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Introducing Pigeon Pea as an Intercrop

I don’t know who this question is best for which is why I’m posting it here!

I have several different varieties of Pigeon Pea (PP) and I’m a little bit unsure of how to proceed given the areas we have to plant and our overall strategic goals.

To give a little context we are working in West Africa in a transitional zone from rainforest to the Sahel. It would be best described as an arbored savannah and has 3 months with no rain in the dry season and probably somewhere around 2000mm of rain annually. Our primary goal is to promote PP as an intercrop between cashews for increased income before cashews fruit AND N-fixer to improve soil, lower soil temps, and lower wind speeds. We are also promoting perennials in general. There is one variety that grows locally, but very few people even know what PP is. Even fewer people actually grow PP. Most who know PP are from a different region where it is more frequently grown.

We have two larger planting areas about the size of one hectare each that we would like to plant PP as an intercrop between cashews and other fruit trees. The area with cashews currently only has cashews and 2 varieties of PP but we will be planting moringa as well. The two varieties of PP that we have there are the ‘black’ ones from ECHO and some local white ones that look like they are probably very closely related to the ‘caqui’ ones from ECHO. The caqui ones didn’t start flowering until a couple months ago and we got our first harvest out of them very recently, so 1.5 years or so. It took so long I thought they might be the seeds from hybrids that are sterile. The black ones were much sooner. We planted everything in 2019 and a fire destroyed about 90+% of the PP, but there are still a few that pushed through or were in areas that didn’t get a direct hit by the fire.

The other area will be for a more diverse set of fruit trees and currently only has red PP (I think maybe ‘Georgia-1’) that we got from someone who we met at an ECHO class Dan and Julie in SW FL. Those seeds are much larger and the pods are also much redder.

The two areas are separated by about 1km.

In summary both areas have a small amount of mature plants that have given maybe a total of 10kg total, but we are wanting to increase production significantly in order to distribute seeds for planting to other cashew farmers (and others as well). The main question(s) I have are regarding mixing different varieties in the same field. I don’t know if that is good or bad. My assumption was that it would be better not to mix them and keep them segregated. I’m not sure how segregated different varieties need to be and if that is even the best decision. In addition to the 3 varieties we already have mature plants for, we have a couple hundred seeds of the ‘ICPL 88034 - Early Maturing’ that we’d like to plant. Given that we have 2 fields and 4 varieties and not much seed of the 4th variety I’m not sure what the best plan of action is if we want to get as many seeds as possible with the main criteria for selecting varieties with the shortest time to harvest being the highest priority.

I just read the following: but a lot of that seemed over my head and I don’t know that we’re looking to go into that much detail yet.

Thanks ahead of time!


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Hi Tyler, I’m new here and not at all knowledgeable on PP. You are planting to grow seed to distribute. But I did not see any mention of how well liked is PP in the diet of the locals. I’d assume very much in demand, but still wanted to ask that basic question. Thanks, Newbie Shari

Since there is so little supply and it is newer to the people in my area its possible it could be a total flop, but I’m thinking the opposite based on the few conversations I’ve had. People grow lots of cowpea here and beans are well liked, but not incorporated into the diet as frequently as you’d think (potentially a storage issue). The people who know it from other regions said they paid for people to buy it in a different region and send it to them in our region. Others really commented on how well it grows and how much it helps the soil. To start off it will likely be something that is only consumed by those who grow it or the people from other regions that already know it. Most people have never seen any perennial beans and if it gives a crop in the first year I think that is convincing enough for people to try it, even on a small scale first.


Hi Tyler! Have you read this article about selecting pigeon pea varieties?

All the varieties you currently have growing (black, cream colored, and red) are long duration and are daylength sensitive. They will flower as the days get shorter, stop once the days get longer, and then start again once the days shorten. Their days to flowering may differ but all are daylength sensitive. These varieties are great for being super productive (leaf biomass and pods) large shrubs that live longer (semi-perennial) and keep producing. If you are looking for a quick short term variety that will flower, produce quickly, and then possibly die, you want to go with the short-duration day-neutral varieties. These are also bred to be easier to mechanically harvest, though pigeon peas tend to flower continuously even with these varieties so there will never be a point where all the pods are mature at the same time.

We have three short-duration day-neutral varieties currently in our seed catalog: ‘ICPL 88034’, ‘Georgia-1’, and ‘Georiga-2’. I would recommend reading the descriptions of each variety in the seed catalog as I outlined the days to flowering and heights of the plants for each of the three varieties. The seeds of these varieties are noticeably smaller than the long-duration daylength-sensitive varieties. Does pigeon pea seed color for eating come into play in that culture? Most of the short duration day-neutral varieties are dark orange/brown.

I would decide what characteristics you want first. Seed color? Days to flowering? Life length? Height of bush? Productiveness? Forage qualities? Also, are the plants going to get enough sunlight or will they be shaded out? Once you determine what characteristics you are looking for, then decide if you want to produce seeds for consumption and/or for planting. If for consumption, what variety is most culturally acceptable as a food? Flavor? Color? Does a mix work? If for planting, you would want to grow one variety if you are looking at having continuous characteristics in subsequent generations. There’s nothing wrong with growing a bunch of varieties together and harvesting seeds from those and eating them and planting them. The issue comes in if you want a specific trait to be consistent over many plantings and generations. In that case, choose one variety and start with pure seed. Varieties need to be separated at least 800m to prevent cross-pollination. For seed production, I stagger the planting since we don’t have enough space to isolate. Each year I grow one variety in the summer (daylength neutral) and one variety in the summer fall (daylength sensitive). They are separated by flowering time but I have to remove all the plants of one variety before the next variety flowers in order to do this.

‘ICPL 88034’ seems like a good option since you already have it and it’s more quick to flower than the other varieties you have growing.

Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts!

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Oh well I messed up. I didn’t realize Pigeon Pea easily crossed. I thought they were mostly self-fertile. I guess I’ll be creating my own variety then! 800m… Go figure my lot is 750m long.

Thanks Holly for enlightening us all. It seems that maybe the biggest initial mistake was the timing of the local cream colored variety PP planting. I planted them in July (well most of those died and we replanted in Aug) in the height of the rainy season when days were just starting to get shorter and the PP never got big enough to start flowering before the rains stopped (in Oct), making the first harvest delay a full year after what was anticipated.

I think we’re going to have to just plant a bunch of different varieties first and see what characteristics people like here. Given that it isn’t super well known yet, I don’t see them being particularly demanding or desiring of any one single characteristic more than others. The biggest thing we’ll want to avoid is having others do the same thing we did and not get any harvest at all the first year because they planted too late.

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It sounds like there is a lot of potential in your area for PP being in a culture that already appreciates beans. PP have a lot of desirable traits over other beans and I think once they see that demonstrated you’ll have some interest. I’m in a culture that doesn’t want to eat beans because of the stigma that beans are a poor man’s food to the point that even the poor don’t want to eat them. I’ve still run into some interest in the PPs I grow despite the sigma around beans.

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How does your host culture prepare/cook beans? Are they mixed with other things at all? I’m sorry to hear about the poor man’s stigma. Just wondering if there would be different ways to prepare them that would make them seem more attractive?

I’ve seen green beans in big urban centers but the locals I show that I eat green beans just laugh and think I’m a goat or something. Most people here just eat them as a pulse soaked/cooked in palm oil. Think baked beans but not sweet and all oil.


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Hi Holly,

Thanks for your very informative info. I live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Beans are an extremely popular part of the culture here but only two kinds are commonly eaten: black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and brown “Peruvian” beans, that are actually native to Mexico ( also Phaseolus vulgaris). Pigeon Peas are unknown here and I’d like to grow them and introduce them to some local farmers and restaurant owners.

Our coastal tropical climate has an 8 month extremely dry season (Oct-May) with almost no rain, and an extremely wet 4 month season (June-Sept). Irrigation is available.

Humidity varies from 90%-100% in summer to about 60% in winter.

Temperatures are as high as 40C in summer (with lows of 22C) and about 27C/15C in winter.

Shortest day of the year has 10 hours 53 minutes of daylight.
Longest day of the year has 13 hours 23 minutes of daylight.
Rainfall is 1,500 mm annually.

Pleasant taste and texture are number one criteria, followed by yield and number of years the variety will yield abundantly.

There is a heavy reliance here on (temperate climate) annuals like, lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, annual beans and corn. I hope to popularize perennial beans and greens (Chaya) to enhance food security.

Is there a pigeon pea variety you can recommend for my area based on this data? Is it available here in Mexico?
Many thanks/muchas gracias,
Tom (aka Tomas)

Hi Tom! Welcome. Thank you for your question. If anyone has experience in Tom’s climate with pigeon pea, please feel free to jump in!

I would think you would want to go with a long duration pigeon pea as those will have better perennial habits. The downside is that you won’t get pods in the summer. Or you could try ICPL 88034 (day-neutral) and see if it produces well as a perennial. For productivity, all our long duration varieties are high producers. If I could recommend a few for you, I would say ‘Caqui’ or ‘Black’. ‘Caqui’ is a caqui colored seed and ‘Black’ is a black seed. I can’t help with the flavor between the varieties. You could do a taste test though! In some Caribbean countries, pigeon peas are cooked with rice.

What you could do is plant a few plants of several different varieties and watch them over the course of a year or two. Then transition to planting and producing just the best performing variety. I don’t know about the availability of pigeon pea seed in your area, but I imagine they are available in Mexico somewhere. Anyone out there know of a source?

Our weather isn’t too different here than yours is there, though it’s probably not as dry in the dry season and it gets colder here. Honestly, I’ve had to play with the planting dates here because I’ve found if I plant them in the ground mid-rainy season (June/July), they struggle big time getting established in the wet, soggy soils and high humidity. They don’t seem to come out of it until the beginning of August. When it was worked best to plant them here in South Florida is either end of April before the rainy season starts (we use drip irrigation), or at the end of July or beginning of August. If you want more biomass on the plants before flowering starts in October, the April date would be better but you could experiment with both. They can get fairly tall, like small trees, and may require staking, especially if you have high winds and the pigeon pea aren’t protected.

Do some experimenting first to see what works best in your area before planting a large area. Pigeon pea is a great crop, so have fun!


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