Pigeon peas1)Featured image: Steve Hurst, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database. Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) seeds. Wikimedia Commons or Cajanus Cajan is an alternative crop to the current line of commercial available crops. The big advantage is that it can become a major part of peoples diet, unlike many other commercial crops such as lettuce, chillies and pumkins. People are constantly looking for new replacement foods that can form a stable diet with enough bulk such as potatoes, rice and beans. Many of the other commercial crops are actually not stable diet foods that provide enough bulk for a healthy diet. These crops include, tomatoes, onions, peppers, peas, lettuce, spinach etc. Pigeon peas are also known as Red gram and Udali.
There is a great variety of Pigeon peas which grow in a wide range of habitats. Their growth periods, colour, pod and seed shape and size vary significantly. There are two basic varieties that are quite different from each other. Cajanus cajan var flavus and C. cajan var. bicolor. Cajanus is early maturing, semi-dwarf in habit and has yellow flowers and green pods, usually with 2-3 seeds. Cajan is a perennial type. The plants mature later and are larger, more bushy. The flowers are purple-speckled with green pods. The pods are often blotched with dark-red & containing 4-5 distinctly speckled seeds.
There are many improved varieties of pigeon peas. These varieties are often developed for local climates.
Nobody is sure where the pigeon pea is originated from. Most scientist believe it came from India, however, it was also cultivated in Egypt before 2000 BC. So some scientists believe it originated in the region between Egypt and East Africa and then spread out to southern Africa and Southeast Asia.
Pigeon peas have the ability to grow in poor soils. This is important in India and it is estimated that it is the second most important pulse. It is estimated that about 5-8 million acres are planted and 1.5 Metric tons of dried seed is produced. Pigeon peas are also widespread in tropical Africa, West Indies, parts of Central and South America, North Australia, Hawaii and Mauritius.
Although it is a useful grain legume crop, the sensitivity of the pigeon pea to frost and waterlogging and the relatively long growth period of the many well established varieties has limited the commercial plantings. It is a crop which can have considerable potential over a wide range of tropical conditions from subhumid to semi-arid areas. Although current average yields are low, in the region of 1t/ha, improved varieties show promise.