Addis Ababa — Although legumes as a source of protein form an important constituent of the Ethiopian diet but its per capital and total availability is very low due to its small share in the chain of food production.
In 1997 (EC) the estimated production of legumes was just about 11% (1.3 m tons) of the total grain production (11.9 m tons) and this does not meet even 25% of the standard daily requirement of protein (50g/head/day) for the present population. At present most food legumes in Ethiopia are grown in the Highlands as cool season crops and their production is poor. On the other hand we have vast areas of land under arid and semi arid conditions and if we can find a legume suitable to these conditions, we may be able to reduce the gap between the demand and supply for protein in the diet and pigeon pea a tropical legume is one such plant which holds such a promise.
Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) locally called yergib attar, is a multipurpose tropical legume plant. It is known to mankind for more than 4000 years and reported to be originated in India. However, because of its wider adaptability today it is grown in arid and semi arid areas of many countries of Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin and Central America. In Africa it is grown in many countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Sudan and others. Today it is the sixth largest legume in area and production amongst the legumes in the world,; annually grown on about five million hectares and India being the largest producer (90% of the total) and the consumer.
Interestingly pigeon pea as a food crop has been grown in Ethiopia for many decades its production and consumption both remained limited to the Konso Wereda of the SNNPR. All available evidence indicates that pigeon pea is a very promising crop and we in Ethiopia should also encourage its cultivation for the following reasons.
Pigeon pea has wider adaptability
Unlike many other legumes, pigeon pea has very wide environmental adaptability on both sides of the Equator due to its unique characteristics and multipurpose values. It is known as the most drought tolerant plant and has the ability to grow and produce under marginal agro climatic conditions. It is grown from sea level to about 2000 m altitudes in the frost free areas of the tropics. It grows in the annual rainfall range of 500 to 1500 mm and on variety of soils from sandy to clay with marginal fertility and which are not acidic and waterlogged.
The new ashort duration dwarf varieties and soon to be available hybrids of pigeon pea promise even wider adaptability and higher yield of seed. Endowed with such unique characteristics pigeon pea definitely has an important place in Ethiopian farming system followed on small farms and its multipurpose value makes it even more attractive plant.
Pigeon pea as human food
Except meat, the nutritive value of pigeon pea is comparable to or superior to many other food legumes. Matured pigeon pea seed contain about 19-23% protein (and the hybrids up to 30%) Pigeon pea also contains number of essential amino acids, Vitamins and minerals. Nutritive value of green seeds and dehulled split seeds (KiK) is even higher than the matured whole seeds. Both green as conned seeds and matured seeds are exported from many African countries.
Pigeon pea is quite palatable and overseas it is consumed in different forms. For example, green seeds as vegetable, matured seeds as boiled and roasted seeds, dehulled splits, flour and in fermented forms. In Ethiopia, pigeon pea can be used as any other legumes in the forms of nifro, Kik wat, shiro, soup, and some people in rural areas are already using it as a source of protein. If seeds are split or soaked in water for few hours before cooking it can considerably reduce cooking time and fuel wood.
Pigeon pea as animal food
Pigeon pea produces good quality forage for livestock feeding on small farms and the long duration fodder type varieties produce high quality forage (15-20% protein) under repeated cuttings. Pigeon pea can retain green foliage even during dry periods and therefore it is preferred as supplementary feed. Pigeon pea seeds can also be used as high protein concentrate supplement in intensive animal production systems such as dairying, animal fattening and poultry production. Pigeon pea is also used in rearing honey bee, silk worm and lea insects.
Pigeon pea as fuel wood
In addition to seeds and forage pigeon pea also produces a very substantial amount of woody biomass which is generally used as fuel wood in many countries. Thus pigeon pea as a source of fuel wood can help the farm family in reducing its fuel wood problem. The woody biomass is also used in basket making and as roofing and fencing material.
Pigeon pea as soil ameliorant
Pigeon pea is reported to play very important role in soil improvement. It is considered as an effective soil and water conservation plant. With its deep and extensive root system it breaks the hard pan in the soil and improves soil structure and water conservation. It also improves soil fertility with its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen up to 100-200 kg N/ha. Pigeon pea has also been used as green manure crop under favourable conditions.
Pigeon pea as cash crop
As a priority pigeon pea is expected to be used as food, forage and fuel wood on the farm where it is grown, however, once the production is substantially improved, it is expected to become a source of cash income by selling of pigeon pea products (seeds, forage & fuel wood) in the local market. When produced in substantial amounts, Ethiopia could join other neighbouring countries in exporting pigeon pea seeds to overseas markets.
Pigeon pea as traditional medicinal plant
Numerous reports indicate using pigeon pea as a medicinal plant in the cure of many ailments in the rural areas. It has been reported to cure sickness such as skin sores, genital and skin irritations, in vomiting, throat and respiratory problems, mouth, gum and teeth problems, child delivery, urinary problems and even in liver and kidney problems and the list is endless.
Future of Pigeon pea in Ethiopia
Scientists working overseas on pigeon pea development predict that pigeon will be one of the most promising legume crops in future. Pigeon pea is likely to become an important legume crop in Ethiopia, because, we need a legume plant as a source of protein which has the ability to grow and produce under less favourable environment in the arid and semiarid areas of the country and pigeon pea holds such a promise. Unlike other legumes, pigeon pea is a multipurpose plant which produces food, forage, fuel, improves soil and it is also easy to grow and manage. The new varieties and soon to be available hybrid pigeon pea are likely to be even more promising have in wider rage of adaptability. Therefore, cultivation of pigeon pea must be encouraged in Ethiopia.