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Hot-selling pigeon pea triples maize harvests

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The area under pigeon pea production in Kenya has jumped 35 per cent in five years as more farmers invest in the in-demand crop that has the potential to triple maize harvests.

Mbaazi, as it is more commonly called, has been shown to increase maize yields from 1.2 tonnes per hectare to 4.3 t/ha.

This is because it acts as a cover crop. These are plants not only grown for human consumption but for boosting future crop yields, improving the soil’s health, and to be fed to livestock.

Being one of the greatest nitrogen-fixing plants, pigeon peas increase the amount of organic nitrogen in the soil that will be available for future maize crops improving their growth and grain yield.

Despite being a lucrative cash crop for many Kenyan farmers– the average farm gate price of a 90kg bag increased by 53 per cent to Sh7,802– in the US, it is grown almost exclusively as a cover crop for green manure or in lines in between other crops as an alley crop.

For Evans Msingi of Michorani Farm in Kibwezi, pigeon peas are an ideal cover crop before growing maize.

“I am growing an improved hybrid from KALRO Katumani that matures in three months– this is 30 to 60 days less than the previous varieties. From one-and-a-half acres, I expect a yield of fifteen 90-kilogram sacks,” he said.

As the rains next fall in November in the semi-arid region, it is cheaper for him to grow pigeon peas under irrigation water pumped from his borehole as they consume up to 180 per cent less water. He also reports a significant bump in his maize yields since he began alternating the two crops.

When grown together with maize, farmers have seen their yields increase by up to 33 per cent. South African smallholder farmers growing pigeon peas with maize during drought or when there was limited water produced 5,513kg of maize and pigeon per hectare. Those growing maize alone yielded just 2,425 kg/ha– a 56 per cent drop in overall yield.

Thanks to its deep tap root which can reach up to two meters deep, pigeon peas push nutrients all through the soil, break the soil apart avoiding water wastage by allowing it to sink into the soil, and increase the number of beneficial insects that live in it. This also makes the soil easier for farmers to dig.

Once pigeon peas are two and a half months old they also become excellent weed suppressors. They do this by shedding leaves which are toxic to weeds and grasses.

Msingi describes cowpeas as the least stressful and cheap crop to grow. “Despite growing them in weak sandy soil, I do not use any fertiliser or pesticides as I have barely seen any pests attack them. All I apply is rabbit urine as a foliar feed and they’re good.”

Read more:

Drought-Resistant Pigeon Pea: A Game-Changer for Farmers in Mbeere, Eastern Kenya

Velvet bean delivers maize magic, increasing yields 100 to 1000 per cent

New pigeon pea variety does not need fertilizer and is suitable for short season rains

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