Pigeon peas help Malagasy farmers produce food despite drought

ERADA, Madagascar, April 25 (Reuters) – Growing edible crops was so difficult for Kazy Zanapijo in drought-prone southern Madagascar that she often had only wild plants and cacti for sustenance and feed her children – until she begins to grow. pigeon peas.

The legumes, scientifically known as cajanus, are promoted by CTAS, a local non-governmental organization dedicated to improving agriculture in the region, as they are drought resistant, highly nutritious and good for the soil. .

“I used to plant other things but they weren’t growing. Since I started planting pigeon peas, I have harvested a lot. This has allowed me to feed my 10 children,” said Zanapijo, who was pulling plants with a baby strapped in. at his back.

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The plants, which look like slender shrubs and reach about waist height, provide not only legumes that are good to eat, but also woody branches that can be sold in the market as kindling.

The far south of Madagascar has repeatedly struggled with food shortages due to a combination of drought, soil erosion caused by high winds and deforestation, and extreme poverty. Climatologists say the rains will become even rarer and less predictable in the future. Read more

Pigeon peas are a staple food in India, but in southern Madagascar subsistence farmers traditionally grow maize and sweet potatoes. Over the past decade, these cultures have often failed.

CTAS encourages farmers to switch to pigeon pea and offers training to support them, although a growing number, including Zanapijo, have made the switch without CTAS, simply because they have seen the success of others.

“We had been to the beach and on the way back I saw pigeon peas growing. I decided to plant some,” she said.

Initially, farmers are encouraged to plant pigeon peas only, in neat rows perpendicular to the direction of the wind. This helps stop erosion and over time replenishes the soil.

Later, farmers can add other plants between their rows of pigeon peas. Zanapijo now grows sorghum, maize, wheat and watermelons.

“Before, we had no food, it was really hard,” she says. “I made a big effort to achieve this good result. Some months, I was even able to buy notebooks for my children.”

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Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis; Written by Estelle Shirbon. Editing by Jane Merriman

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