THE pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) is a perennial legume from the family Fabaceae native to the Old World.
The pigeon pea is widely cultivated in tropical and semitropical regions around the world, being commonly consumed in South Asia, South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
In an attempt to make the public become aware of pigeon peas, Small Enterprises Institutional Development (SEIDA) and Agricultural Markets Development Trust (AMDT) have begun a campaign to mobilize local consumption of pigeon peas to reach 74,000 tonnes per year from a below level of 10 percent in the country.
The advice to remind people about various benefits of the crop was made recently in Mwanza City by Chief Executive Officer of SEIDA, Mr Frederick Ogenga during the launch of a consumption campaign and training on how to cook the crop.
He advised Tanzanians to promote domestic markets for pigeon peas for local consumption since it has various nutrients which are essential for human beings and also can help farmers to increase their daily income.
Mr Ogenga said SEIDA and AMDT have launched a project to encourage local market to small and medium scale growers for pigeon peas to increase production and the community to use the crop for consumption in their families.
He said that the pilot areas of the project are in Mwanza, Dodoma, Morogoro, Dar es salaam, Kilimanjaro and Arusha in a short term trial from March to June 2022.
Mr Ogenga said the aim of the project is to inform the community, researching to understand the situation and to mobilize the community to eat the crop by 30 percent to reverse the trend of consumption of below 10 percent, while the production of the crop is 140,000 tonnes to 150,000 per year in Tanzania.
The situation makes more than 60 percent of pigeon peas found in the country dependent on foreign markets, which is dominated by the Indian market for more than 95 percent. He said that in the year 2017/2018, dependence on the Indian markets dropped and caused loss to Tanzanian farmers of the crop after growers in India increased their production and reduced importation.
Mr Ogenga said that research which was done by Eastern Africa Grain Council in 2017/2018 revealed that approximately 73,000 tonnes of peas valued at 100,000USD was lost in farms because they were not harvested due to lack of foreign markets and absence of local consumption.
He said that pea is grown by millions of resource-poor farmers on marginal land across the semi-arid regions of Africa. It is valued by farmers and consumers as food and forage crop and it is among the legumes that contribute towards food and nutrition security since the crop is a drought-tolerant, perennial, but mostly cultivated as an annual and erect shrub.
Mr Ogenga added that peas grow well in a wide range of soil types, varying from sandy to heavy loams. Small, rust-brown to yellow flowers appear in racemes, which develop into elongated fruit pods, enclosing 2 to 8 seeds separated from each other in the pod by slight depressions. He said that there is a misconception showing that the crop is food for the poor, but also it has an unfavorable taste for being bitter if not well prepared.
Mr Ogenga said that pigeon pea flour has been tested and found to be suitable for consumption as bread, cookies and chapatis due to its high level of protein, iron and phosphorous content, so it has been recommended in school feeding programmes and to the vulnerable sections of the population in developing nations.
He added that the proteinrich pigeon pea seeds have also been incorporated into cassava flour to produce acceptable extruded products. Saying that in bakeries, cereal based traditional products like biscuits, cookies and bread prepared from the grains are mixed with legume flour or milk to increase their nutritional value.
Nutrition Officer in Mwanza Region, Ms Sophia Lazaro advised the community to use the crop since it has protein which is important for people and for controlling malnutrition to children, saying that continous usage will have more positive results in the region. Ms Lazaro said Pigeon peas contain good amounts of dietary fiber and are gluten-free food having good amounts of B-complex vitamins like foliates thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and niacin. Furthermore, she added that they are incredible sources of several essential minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, copper, potassium and zinc.
She said that since the rate of malnutrition in the region is 29 percent, if the community uses nutrients which also have cholesterol they will reverse the current health situation.
Ms Lazaro said Pigeon pea seeds contain high levels of protein and amino acids. When combined with cereals such as maize, sorghum or millet, the crop provides a balanced mix of nutrients that sustain millions of the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable people. She said Pigeon peas are excellent sources of vegetarian protein, containing good amounts of dietary fiber and are gluten-free food and also contain good amounts of B-Complex vitamins like foliates thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and niacin.
“Furthermore, they are incredible sources of several essential minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, copper, potassium and zinc” said Ms Lazaro.
A Researcher from Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Ms Mary Mdachi said that they have investigated the presence of 7 peas seeds which grow faster and have value, therefore she advised farmers to cultivate and use them for local consumption as it has health value for the people.
She said that in the southern, central and northern regions of Tanzania, they found seven varieties, namely Komboa, Tumia, Ilonga 14-M1, Ilonga 14- M2, Kiboko, Karatu and Mali, which fall in three categories long duration varieties.
Ms Mdachi added that medium duration varieties are Ilonga 14-M1, Ilonga 14- M2 and Tumia which after 6 months become mature, while short duration maturity varieties are Komboa which take 4 months. She said besides its nutritional value, Pigeon pea also possesses various medicinal properties due to the presence of a number of polyphenols and flavonoids. It is an integral part of traditional folk medicine in India, China and some other nations.
In India, leaves of pigeon pea are used for curing wounds, sores, abdominal tumors and diabetes. Fresh seeds are used to help from incontinence of urine in males, while immature seeds are suggested for treatment of kidney ailments Researchers from TARI say the crop has economic and food security contributions since it is a low-cost crop for farmers; they flourish in arid and semi-arid lands and have long shelf life.
Also, farmers can eat pigeon pea to mitigate the effects of climate change, but their unique attribute is to biologically fix nitrogen. She said that the crop has a direct and positive impact on soil biodiversity.
When planted, soil microbes such as bacteria Rhizobium and Bradyrhizobium, are activated and boost soil fertility. Ms Mdachi said that Rhizobium infects the root hairs of the leguminous plants, thereby developing nodules to become small nitrogen factories perched on the roots of the pulses. Inside the nodules, Rhizobium sets to work, converting atmospheric nitrogen to nitrogen for healthy soil promoting plant growth.
The cultivation helps reduce greenhouse gases, since pigeon peas are deep rooting hence they do not compete with other crops for water. Pigeon peas are an excellent cover crop, used as green manure for sustainable farming or as forage for livestock, whereby farming costs are reduced due to reduced necessity for mineral fertilizers.