To ease your site search, article categories are at bottom of page.

September 09, 2009

Kenya: Can pigeon pea take the place of maize?

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.

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 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.

Crushed dry pigeon pea seeds are also fed to animals, while the green leaves are quality fodder. The dry stems are used for fuel.

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.

In Eastern Kenya, about 20 percent of the farmers have adopted the new pigeon pea varieties, which have been developed using conventional breeding.

Already, there has been about 80 percent uptake in the eastern Makueni District. "Often, information does not move well," Jones noted. "It is like lighting a fire, it burns, then it goes out; you have to keep lighting many smaller fires."


Article Categories

AGRA agribusiness agrochemicals agroforestry aid Algeria aloe vera Angola aquaculture banana barley beans beef bees Benin biodiesel biodiversity biof biofuel biosafety biotechnology Botswana Brazil Burkina Faso Burundi CAADP Cameroon capacity building cashew cassava cattle Central African Republic cereals certification CGIAR Chad China CIMMYT climate change cocoa coffee COMESA commercial farming Congo Republic conservation agriculture cotton cow pea dairy desertification development disease diversification DRCongo drought ECOWAS Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia EU EUREPGAP events/meetings expo exports fa fair trade FAO fertilizer finance fisheries floods flowers food security fruit Gabon Gambia gender issues Ghana GM crops grain green revolution groundnuts Guinea Bissau Guinea Conakry HIV/AIDS honey hoodia horticulture hydroponics ICIPE ICRAF ICRISAT IFAD IITA imports India infrastructure innovation inputs investment irrigation Ivory Coast jatropha kenaf keny Kenya khat land deals land management land reform Lesotho Liberia Libya livestock macadamia Madagascar maiz maize Malawi Mali mango marijuana markets Mauritania Mauritius mechanization millet Morocco Mozambique mushroom Namibia NEPAD Niger Nigeria organic agriculture palm oil pastoralism pea pest control pesticides pineapple plantain policy issues potato poultry processing productivity Project pyrethrum rai rain reforestation research rice rivers rubber Rwanda SADC Sao Tome and Principe seed seeds Senegal sesame Seychelles shea butter Sierra Leone sisal soil erosion soil fertility Somalia sorghum South Africa South Sudan Southern Africa spices standards subsidies Sudan sugar sugar cane sustainable farming Swaziland sweet potato Tanzania tariffs tea tef tobacco Togo tomato trade training Tunisia Uganda UNCTAD urban farming value addition value-addition vanilla vegetables water management weeds West Africa wheat World Bank WTO yam Zambia Zanzibar zero tillage Zimbabwe

  © 2007 Africa News Network design by

Back to TOP