As the world adapts to climate change, crops once termed ‘orphan crops’ are now attracting attention, especially dryland pulses like pigeonpea and chickpea that have been ICRISAT’s mandate crops for more than four decades.

Ripening pods promise food security and prosperity for this dryland farmer in Kenya Photo: ICRISAT

Ripening pods promise food security and prosperity for this dryland farmer in Kenya Photo: ICRISAT

These climate-smart crops help the smallholder farmers in arid and semi-arid regions of the world withstand weather variability, require less water, enrich the soil and are packed with nutrition. These crops provide more nutrition per drop not only for humans and livestock but for soils as well through their nitrogen-fixing properties. Over the years, ICRISAT and its partners have selectively enhanced pulse productivity through the application of modern breeding and screening techniques to increase resilience and nutrition, and to develop modern varieties and their associated production practices.

Pulses are what we call Smart Food – good for you, good for the planet and good for the smallholder farmer. Pulses like chickpea and pigeonpea will contribute towards the new Sustainable Development Goals to reduce poverty and hunger, improve health and gender equity, promote responsible consumption and help adapt to climate change.

Why pulses are climate smart?

Survive weather fluctuations: Pulses like chickpea can withstand temperatures in desert-like regions that experience significant difference in day and night temperatures; pigeonpea crops destroyed by unseasonal rain have the potential for a second flush to produce a good harvest.

Improves soil health: Pulses enrich soils by fixing nitrogen and also increase soil microbe diversity. The leaf droppings provide green manure and in severely eroded soils these crops help conserve top soil and rejuvenate degraded land.

Efficient use of water: In many parts of Africa and India, chickpea is planted during the dry season in dried-up farm ponds or rice fallows and the crop survives on residual soil moisture. Pigeonpea is sown mainly as a rainy-season crop and grown to maturity in the subsequent dry season on residual soil moisture.

More nutrition per drop: In a country like India, pulses play an important role as they are the main source of dietary protein. The protein in one glass of pulses equals that in two glasses of milk. Chickpea has the highest protein bioavailabilty among pulses. The high dietary fiber in pulses lowers risk of diabetes, heart ailments and gastrointestinal diseases. Pulses also provide substantial amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) such as Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc.

Chickpea and pigeonpea are great sources of iron, manganese and zinc and can play a key role in countering iron deficiency anemia – a serious health issue that ranges from 50-70% in women and children, with pregnant women being the most susceptible.

Diverse food basket and extra income: Pulses are ideal for on-farm diversification. As an intercrop with cereals and other crops, pulses bring in extra income for farmers and at the same time increase the yield of the main crop. In Kade, Ghana, pigeonpea in the cropping cycle resulted in over 100% increase in maize grain yield. Crop rotation not only enriches the soil for the following crop but also makes profitable use of land that might have otherwise been left fallow.

Diversified uses: Chickpea green leaves are used as a leafy vegetable that is superior to spinach and cabbage in terms of mineral content. The green immature seed is used as a snack or vegetable. Selling green grains is highly profitable as these are sold at a higher price than dry grains. The split dry seed and its flour are used in a variety of food preparations.

Pigeonpea also lends itself to various uses. The leaves and forage are high in protein and are largely used as fodder. The stalks are used for fencing, thatching and preparation of baskets. They make for excellent firewood as the calorific value of stalks is about half that of the same weight of coal. It is also used as a shade crop in cocoa and vanilla plantations in Nigeria and South Asia respectively.

This post was first published on the ICRISAT Happenings on 8 January 201. Read the full post here