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Phatak, S.C., R.G. Nadimpalli, S.C. Tiwari, and H.L. Bhardwaj. 1993. Pigeonpeas: Potential new crop for the southeastern United States. p. 597-599. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Pigeonpeas: Potential New Crop for the Southeastern United States

Sharad C. Phatak, Ram G. Nadimpalli, Suresh C. Tiwari, and Harbans L. Bhardwaj

  5. Table 1

Pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.] is one of the oldest food crops and ranks fifth in importance among edible legumes of the world (Morton 1976; Salunkhe et al. 1986). Pigeonpea grows well in tropical and sub-tropical environments extending between 30deg.N and 30deg.S latitude with a temperature range of 20° to 40°C (Sinha 1977). It is widely grown in about 14 countries in over 4 million ha. The major producers of pigeonpea in the world includes India, followed by Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Mozambique in Africa; the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rica, and the West Indies in the Caribbean region and Latin America; Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines in Asia; and Australia (Sinha 1977). Several countries in Africa (in the central, western, and southern regions), North America, Central America, and South America have been identified as potential areas for pigeonpea production.


Pigeonpea is used for food, feed, and fuel. Pigeonpea produces more nitrogen from plant biomass per unit area of land than many other legumes although it usually produces fewer nodules than legumes (Onim 1987). Pigeonpea can fix about 70 kg N/ha per season by symbiosis until the mid-pod-fill stage. This is around 88% of the total nitrogen content of the plant at that stage of growth. The residual effect on a following cereal crop can be as much as 40 kg N/ha (Nene 1987). Rarely does the plant need to be inoculated because it can nodulate on Rhizobium naturally present in most soils (Faris 1983). Pigeonpea has been used as a green manure crop. It grows well even in soils with a low phosphorus level. The plant is remarkably hardy to both low temperatures (as low as 5° to 10°C) and high temperatures (up to 40°C) and, thus, is an ideal crop to fit into cropping systems of in many parts of the world (Sinha 1977).

Pigeonpea is normally grown as an annual shrub, but is a perennial in which plants may grow for several years and develop into small trees. It gives additional yield after the first harvest if sufficient moisture is available, and it has great flexibility in a wide range of cropping systems. The crop has a wide range of maturity (80 to 250 days) and time to maturity is greatly affected by temperature and photoperiod. Thus, there exists maturity types of pigeonpea for many different cropping systems. Pigeonpea is a superb intercrop for planting with cereals and other crops. However, short-duration types have been developed in Australia and India that mature in less than 100 days with a yield potential of over 5,000 kg/ha and can be grown as sole crop in multiple cropping systems.


Pigeonpea is a rich source of proteins, carbohydrates, and certain minerals. The protein content of commonly grown pigeonpea cultivars ranges between 17.9 and 24.3 g/100 g (Salunkhe et al. 1986) for whole grain samples, and between 21.1 and 28.1 g/100 g for split seed. Wild species of pigeonpea have been found to be a very promising source of high-protein and several high-protein genotypes have been developed with a protein content as high as 32.5% (Singh et al. 1990). These high-protein genotypes contain protein content on average by nearly 20% higher than the normal genotypes (Saxena et al. 1987; Reddy et al. 1979). The high-protein genotypes also contain significantly higher (about 25%) sulphur-containing amino acids, namely methionine and cystine (Singh et al. 1990). Pigeonpea seeds contain about 57.3 to 58.7% carbohydrate, 1.2 to 8.1% crude fiber, and 0.6 to 3.8% lipids (Sinha 1977). Pigeonpea is a good source of dietary minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, sulphur, and potassium (Table 1). It is also a good source of soluble vitamins, especially thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and choline (Table 1).

Pigeonpea is most widely eaten in the form of split seeds and used in this way, it contains protein with an amino acid profile similar to that of soybean (Singh et al. 1990). Green pods and green seeds are also consumed as a vegetable. Vegetable pigeonpea types are important in Central America s well as in Western and Eastern Africa, where green peas are consumed as soups, etc. (Morton 1976). Vegetable types, generally large podded with large, sweet-tasting green seeds are preferred in Puerto Rico. Canned pigeonpeas are marketed in certain parts of the world (Morton 1976).

By-products of split and shrivelled seed are used as livestock feed. The present high cost of animal sources of protein feeds, such as fish and bonemeal, makes pigeonpea ideal to be used as a good plant protein substitute as it is less expensive. Pigeonpea provides an excellent forage for livestock and there is a great scope for selecting cultivars with not only higher grain yields but also higher forage yields and crude protein. It has a high percentage of crude protein (28.2 to 36.7). Pigeonpea stems are used as fuel wood in the energy-short villages of several African countries. Stems are also used for fencing crop fields, and in weaving cribs and baskets. Tall, perennial pigeonpeas are often also used as live fences in Africa and the Caribbean. Pigeonpea is also used in folk medicine in India, Argentina, and Cuba (Morton 1976).


The United States National Technical Information Service prepared a report for the U.S. National Science Foundation in 1978, in which the need to introduce pigeonpea into the United States for large-scale production was stressed. Realizing the importance of its market potential and uses, we started evaluating a pigeonpea advanced breeding line that we received from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in 1988. Pigeonpeas are a good alternative crop with low fertilizer requirements and with minimum pesticide need. Over sixty breeding lines have been evaluated during the last four years at Tifton, Georgia, and Lorman, Mississippi. Old cultivars with short-day requirements for flowering failed to mature before frost damage in October-November. However, new breeding lines less sensitive (e.g. ICPL 86005, ICPL 8501 etc.) to day length, flowered and produced a crop before frost. We have identified 6 breeding lines (ICPL 86005, ICPL 8501, ICPL 84023, ICPL 85046, ICPL 86015, and UPAS 120) producing over 4,000 kg/ha in 100 to 110 days, compared to the average world yield of pigeonpea of 700 kg/ha. Two or three breeding lines will be named and released in 1992.


Table 1. Mineral and vitamin contents of pigeonpea (Sinha 1977).

Mineral/vitamin Range Mean
Minerals (mg/100g)
Calcium 57-276 166.5
Total P 131.8-600 365.9
Phytin P 153-236 194.5
Magnesium 16-300 158
Iron 3.5-16.6 10.1
Sodium --- 28.5
Potassium --- 1104
Copper --- 1.25
Sulfur --- 177
Chlorine --- 5
Thiamin 0.45-0.80 0.63
Riboflavin 0.13-0.19 0.16
Niacin 2.9-3.22 3.1
Folic acid --- 0.1
Choline --- 18.3
Carotene 66-132 99

Last update May 2, 1997 aw