he 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 peas can be of a perennial varieity, in which the crop can last 3–5 years (although the seed yield drops considerably after the first two years), or an annual varieity more suitable for grain production. In the tropics pigeon pea is a perennial which can grow into a small tree. In the subtropics it is usually an annual, dieing back when it freezes.
Pigeon peas are 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 peas are 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, the pigeon pea enriches soil through symbiotic nitrogen fixation.
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 is minimal, so present yield levels are low (average = 700 kg/ha). 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.
Most varieties are not frost tolerant, although there are some newer varieties that supposedly can handle a bit of frost. If you get freezing winters you can grow them as an annual crop. That's not ideal from a permaculture point of view, but it's still a great food crop and soil improver.
You grow pigeon peas from seed. There are many varieties of pigeon pea around the world, from tall tree like species, to smaller bushes and dwarf varieties. The different varieties also mature at different times. If you live in a cool climate grab a faster maturing species.
If you want to take advantage of the plant's ability to fix nitrogen then you may have to inoculate the seeds. It depends where you live. (See Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria.) Pigeon Pea is not very specific. For inoculation you can use any Rhizobium of the cowpea group.