- A new marketing and sales approach for pigeonpea and chickpea spearheaded by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its partners could empower farmers and increase incomes in Kenya and across East Africa.
Pigeonpeas and chickpeas are staple foods common to Africa and Asia that come in a variety of shapes and colours and grow in bountiful quantities on pods and bushes. The introduction of new varieties and a new approach has meant more plentiful harvests and a better bargaining position for farmers, according to the organisation Future Harvest.
- This area has its own way of selecting for suitable crops, Kenyan farmer Alfred Korir told Future Harvest. "This time it has selected chickpea and pigeonpea, and we really like these crops." Mr Korir is benefiting from a unique program designed to increase his income that is guided by agricultural researchers from around the world.
Legume crops, which include peas and beans, may provide part of the solution to the poverty faced by Mr Korir and his community. "The key is a unique marketing and sales approach for pigeonpea and chickpea," spearheaded by ICRISAT, according to the organisation.
This approach has led to enhanced bargaining power and enabled farmers to increase their selling price by 45 percent on average - in some cases, doubling the price they receive in local and regional markets.
- We are now looking at how we can work with our partners and donors to use these strategies in scaling up incomes of people throughout East Africa, says William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.
Since 1999, ICRISAT researchers have been developing high-yielding pigeonpeas from locally adapted varieties and high-yielding chickpeas from internationally available varieties. In all, researchers introduced over 500 varieties of these crops from India and other locations around the world.
ICRISAT scientists based in Nairobi, Kenya first evaluated chickpeas and pigeonpeas to determine the varieties with the highest profit potential and suitability to local conditions. Researchers then distributed the best-adapted varieties to local farmers and scientists through national agricultural research programs in Kenya and Tanzania.
After further field tests, the top varieties were planted in demonstration plots from which farmers were able to save seed. Then, researchers working with farmers established plots dedicated to producing seed, allowing more seed to be distributed rapidly to fields in the hot eastern part of Kenya and the Rift Valley.
Initial results have been surprising. Grain yields of the highest-yielding varieties of chickpeas were over 4 tons per hectare in the test fields, with more than 80 percent of new introduced varieties producing greater yields than typical pre-introduction harvests in both countries.
Further, new policy that encourages collaborative bargaining is enhancing rural farmers' market power and has meant that farmers can increase the income they gain from planting the new seeds.
- People in this area sometimes fear trying new things, but this time around they tried these crops and they have proved to be very good, says Catherine Sigira, a farmer from Kiplabotwa, Kenya. Producer marketing groups had further improved her ability to manage her crops and improve her family's income, she adds.
- Ms Sigira's experience is far from isolated, Future Harvest says. In the first year in Kenya, some 50 tons of pigeonpea grain valued at Kenya shillings 800,000 (US$ 11,000) was marketed by 200 farmers in Makueni and over 30 tons of chickpea grain valued at 900,000 Kenya Shillings (US$ 12,000) was marketed by farmers in Mbeere District, according to the organisation, which is now taking the project to new parts of East Africa.
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