The government has been working on new strategies to boost pigeon peas production across the country with the introduction of varieties that are resistant to vagaries of climate change and diseases.
Currently the country produces about 275,000 tons of pigeon peas against a demand that exceeds over one million tons with the crop mainly cultivated in Eastern area of Ukambani and the Coastal area.
However, scientists are developing early-maturing varieties of the crop that are drought and disease resistant in the wake of harsh climatic conditions so that they can thrive and produce high yields in semi-arid areas of Kenya
According to Prof. Paul Kimani, Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection University of Nairobi, the improved varieties that were released to farmers were hinged on the premise that the adoption would not only increase productivity but also improve on food security.
Speaking in Laikipia when conducting participatory variety selection and evaluating new pigeon peas varieties with local farmers who have been planting them, Prof. Kimani said the government has been looking for technologies that can help farmers cope with the current situation of climate change by growing crops that require minimal amounts of water.
Participatory Variety selection of seeds involves testing the performance of local varieties available in national gene banks by planting them in different climatic conditions with the process involving farmers and research partners, to select new varieties for introduction into farmers cropping systems.
“You can tell that this field day is a good example. You can see that this particular pigeon pea did not receive water at all as the rains failed in both the first season and also second season and they have produced”, he said.
Prof. Kimani explained that pigeon pea is drought tolerant, it has deep roots and can go up to 1.5 metres deep so, it can extract water and nutrients from the soil.
He noted that the farmers in Laikipia engaged in the Participatory variety selection will eventually become clients and out of the varieties they planted, they will be able to individually select the varieties they want themselves.
“There are benefits of these crop that has multiple uses, they grow and are protein rich with more than 20 per cent protein and rich in mineral. What this means is they contribute directly in households as food security and secondly they have a huge export market to other countries”, he said.
Prof. Kimani added that India imports from Kenya a substantial amount of pigeon pea for ‘Daal’- the Indian split pea making, however he noted that Kenya has not been able to supply to the market since farmers are not producing enough and not exploiting the modern varieties.
Samuel Theuri, a farmer in Gatundia village in Nyahururu said farmers had not been growing pigeon peas and thus were surprised when the crop varieties did well beyond their expectations.
“we thought they were for the arid areas but the level of performance has been impressive because of the twelve varieties we planted, one even matured as early as 5 months and those that were attended to a bit took about six and half months”, Kimani said.
Another farmer Margaret Wangari from Munyu village said the new varieties grow faster, have good yields and are suitable for area with limited rainfall pattern.
“The only thing we would like in this area is water considering sometime back we had planted our food and due to lack of rains we lost everything. The other thing is the market.” she said
Irene Mugo, another Farmer from Munyu Village who tried out the varieties, said she noticed around 6 varieties that did very well.
Prof. Kimani, said that as the sixth most important legume which plays an important role in subsistence agriculture, Pigeon Pea in early 1980 there weren’t any improved early maturing varieties available to farmers in this country.
He also warns that notwithstanding the new technological advances, many farmers still grow low yielding, late maturing landraces that take up to 11 months to mature in the field but noted that adoption of improved variety by small holder pigeon pea farmers is key to increasing their outputs and incomes.
Pigeon pea is probably the most important grain legume in the semi-arid areas of Eastern Africa. Reports indicate that it is grown in 37 African countries at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2050 m.
The improved long (9 months), medium (6 months) and short (4 months) duration pigeon pea cultivars were developed and released in Kenya during the last twenty years by University of Nairobi (UoN), Kenyan Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
The Improved early-maturing, drought and disease tolerant, high-yielding pigeon peas were promoted to increase productivity and farmers wellbeing. However, the adoption is low and there is a knowledge gap on the impact of adopting the improved pigeon pea varieties on household in the smallholder farming systems.
By Wangari Ndirangu