SATrends Issue 86
January 2008
1. Pigeonpea on the expressway
Pigeonpea on expressway in China Pigeonpea prevents erosion on the slopes adjoining the expressway.

The long stretches of roadside teeming with yellow flowers and pods of pigeonpea speak of the impact this versatile crop has in China. Pigeonpea cultivation on both sides of new expressways in China was undertaken as a means to stabilize the soil. Road sites visited near Kunming in southern China (an 11 kilometer and a 50 kilometer stretch) are planted with ICRISAT varieties ICP 7035 and ICP12746.

Pigeonpea seed production presents a bright prospect among less-endowed Chinese farmers. One trader had sold 20 tons of pigeonpea seeds at a handsome 15 Yuan per kilogram in 2007. Pigeonpea grown in association with eucalyptus trees has shown good potential. A cooperative introduced pigeonpea cultivation in the rural areas of Kunming, where a woman farmer and her brother bought seeds.

Interview with pigeonpea farmer A woman farmer (left) being interviewed by Dr R Mula of ICRISAT

Their rainfed farms (annual rainfall 600 mm) are located at the foot of a hill. She raves about pigeonpea since this does not require much input, has a ready market, and provides other benefits. She adds that pigeonpea cultivation had been a major coping strategy for cash at one point when the prices of vegetables immensely declined. She was able to sell the seeds at the rate of 4 Yuan per kilogram. After harvesting, the tender branches are cut as fodder for her livestock (4 cows and 1 horse) and the woody stems are used as firewood.

Another pigeonpea-based enterprise is lac production. Pigeonpea plants, specifically the long duration types, are excellent hosts for the lac insect (Karris lacca kerr.). A farmer-cooperator showed our scientists a stand of pigeonpea with significant invasion of the insect 20 days after inoculation. The lac secretion can be harvested in 5-6 months. The approximate yield of lac from one hectare is around 700 kilogram, which can be sold at 20 Yuan per kilogram. Long duration types are ideal because these can be ratooned for a second inoculation, which is more economical for the farmers.

Lac production Lac insects on a pigeonpea branch.

The rising demand for access between and among the metropolis and rural areas of China will necessitate a guaranteed supply of pigeonpea seeds. In turn, this is an avenue for the pigeonpea hybrid seed program to prosper in order to meet the demand of expressway builders as well as the developing pigeonpea enterprises.

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2. Life-saving nuts

Mariah Charles, an average smallholder farmer in the central groundnut (peanut)-growing region of Malawi, lives with her husband and three children. This year, Mariah is hoping to produce more groundnuts to feed her family in the harsh hunger period between September to March, a period during the one and unpredictable rainfall experienced in this region each year. Food shortfalls play a major role in malnutrition in Malawi, and a lack of protein, oil and vitamins in a largely cereal-based diet is of major importance. As a result, more than 49% of children under five in the rural areas of Malawi are malnourished. It also doesn’t help that more than half of the population in Malawi live below the poverty line. Any increase in income for Mariah would enable purchase of additional food, or external inputs to improve crop productivity.

Mariah in her groundnut field Mariah (left) shows extension workers and the ICRISAT scientist her groundnut field.

Mariah belongs to the National Smallholder Farmer Association of Malawi (NASFAM). NASFAM (~108,000 members) provides agricultural advisory services for groundnut production and assures Mariah a market for her produce. Through NASFAM, Mariah has been able to access improved technologies (made available by ICRISAT) by participating in on-farm trials and demonstrations. Because aflatoxin contamination was the key constraint affecting her produce and income, Mariah joined other farmers to participate in adaptive trials for the control and management of aflatoxin. They learned that aflatoxin contamination could be minimized by combining tolerant varieties, time of planting and water management (box ridges as opposed to open ridges). During the 2006/7 season, the price of one kilogram of groundnuts ranged from US$0.5 to $1 (8- 25 US cents kg-1 and US$0.9-$1.2 kg-1 for maize and tobacco, respectively). With similar hectarage (0.6 hectares) under groundnut this season, Mariah hopes to doub her income from $315 to over $650, the result of using higher yielding, disease resistant varieties. If her groundnuts are aflatoxin free, NASFAM will offer her an additional bonus price per kilo!

mariah spreads a word on ICRISAT technologies Mariah tells other farmers about the advantages of ICRISAT technologies.

ICRISAT hopes that through use of these technologies, Mariah and other smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics will increase groundnut productivity, improve soil fertility and improve quality of the household diet, particularly for children in poor rural communities. Impact will be especially important for those infected with HIV/AIDS, which is widespread in Malawi. To scale-out existing technologies, ICRISAT organizes field days, seed fairs and other farmer friendly communication media. The field days are organized with national partners and conducted by participating farmers.

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