2) ICRISAT varieties restart pigeonpea cultivation in China

Pigeonpea is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking. However, in the neighboring China, for centuries it was used for rearing lac insects. And when the lac industry collapsed, pigeonpea cultivation had disappeared from Chinese farmlands, till improved varieties from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) restarted cultivation.

Interestingly, even the re-introduction of pigeonpea in China was not primarily for its value as a food legume. Instead, it was valued for conserving soils in sloping mountain regions, so that it could support the cultivation of other crops. In 1997, the ICRSAT-bred new pigeonpea material was tested for the first time in China. After the initial trials at several locations, Yunnan and Guangxi provinces were selected to conduct research on the role of pigeonpea in various cropping systems, especially for controlling soil erosion and rehabilitating degraded and eroded soils.

Pigeonpea growing on a river bank

In the last few years pigeonpea is being grown on a large scale in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. Apart from organized seed distribution, there has been a lot of farmer-to-farmer spread of the seed. According to informal sources, the area under pigeonpea is estimated to be around 50,000 ha currently.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the impact of the institute's varieties in China recognizes the significance of pigeonpea as a crop with many useful qualities. It also signifies the silent revolution that ICRISAT's partnership-based research has achieved in China.

ICRISAT's role in the re-introduction of pigeonpea in China: the provision of suitable seed materials and production technology packages, and training of several Chinese scientific and extension staff. Subsequently, strong pigeonpea research programs were established by the Institute of Resources Insects of the Chinese Academy of Forestry in Kunming, Yunnan and at Guangxi Academy of Agriculture Sciences (GxAAS), Nanning , Guangx.

The partnership between ICRISAT and China has shown very encouraging results and now pigeonpea crop can be seen growing on the roadsides, hill slopes and riverbanks. At present, efforts are also being made to popularize pigeonpea for human food, especially as green peas. Chinese food technologists have developed a number of snacks, food items, and drinks using dry and green seeds of pigeonpea. The preparation of pigeonpea noodles is a case in point.

Pigeonpea covering a rocky slope

The ICRISAT pigeonpea varieties released in China are: ICPL 90008 (released in China as GUIMU 1), ICPL 87091 (GUIMU 2), ICPL 87119 (GUIMU 3), ICP 7035 (GUIMU 4), ICPL 99066 (GUIMU 5) and ICPL 87091 X 98009 (GUIMU 6).

About 90% of the land in southern China is covered with mountains and the ecology of the region has been damaged extensively due to lack of vegetation cover, leading to soil erosion and frequent landslides. Each year tons of topsoil and valuable nutrients are lost and such areas have become unfit for agriculture and large areas are left fallow.

The high level of adaptation of the new pigeonpea lines in the degraded and fragile soils, its utility in environmental conservation, and its ability to produce quality fodder have generated interest among farmers, scientists, extension workers, and policy makers in China.

Pigeonpea intercrop

Since the rural economy relies heavily on animal husbandry in southern China, the shortage of quality fodder is a perennial problem, particularly in the post rainy season. The tender leaves and branches of young pigeonpea plants make an excellent fodder. After extensive testing, pigeonpea was identified as the most suitable fodder crop because it can grow well under rainfed conditions and provide high protein (20–22%) fodder for domestic animals.

To recognize ICRISAT's role in this endeavor, the Chinese Government honored ICRISAT scientists Dr KB Saxena and Dr LJ Reddy with Jin Xiu Qiu Jiang Award in 2000. This was followed by country's biggest National Friendship Award–2001 to Dr KB Saxena for his contribution in building the agriculture in the country.

For further information, contact Dr KB Saxena at k(dot)saxena(at)cgiar(dot)org.

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