Monday, June 29, 2009

Improving a drought resistant food

A research institute has developed new varieties of the pigeon pea, which could help Sub-Saharan Africa become more food secure. The pigeon pea is a high protein pea often called the "poor man's meat" and can grow well despite droughts. The Indian based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics have developed varieties of the seeds for growing in different climates and altitudes.

From the Voice of America, reporter Cathy Majtenyi describes the scientists work.

In Kenya, ICRISAT is growing more than 40 varieties of pigeon pea cross-bred to thrive in different altitudes, temperatures, rainfall, and other conditions.

They also want a breed resistant to wilt, a disease that hits pigeon pea plants especially hard.

Farmers have cultivated pigeon pea in this East African nation for centuries. But traditional varieties tend to take about 10 months to mature.

Some of the new varieties being developed and tested in Kenya mature within five months of being planted, enabling farmers to have two or more harvests a year.

And that is good news for farmers such as Bernard Nzuma, who says that his family's food security has increased because of the new varieties that he grows.

"It resists the drought so there is food security. I'm able to have income and take care of the family needs. The pigeon pea leaves are good for improving the fertility of the soil. I use the leaves to feed my animals and also as fertilizer," Nzuma said.

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