Pigeon pea

Pigeon pea

The pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan, syn. Cajanus indicus) is a perennial member of the family Fabaceae. Other common names are arhar (Hindi/Bengali), red gram, toovar/toor (Gujarati/Marathi/Punjabi), toovaram paruppu ( Tamil),toovara paruppu ( Malayalam)(മലയാളം "തുവര പരിപ്പ്" ),togari (Kannada), Kandi (Telugu), gandul, guandul, Congo pea, Gungo pea, Gunga pea, and no-eye pea.

The cultivation of the pigeon pea goes back at least 3000 years. The centre of origin is most likely Asia, from where it travelled to East Africa and by means of the slave trade to the American continent. Today pigeon peas are widely cultivated in all tropical and semi-tropical regions of both the Old and the New World.

Pigeon pea is an important grain legume crop of rainfed agriculture in the semi-arid tropics. The Indian subcontinent, Eastern Africa and Central America, in that order, are the world's three main pigeon pea producing regions. Pigeon pea is cultivated in more than 25 tropical and sub-tropical countries, either as a sole crop or intermixed with such cereals as sorghum (Sorchum bicolor), pearl millet (Pennisetium glaucum), or maize (Zea mays), or with legumes, e.g. peanut (Arachis hypogaea). Being a legume, pigeon pea enriches soil through symbiotic nitrogen fixation.

Early scientific names

Cytisus cajan (Crawfurd 1852)

Cajanus indicus, Spreng. (Valder 1895)


Pigeon peas are both a food crop (dried peas, flour, or green vegetable peas) and a forage/cover crop. The dried peas may be sprouted briefly, then cooked, for a flavor different from the green or dried peas. Sprouting also enhances the digestability of dried pigeon peas via the reduction of indigestible sugars that would otherwise remain in the cooked dried peas.

In India, split pigeon peas (toor dal) are one of the most popular pulses—along with chickpeas (chana), urad and mung. It is also called 'tuvara parippu' in Kerala. In south India a popular dish sambhar is made with this. Dal is also made with pigeon peas.

Pigeon peas are nutritionally important, as they contain high levels of protein and the important amino acids methionine, lysine, and tryptophan . In combination with cereals, pigeon peas make a well-balanced human food.

In some places, such as the Dominican Republic and Hawaii, pigeon peas are grown for canning. On the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico, rice and green pigeon peas are together considered the main traditional food, served as a representative Puerto Rican cuisine in many food festivals around the world. For example, it garnered great reviews in The Taste of Chicago 2007, an annual food festival.

The woody stems of pigeon peas are used as firewood, fencing and thatch. In Thailand, pigeon peas are grown as a host for scale insects which produce lac.

Pigeon peas are in some areas an important crop for green manure. They can after incorporation provide up to 40 kg nitrogen per hectare.

Medicinal Uses

A new usage for treatment of osteonecrosis of the femural head.


In most areas, pigeon peas are grown in association with other row crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, or maize. Pigeon peas can be of a perennial type, in which the crop can last 3-5 years (although the seed yield drops considerably after the first two years), or an annual type more suitable for grain production.

The crop is cultivated on marginal land by resource-poor farmers, who commonly grow traditional medium and long duration (5-11 months) landraces. Short duration pigeon peas (3-4 months) suitable for multiple cropping have recently been developed. Traditionally, the use of such input as fertilizers, weeding, irrigation, and pesticides are minimal, so present yield levels are low (average = 700 kg/hac). Greater attention is now being given to managing the crop because it is in high demand at remunerative prices.

Pigeon peas are very drought resistant and can be grown in areas with less than 650 mm annual rainfall.

World production of pigeon peas is estimated at 46,000 km². About 82% of this is grown in India. These days it is the most essential ingredient of animal feed used in West Africa, most especially in Nigeria where it is also grown.


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