The pigeon pea, also called the Congo or Gunga pea, is a widely grown legume with a variety of uses. It is considered an environmentally beneficial plant as it can enrich soil. Although it can grow in any warm climate, the pigeon pea is particularly popular throughout tropical regions.
Experts believe that varieties of the pigeon pea have been cultivated for at least three thousand years in Asia and India. At some point, the crop became popular throughout East Africa and eventually to the Caribbean islands, probably through the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a cuisine, the peas are popular in all of these areas, although they are most often described as a Caribbean or even a Cajun delicacy.
Pigeon peas are easy to grow, provided you live in an area with abundant sun and little frost. They tolerate most soils and can survive with limited water, although they perform better with heartier environments. The plant is somewhat short lived, usually lasting about 5 years. Depending on the exact species, the pigeon pea can be grown as a shrub or tamed into a tree like shape. Harvesting begins approximately 5-8 months after planting
Pigeon peas are an important legume crop of rainfed agriculture in the semiarid tropics. The Indian subcontinent, Eastern Africa and Central America, in that order, are the world’s three main pigeon pea-producing regions. Pigeon peas are cultivated in more than 25 tropical and subtropical countries, either as a sole crop or intermixed with cereals, such as sorghum (Sorchum bicolor), pearl millet (Pennisetium glaucum), or maize (Zea mays), or with other legumes, such as peanuts (Arachis hypogaea). Being a legume, the pigeon pea enriches soil through symbiotic nitrogen fixation.
The crop is cultivated on marginal land by resource-poor farmers, who commonly grow traditional medium- and long-duration (5–11 months) landraces. Short-duration pigeon peas (3–4 months) suitable for multiple cropping have recently been developed. Traditionally, the use of such input as fertilizers, weeding, irrigation, and pesticides is minimal, so present yield levels are low (average = 700 kg/ha). Greater attention is now being given to managing the crop because it is in high demand at remunerative prices.
Pigeon peas are very drought resistant, so can be grown in areas with less than 650 mm annual rainfall.
World production of pigeon peas is estimated at 46,000 km2. About 82% of this is grown in India. These days it is the most essential ingredient of animal feed used in West Africa, most especially in Nigeria, where it is also grown.