Pigeon peas. http://www." aw/eo/mw Theme(s): Environment. the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. it burns. you have to keep lighting many smaller fires. then it goes out. about 20 percent of the farmers have adopted the new pigeon pea varieties. Food Security. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page. the new maize? | Kenya | Environment | Food Security | Health & Nutrition | Natural Disasters In Eastern Kenya. Natural Disasters. names and designations used on maps on this site and links to external sites do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the UN. there has been about 80 percent uptake in the eastern Makueni District. information does not move well." Jones noted. [This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations] Copyright Notice About IRIN Jobs Other OCHA Sites Mobile Feedback Donors Social Copyright © IRIN 2014. Health & Nutrition.irinnews.