one of the world’s oldest crops flourishes in San Cristóbal
The pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) is one of the eight most cultivated legumes in the world and ranks third in dry grain protein content. A perennial annual bush, it varies greatly in size. It is a plant which can maintain an elevated concentration of nitrogen in the soil and contains seeds that are used in human nutrition, as well as fodder for animal feed. The Royal Spanish Academy denotes guandú (pea) as the official name, although in the Caribbean it is known as guandul (pigeon pea) or Gandule bean. It is a highly-utilized grain in Caribbean cuisine, in countries like Colombia (along its Caribbean coast), Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where rice with pigeon peas is a staple of local cuisine.
Aside from being a plant that can maintain high concentrations of nitrogen in the soil, its penetrating roots are also used to loosen the soil. Likewise, its seeds are used in human nutrition as well as for animal feed. Its flavor is pleasant and it contains an average of 18% to 25% protein, reaching as high as 32% protein content. For these reasons, it is considered a good quality source of vegetable protein that is affordable for the consumer. It also features a balanced content of amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The grain is consumed tender (green) or dry, and is used in a wide range of recipes such as rice with pigeon peas, a typical dish in many Caribbean countries. The pigeon pea contains five times more Vitamin C and A than the pea.
The pigeon pea is native to India, although some consider it to be African in origin, and its cultivation dates back at least three millennia. The most accepted version is that it comes from Asia and migrated to Africa where larger, superior grain varieties than those of India were developed. Subsequently, it reached America as a result of the slave trade, where it spread widely in Central America and the Caribbean. Today, it grows around the world, in semi-arid tropical zones located in East Africa, India, Central America and the Caribbean; these regions are currently the largest producers.
The pigeon pea withstands a wide variety of soils, from sandy to heavily clayish. It also tolerates a vast range of pH, but the most favorable of all is 5.0- 7.0. It is sensitive to high salinities. Also, it is one of the legumes that shows greater resistance to drought conditions, even though it requires good humidity during the first months. The optimum temperature during the vegetative cycle varies from 20° to 28°C. The plant adapts well in high temperature zones with sub-humid conditions. Likewise, it grows well on sea level soil, all the way to 1,000 meters above sea level and survives even in the poorest soil, due to its rusticity. The cultivation seasons are: in the spring (April and May) and in the autumn (October and November), thus establishing mild variances in the cultivation method, in accordance with the season.
There exist two main types of pigeon peas: the Cajanus cajan flavus, which features yellow flowers and short pods, and the Cajanus cajan Var, which features yellow and red flowers with longer pods. In the Dominican Republic, different varieties are cultivated and these are distinguished by the color of the grain, the flower and their production cycle. The most promising varieties for commercial cultivation are: San Cristóbal, UASD Selection and IDIAF Primor Selection Kaki Type and the Pinto Villalba Variety. The UASD (Autonomous University of Santo Domingo) and IDIAF (Institute of Agro-Forestry Research) are known to be insensitive to the photoperiod, which allows for yearlong cultivation. Also, the Kaki variety features yellow spotless flowers; the color of the legume is clear green, while the color of the ripened grain is a creamy yellow. In the case of the Pinto Villalba variety, the grain when tender, is of dark green color with purple spots and the color of the grain when ripe is also creamy yellow with spots. This variety also meets good standards for canning.
Pigeon Pea planting and production in the Dominican Republic
The pigeon pea, second to kidney beans, is the most widely-consumed and produced legume in the Dominican Republic. Production is concentrated in the Central region: the National District, San Cristóbal, Baní and San José de Ocoa. In the southwestern region it is grown in San Juan de la Maguana, Padre de las Casas, Azua and Elías Piña. Likewise, it is cultivated in the northeastern region in Mao, Santiago Rodriguez, Moncion and others. In the eastern region it thrives in El Seybo, Higuey, and La Romana. Also in the northeast, it is grown especially in Salcedo, Nagua, San Francisco de Macorís and Cotuí. In practical terms, this means the crop is distributed throughout the country.
The inland production of pigeon peas has had fluctuations throughout the years. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, during the term 2002-2012, the harvested surface fluctuated between 29,293 hectares in 2002 and 25,210 hectares in 2012. During that same period, production fluctuated between 585,352 quintals and 617,239 quintals. Processing companies
currently develop programs to ensure their raw material, as the greatest quantity of pigeon pea, consumed and exported, is canned. Regarding exports, mostly canned pigeon peas are exported to cater to the Caribbean community living in U.S cities, as well as to Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. According to figures disclosed by the Central Bank in 2012, the country exported US$200,000 in canned pigeon peas alone, despite having reached US$3million in exports, the previous year. At the same time, US$928,000 worth of fresh pigeon peas were exported.