P.E.A.S. - Pigeonpeas para Economica y Alimentaria Seguridad

Case Studies
Agriculture, Food Security, Nutrition
​Semilla Nueva
Latin America & Caribbean
Resource Publication Date:
December, 2013
Content Format:

This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.

Project Description: ​

Due to poor agricultural extension services and chemically-intensive monocultures, 70% of Guatemalan rural farmers are impoverished, half of their children suffer from malnutrition, and 79% of their soils are severely degraded. Farmers want simple, inexpensive interventions that help them earn more money from their land while also feeding their family better.

Pigeonpea is a small bean that grows between rows of existing crops, providing an extra crop without sacrificing what farmers normally grow. It requires no fertilizers, grows in the dry season without irrigation, and is open-pollinated so farmers can save their seed. As a legume pigeonpea creates organic fertilizer for other crops and rebuilds degraded soils, while providing high protein food for families on their own land.  Lastly, with increasing international demand pigeonpea can double incomes of 250,000 Guatemalan families.  Pigeonpea is easily scalable in Central America where millions of smallholder farmers need integrated food security -agriculture interventions and have adequate pigeonpea growing conditions.

The objectives are:

  1. Help families experiment with new pigeonpea varieties;
  2. Use local Women’s Food Security Groups to incorporate pigeonpea into traditional recipes;
  3. Develop linkages between farmers and buyers, creating a regional pigeonpea market.  

Impact of project: ​

The biggest impact we have seen is in terms of farmer adoption.  Many Guatemalan families have grown local varieties of pigeonpea for centuries and are used to eating it, and this cultural relevance makes it easier for farmers to adopt the new practice. Because pigeonpea is not a new crop to farmers, the new varieties only help farmers increase their yields from a couple pounds to a couple thousands, feeding their families and providing diversified income. In the last three years of the project we have seen participation go from 30 to 100 to 1,000 farmers growing pigeonpea, with expectations for at least 2,000 farmers next year.   

This year’s harvest will occur in January 2014, in which we will gather data on increased income for pigeonpea farmers.  We estimate that the average farmer growing 12 hectares of pigeonpea in between their corn can earn an extra $275 per year as well as an additional $300 in savings from replacing black bean purchases with their home-grown pigeonpea.  In 2014 we are looking for partners to assist in a nutritional analysis of protein intake increase for families consuming pigeonpea on a regular basis.  

Why this project is a Good Practice example: ​

Pigeonpea maximizes the nutrition impact of an agricultural intervention because it doesn’t require farmers to ‘opt in’ to nutritional benefits.  It is an agricultural intervention that recognizes the real need of farmers to make more money, while at the same time bringing nutrition and food security as added benefits.

Pigeonpea also maximizes impact because it is incredibly scalable. Pigeonpea is a culturally-relevant, easy to implement intervention that farmers want. The International Development community has spent millions of dollars urging farmers to give up corn and change to a more lucrative crop to earn more money, or build family gardens and buy fortified food packets to solve their nutrition problems; yet we’ve seen very little change in agricultural development or the fight against malnutrition in decades.  Pigeonpea gives farming families an extra crop without altering their traditional farming, an extra crop they already know and have eaten for centuries.  Countries like Tanzania and Mozambique have proven that pigeonpea can work.  Production expanded from around 60,000 hectares to 280,000 hectares of pigeonpea grown in between corn in the last 20 years in Africa, and has earned a livable income for a million smallholder farmers. Now we want to see that transformation in Guatemala. 

Impact Evaluation:

Impact evaluation in progress

Lessons Learned: ​

Many projects focus on agriculture, with the main objective of increasing income.  Then other projects focus on food security, with the main objective of teaching basic nutritional skills to women.  We have learned that both men and women play a role in both agriculture and nutrition within the home.  We learned that if we were going to get anywhere with pigeonpea we were going to have to prove both economic and food security benefits together. Developing Women’s Food Security Groups to host cooking classes with pigeonpea has been the cornerstone of the success in our communities, as it engaged women, often times the lead decision makers in the home.

Another important piece in implementation has been the use of small-scale experimentation to introduce pigeonpea to new farming families.  Trying new ideas is risky for farming families, and too often we ask them to radically change their practices and invest nearly everything they have on a new technology. With small-scale experimental plots on their own land, they can significantly reduce the risk of the new technology and start to investigate for themselves what works best. This also contributes significantly to empowerment and local leadership of development projects. Local stakeholders will let the Development Community know when a technology works, as we saw in the nearly 10-fold increase of farmers growing pigeonpea in 2013, mostly with farmers we had never even spoken to.

Funders: Ashoka, Rotary International, Miracles in Action

Primary Contact: Curt Bowen, Executive Director Semilla Nueva

Country: Guatemala

Project Dates: August 2011 – present

Interventions: Target the vulnerable and improve equity, Facilitate production diversification,

Target Population: Smallholder farmers, Rural farmers,

Project Stage: Ongoing activities

Geographic Coverage: National