Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Publ. Field Columbian Mus., Bot. Ser. 2(1): 53 (1900).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
2n = 22
Cajanus indicus Spreng. (1826).
Pigeon pea, Congo pea, red gram (En). Pois cajan, pois d’Angole, ambrevade (Fr). Ervilha do Congo, feijão guandu, ervilha de Angola (Po). Mbaazi (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Pigeon pea originated in India, where it has been grown for thousands of years. It reached Africa about 2000 BC or earlier, and a secondary centre of diversity developed in East Africa. With the conquests and slave trade it reached the Americas probably via both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Nowadays it is grown all over the tropics, but is most important in the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. It is not known in the wild, but often occurs naturalized as an escape from cultivation.
In Africa dry pigeon pea seeds are often used for sauces accompanying staple food preparations such as cassava, yam and rice. Ripe seeds are eaten fried or boiled, often after being soaked first, or boiled into porridge. In the Indian subcontinent pigeon pea is mainly used as a pulse, in the form of ‘dhal’ (soaked, dried, hulled and split seeds), and this use is carried on by Indian communities in Africa. The use of immature pigeon pea seeds and pods as a vegetable in soups and sauces is common in many African countries. Canning and freezing of the green seed is mainly done in Central America. In Asia pigeon pea may be used instead of soya bean to make tempeh or tofu.
Vegetative parts are excellent fodder and seeds are also used as animal feed. The by-products of dhal production (seed coat and broken cotyledons) are used as cattle and poultry feed in India, and also in Kenya and Malawi.
Pigeon pea is useful in hedges and windbreaks on dry soils and in agroforestry (e.g. in alley cropping systems, where it is pruned to supply green manure). It is also grown as a shade crop, cover crop, or as support for vanilla. Pigeon pea improves the soil through its extensive root system, nitrogen fixation and the mulch provided by the fallen leaves. It serves as a host for silkworm (Madagascar) and the lac insect. Stems and branches, especially those of medium- and long-duration cultivars, are used for basketry, thatching, fencing and as fuel. In Nigeria the stems serve as stakes for yam. Pigeon pea finds wide application in traditional medicine. Diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, measles, burns, eye infections, earache, sore throat, sore gums, toothache, anaemia, intestinal worms, dizziness and epilepsy are treated with leaf preparations. Root preparations are taken to treat cough, stomach problems and syphilis. Stem ash is applied on wounds, and stalks and roots are chewed against toothache. Powdered seeds serve as a poultice on swellings. In Madagascar the leaves are used to clean teeth.
Production and international trade
According to FAO statistics the world pigeon pea production in 1999–2003 amounted to 3.1 million t/year from 4.3 million ha; the main producing country is India (2.5 million t from 3.4 million ha). The main producers in tropical Africa in 1999–2003 were Malawi (79,000 t from 123,000 ha), Uganda (78,000 t from 78,000 ha), Kenya (59,000 t from 152,000 ha) and Tanzania (47,000 t from 66,000 ha). The annual production in Mozambique is estimated at 40,000 t. Worldwide the area under pigeon pea has increased steadily from about 2.8 million ha in the early 1960s to about 4.3 million ha at present, whereas the production increased from 1.5–2 million t to around 3 million t in the same period.
Pigeon pea is mostly consumed locally, with limited amounts entering international trade, and trade statistics are hardly available. Occasional export demand may boost cultivation. In Malawi and Kenya an estimated 65% of the pigeon pea production in 1996–1998 was consumed on-farm, 10% traded on the domestic market, and 25% exported. For Tanzania these amounts were 35%, 10% and 55%, respectively. By far the most important export market is India, followed by the Middle East. In the Indian market African pigeon pea has to compete mainly with pigeon pea from Myanmar and pea from Canada and France. Pigeon pea is widely, but often informally, traded within Africa, for instance between Mozambique and Malawi and between Tanzania and Kenya. In northern Tanzania most of the pigeon pea produced is sold in Kenya, where it is very popular among the Indian community.
The composition of raw mature pigeon pea seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 10.6 g, energy 1435 kJ (343 kcal), protein 21.7 g, fat 1.5 g, carbohydrate 62.8 g, dietary fibre 15.0 g, Ca 130 mg, Mg 183 mg, P 367 mg, Fe 5.2 mg, Zn 2.8 mg, vitamin A 28 IU, thiamin 0.64 mg, riboflavin 0.19 mg, niacin 3.0 mg, vitamin B6 0.28 mg, folate 456 μg and ascorbic acid 0 mg. The essential amino acid composition per 100 g edible portion is: tryptophan 212 mg, lysine 1521 mg, methionine 243 mg, phenylalanine 1858 mg, threonine 767 mg, valine 937 mg, leucine 1549 mg and isoleucine 785 mg. The principal fatty acids per 100 g edible portion are: linoleic acid 778 mg and palmitic acid 307 mg (USDA, 2004). Methionine is the limiting amino acid, followed by tryptophan and threonine. Antinutritional factors in Nigerian pigeon pea seed include trypsin inhibitor activity, tannins and phytate.
The composition of raw immature seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 65.9 g, energy 569 kJ (136 kcal), protein 7.2 g, fat 1.6 g, carbohydrate 23.9 g, dietary fibre 5.1 g, Ca 42 mg, Mg 68 mg, P 127 mg, Fe 1.6 mg, Zn 1.0 mg, vitamin A 67 IU, thiamin 0.40 mg, riboflavin 0.17 mg, niacin 2.2 mg, folate 173 μg and ascorbic acid 39 mg (USDA, 2004). The leaves contain 15–24% crude protein. Extracts of pigeon pea seeds have shown antisickling action on red blood cells. This activity has been related to the presence of phenylalanine and hydroxybenzoic acid; related compounds have an even more pronounced effect.
Erect shrub or subshrub, but regularly grown as an annual, up to 4 m tall, with roots up to 2 m deep; stem erect, ribbed, up to 15 cm in diameter; branches many, slender. Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules linear, 2–4 mm long; petiole (1–)1.5–6(–8) cm long, grooved above; rachis 0.5–3 cm long, slightly winged; stipels filiform, 1–4 mm long; petiolules 1–4 mm long; leaflets elliptical to lanceolate, 2.5–13.5 cm × 1–5.5 cm, acute, covered with small yellow glands, green above, silvery grey-green beneath. Inflorescence an axillary false raceme 3.5–12 cm long; peduncle up to 8 cm long; bracts deciduous, ovate, c. 8 mm × 5 mm, acute. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel 0.5–1.5 cm long; calyx campanulate, yellowish velvety and glandular, tube (3–)4–5(–6) mm long, lobes 3–5(–7) mm long; corolla yellow or cream, standard almost round, 12–22 mm in diameter, dorsally yellow-red, orange or purple, wings obovate, 15–20 mm × 6–7 mm, yellow, clawed, keel petals 14–17 mm × 5–7 mm, yellow-green, clawed; stamens 10, 9 fused and 1 free; ovary superior, 1-celled, sessile, style curved. Fruit a straight or sickle-shaped pod 2–10(–13) cm × (0.5–)1–1.5 cm, hairy, glandular-punctate, splitting into 2 spiralling valves, septate between the seeds, (2–)4–9-seeded. Seeds globose to ellipsoid or squarish, 4–9 mm × 3–8 mm × 3–6 mm, white, cream, brown, purplish to almost black, plain or mottled. Seedling with hypogeal germination; first leaves simple.
Other botanical information
Cajanus comprises 34 species. Two wild Cajanus species are known in Africa: Cajanus kerstingii Harms from West Africa, and Cajanus scarabaeoides (L.) Thouars occurring along the coasts of Africa and Madagascar, and at some locations more inland. The former does not cross with Cajanus cajan, but the latter can produce hybrids with it; spontaneous hybrids are known but rare. Although the use of Cajanus kerstingii as human food and animal feed seems not recorded, it could be of value in ways similar to pigeon pea. In Senegal the branches of Cajanus kerstingii are used for making temporary hut walls. Other relatives of pigeon pea are found in Asia and Australia.
In India 10 maturity groups are distinguished in pigeon pea, usually combined into four categories: extra early, early, medium and late-maturing cultivars (120, 145, 185, more than 200 days after sowing, respectively).
Growth and development
Pigeon pea seeds germinate at temperatures of 19–43°C, but most rapidly at 20–30°C. Emergence is complete 2–3 weeks after sowing. Vegetative development starts slowly, but after 2–3 months growth accelerates. Flowering (of 50% of the plants) starts 56–210 days after sowing; seed maturity normally ranges from 95–260 days. In humid areas, flowering and fruiting may continue throughout the year. The flower structure of pigeon pea favours self-pollination, but up to 82% out-crossing has been recorded, depending on the presence and activity of pollinating insects. Pigeon pea roots are nodulated and fix nitrogen in association with Bradyrhizobium and Rhizobium strains.
Pigeon pea is grown in the tropics and subtropics between 30°N and 30°S latitudes. Optimum average temperatures range from 18–29°C; frost is not tolerated. Above 29°C, soil moisture and fertility may be limiting. The optimum annual rainfall is 600–1000 mm, but pigeon pea is tolerant to drought and can be grown in areas with less than 600 mm rainfall. It also grows in regions with an annual rainfall of over 2500 mm. Flowering is accelerated by short days; there are very few truly day-neutral types. In Africa pigeon pea is grown at altitudes up to 2000(–2400) m. It can be grown on a wide range of soil types, but waterlogging is harmful. Drained soils of intermediate water-holding capacity and with pH 5–7 are favourable. A soil salinity of 6–12 dS/m is tolerated by many cultivars.
Propagation and planting
Pigeon pea is propagated by seed. Stem cuttings rarely succeed. Longevity of seeds depends on storage conditions; in gene banks at low temperature and moisture the seed survives for decades. The 1000-seed weight is 30–280 g; in Africa large-seeded cultivars are the commonest. Planting arrangements vary widely, and seeds may be broadcast or sown in rows with plant spacings of 40–200 cm × 20–180 cm. Seedlings are difficult to transplant. In Africa and India pigeon pea is often grown in intercropping systems, usually with cereals, but also with cassava and cotton. It fits well in intercropping systems because its slow initial growth reduces competition for the associated crop and its late maturity spreads labour requirements at harvest time. After harvest of the intercrop, long-duration pigeon pea continues to grow and to produce seed and to protect the soil. Pigeon pea performs well when grown in single rows alternating with 2 rows of cereals (e.g. sorghum, millets), cotton or groundnut. In Uganda and Mauritius, it is generally planted as a restorative crop towards the end of a rotation cycle.
In vitro cultures have been initiated successfully from different tissue sources, including leaves, shoots and roots, and organogenesis as well as somatic embryogenesis is possible. Regenerated plants have also been obtained via callus and by direct differentiation from leaves.
As a field crop, pigeon pea may be typified as rather primitive; the tall genotypes in particular are quite cumbersome in cultivation. Weed control is necessary because of the slow initial growth. Response to fertilizers is rarely economic; a phosphate dressing is generally recommended at 20–100 kg/ha. In tropical Africa fertilizer application to pigeon pea is not common. Residual nitrogen after a crop of pigeon pea can be about 40 kg/ha. In India the nutrient uptake of a pigeon pea crop yielding 1.2 t seeds and 6.3 t straw per ha has been calculated as 85 kg N, 8 kg P, 16 kg K, 23 kg Ca, 15 kg Mg, 9 kg S, 38 g Zn, 31 g Cu, 128 g Mn and 1440 g Fe per ha. Wind may bend the plants but staking is not practised. Irrigation as a lifesaver can be economic; in intensive cropping of short-duration cultivars, irrigation may be required. Pigeon pea is also grown as a ratoon crop, e.g. in Central and East Africa. For fast regrowth, the pruning height should not be lower than 50 cm. Part of the shoots may be removed to reduce competition.
Diseases and pests
The most important fungal diseases of pigeon pea in tropical Africa are leaf spot (Mycovellosiella cajani, synonym: Cercospora cajani), Fusarium wilt (Fusarium udum) and powdery mildew (Leveillula taurica). Leaf spot is not important in drier areas, but can cause serious losses in humid regions. It can be controlled by periodic sprays of fungicides such as benomyl and mancozeb and by the use of disease-free seed and the selection of fields away from perennial pigeon pea, which may act as a source of inoculum. Pigeon pea lines with resistance to leaf spot have been identified. Recommended control measures against seed-borne and soil-borne Fusarium wilt are intercropping and crop rotation with cereals, fallow, removal of diseased plants, seed treatment with fungicides, and the use of disease-free seed and fields, but the best strategy is the use of resistant cultivars. Moderately resistant lines in all maturity groups are available. Fusarium wilt is generally more severe in ratoon crops, from the second year onwards. Suggested control measures against powdery mildew include the use of fungicides and the selection of fields not near perennial pigeon pea; resistant lines have been identified. Pigeon pea sterility mosaic virus (PPSMV) is the most important disease of pigeon pea in India, but it appears to be restricted to Asia. Pigeon pea is susceptible to root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) and reniform nematodes (Rotylenchus spp.). Resistant lines have been identified in India.
Insect pests are important in all pigeon pea-growing areas. The most important ones are pod-sucking bugs (mainly Clavigralla spp.), pod borers (including Helicoverpa armigera and Maruca vitrata, synonym: Maruca testulalis) and the pigeon pea pod fly (Melanagromyza chalcosoma). The use of insecticides is recommended, but chemical control is cumbersome and expensive in tall indeterminate forms. Pigeon pea lines have been recorded with resistance to either or both Helicoverpa armigera and Melanagromyza chalcosoma, and to Maruca vitrata, but resistance has not been incorporated into cultivars that are acceptable to farmers with respect to taste, seed colour and size. Integrated pest management (IPM), comprising the judicious application of insecticides, the use of tolerant or resistant cultivars, agronomic practices (planting date) and biological control with natural enemies, is receiving attention. Because of its long flowering period, damage by pests such as Helicoverpa armigera and other borers, and Agromyza fruit flies, may be compensated for by new flushes. Bruchids (Callosobruchus spp.) are important pests of pigeon pea, infecting pods in the field as well as stored seeds. Seed storage in clean bins and in the form of split seeds reduces bruchid attack. Other control measures include sun-drying, treatment with insecticides and storage in admixture with ash and various plant products, such as tobacco and neem (Azadirachta indica A.Juss.) extracts or leaves.
Immature pigeon pea pods are picked over a long period of time in home gardens or hedge crops, as is usual in Africa. For ripe seeds the crop is usually cut near the ground when most pods are mature; many leaves are still green at that stage. Alternatively, the ripe pods are picked from the standing crop, sometimes in several rounds as the crop often matures unevenly. Mechanical harvesting of ripe pods is possible with combine-harvesters, but only for short-statured cultivars maturing uniformly with pods at a uniform level above the soil.
In Africa pigeon pea seed yield averages around 600 kg/ha with traditional landraces in mixed intercropping. For Uganda 1000 kg/ha has been recorded. Under optimum conditions in sole cropping, yields of more than 5000 kg/ha are possible. Low yields may be partly due to the fact that a considerable part of the seeds is harvested and eaten before maturity. Forage yields range from 3–8 t/ha, but in experiments 50 t/ha have been obtained. Fuel yields are usually 7–10 t/ha, but yields up to 30 t/ha have been recorded.
Handling after harvest
Entire air-dried pigeon pea plants are threshed, usually by hand or with cattle, and seed is cleaned. Shelled fresh peas are sold on markets as a vegetable. Processing includes dhal-making, either wet, after sprinkling heaps of seed, or dry, by milling.
The world pigeon pea germplasm collection covers India and several African countries, and some Caribbean islands. More than 13,000 samples of Cajanus cajan are available in the collection of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT, Patancheru, India), and various breeders and institutes have parts of this collection. Some 18 wild Cajanus species and at least 39 other species of the subtribe Cajaninae are represented. Related perennial species are regularly rejuvenated in ICRISAT’s Botanical Garden. Attempts are continuing to cover all taxa and areas of occurrence. In tropical Africa the National Genebank of Kenya in Kikuyu has a collection of more than 1200 accessions of pigeon pea. Pigeon pea has orthodox seed storage behaviour.
Pigeon pea breeding work started in India in the early 20th century, and mainly involved the selection of more productive and early-maturing landraces. Concerted international pigeon pea improvement work began in the 1970s at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where short-statured cultivars of determinate growth habit were developed. Within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system, ICRISAT now has the mandate for pigeon pea improvement. So far, national breeding programmes in Africa have mainly relied on ICRISAT lines and selections from local landraces, but some countries (e.g. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) have developed their own crossing programmes.
Breeding of pigeon pea for high yield, and for consumer and miller preference are prime criteria. Stability of yield may be obtained by selecting for photoperiod insensitivity, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for intercropping and multiple harvests. Improved genotypes are now available for most of these characteristics. Resistance is available in wild relatives and there are promising pest-resistant and disease-resistant types. Because out-crossing is frequent, traditional methods for self-pollinated crops, such as pedigree breeding, have not been very effective. Selection is further complicated by large genotype × environment interaction. Genetic male sterility is available in Cajanus cajanifolius (Haines) Maesen and is now used in hybrid breeding programmes. However, the production costs of hybrid seeds are high, and a search is going on for cytoplasmic male sterility. Short-duration Indian cultivars include ‘Prabhat’, ‘T21’, ‘UPAS-120’; medium-duration cultivars are ‘C 11’, ‘BDN-1’, ‘Pusa Ageti’, ‘Sharda’ and several ‘ICP’ lines developed by ICRISAT. Hybrid cultivars are also available. Improved cultivars in Kenya include ‘NPP 670’, ‘KAT 60/8’ (both developed in Kenya) and ‘ICPL 87091’. However, they are more susceptible to insect pests than the local landraces, due to their determinate growth habit and the fact that they start flowering when pest populations are high. Furthermore, the seeds of ‘KAT 60/8’ and ‘ICPL 87091’ are relatively small, making them less wanted on the local markets than the larger seeds from landraces. The Fusarium wilt-resistant cultivar ‘ICP 9145’, derived from a landrace collected in Kenya by ICRISAT, has been successfully released in Malawi. ‘ICPL 87’ and ‘ICPL 146’ lines are recommended as sole-cropping, multiple-harvest cultivars for Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The transfer of insect resistance (from Cajanus scarabaeoides (L.) Thouars), high protein content (several species), improved drought resistance (Cajanus acutifolius (Benth.) Maesen), soil salinity tolerance (Cajanus albicans (Wight & Arn.) Maesen) or annual behaviour (Cajanus platycarpus (Benth.) Maesen) has not yet materialized. Insect-tolerant lines have been identified, however.
Transgenic pigeon pea plants, expressing a cowpea protease inhibitor gene or a protective antigen of the Rinderpest virus, have been obtained using Agrobacterium -mediated gene transfer or bombardment with micro-particles.
As a multi-purpose crop pigeon pea is well known but ought to be promoted especially in more semi-arid regions, for which the crop is well suited due to its tolerance to drought and low soil fertility and its ability to recover after environmental or biotic stress. Its large seed-yield potential offers promise in more favourable environments. Pigeon pea fits well in agro-forestry, in smallholder garden cropping and in hedge cultivation, and is suitable for improved short-duration fallows. It also fits in more intensive systems. Short-duration, photoperiod-insensitive, short-statured cultivars of determinate growth habit with fast growth and elevated harvest index may be the ideotype to aim for. In the export market (mainly India) African pigeon pea faces strong competition and higher productivity; more efficient marketing arrangements are necessary to remain competitive in this market.
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Correct citation of this article:
van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2006. Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, part of flowering and fruiting branch; 2, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
flowering and fruiting branch
branch with immature fruits
branch with ripening fruits
field with fruiting plants
field in Kenya
field in Kenya