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Pigeon Pea is a drought-tolerant legume grown mainly in the semi-arid tropics, especially in India. The crop represents about 5% of world legume production, with more than 70% being produced in India (although there is also substantial Pigeon Pea production in East Africa, the Americas, and Burma). Global annual production of Pigeon Pea was around 3.7 million metric tons in 2010 (FAOSTAT 2012). Although the geographic origin of Pigeon Pea is uncertain, Pigeon Pea is known to have been cultivated in Egypt before 2000 BC. However, the crop was likely introduced into East Africa from India by immigrants in the 19th century who moved to Africa to become railway workers and storekeepers. It thereafter moved up the Nile valley into West Africa and eventually to the Americas. Pigeon Pea is becoming an increasingly important subsistence crop across Africa, but large-scale production is still concentrated in the eastern part of the continent. Due to the subsistence nature of the crop, production figures from Africa are probably gross underestimates. Odeny (2007) and Hillocks (2007) discussed the potential benefits and challenges of expanding Pigeon Pea production in Africa.

Most pulse crops are annuals, but Pigeon Pea is a woody, short-lived (around 5 years) perennial (although it is sometimes grown as an annual). It may reach 1 to 4 m in height. . The flowers are yellow and the pods contain 3 to 4 seeds which may be white, grayish, red, brown, purplish, or speckled, with a white hilum (seed attachment point).

Young green seeds and pods are eaten as a vegetable in many countries and are canned in some parts of the West Indies. In South Asia, Pigeon Peas are an essential ingredient in sambar. The pulse contains around 20% protein, nearly 60% carbohydrate (mainly starch), and little fat. Pigeon Peas are also a good source of dietary minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, sulfur, and potassium, as well as water-soluble vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. The immature green seed has 7% protein, 20% carbohydrate, and nearly 70% water. Pigeon Pea can replace Soybean in the manufacture of tempeh and the seeds may be germinated and eaten as sprouts. The tops of plants with fruits make excellent fodder, hay, and silage.

(Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Hillocks et al. 2000; Odeny 2007 and references therein)


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