NOT a few had this notion that drylands are found only in the desert zones of this planet.

Sorry folks. Drylands are found close to our homes.

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Listening to agricultural researchers; Myer Myer Mula, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Mr. Fernando Sugui, Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) discuss this topic for the greater part of the day while we toured the MMSU experimental areas for pigeonpea in the Ilocos coast last December, I soon understood that in agriculture, drylands include those that don't get irrigated except by rainfall.

In effect, that includes much of the Philippines' rainfed farms and affects a majority of Filipino farmers.

Many of us also think that food production is concentrated in the flat and irrigated lowlands. Most of these prime agricultural lands are fast being converted into housing and industrial zones. It turned to naught previous agricultural investments and future developments to ensure for us that these lands will be perpetual sources of food and fodder throughout the generations.

Many farms in the lowlands are actually rainfed and qualify as drylands. In both lowland irrigated and dryland areas, food production is affected by urban sprawl, floods during the wet season and drought in the summer months due to a declining supply of irrigation water.

We have the vast, elevated and challenged drylands in the coastal areas and the uplands as the next frontier for mass food production. Still, in all of these food production areas, farming is becoming difficult because of climate change problems. Already, radical weather patterns are demonstrating how it compromises food production in the Philippines.

Floods and hurricanes devastated our farms last year. Early this year drought brought about by El Nino will reduce the area planted to rice and corn if it has not already caused crop damages in affected areas. In the north, damaged vegetables due to the cold Siberian winds have yet to be assessed and reported. All these will take their toll. The result will be increased food prices and decreased food supply in coming days of 2010.

These emerging scenario present challenges for agricultural researchers to identify and promote agricultural crops that are suited to the Philippines' drylands; have multiple uses; and, do not require expensive inputs for marginalized farmers to use.

Among many others, one of the many benefits derived by the Philippines from Dr. William D. Dar's appointment as ICRISAT's Director General, is the transfer of seeds and technology for these kinds of future food crops for the Philippines. Pursuant to this concern, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed by ICRISAT with the government resulting in the conduct of research for the adaptation and promotion of improved legumes, groundnuts and food and fuel crops in the country by the National Agricultural Research System (NARS).

A research paper (Pigeonpea - A Potential Crop for Philippine Drylands, by KB Saxena1, MG Mula1, F Sugui2, RL Domoguen3, and WD Dar) expounds on the importance of promoting pigeonpea for the country's marginal agricultural land areas. The paper identified pigeonpea as one of the food crops that ICRISAT and the Philippine NARS are now working on for its multiple use as food, fodder and fuel crop.

Pigeonpea or red gram [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millspaugh] is an important food legume of the semi-arid tropics of Asia, Africa and Americas. In the Philippines, pigeonpea landraces are known as kadios, kardis or kidis and occupies a prime niche in sustainable farming system of smallholder rainfed farmers.

Pigeonpea is a photoperiod sensitive plant with short-day requirement for induction of flowering. The traditional landraces and varieties of pigeonpea are sown at the onset of the rainy season and harvested after 6-9 months. Due to its strong photo-sensitivity requirement its cultivation is restricted to the latitudes ranging between 300N and S with a temperature range of 20° to 40°C (Sinha, 1977).

Recently, ICRISAT pigeonpea breeders have developed high yielding early maturing varieties, which do not have strong short photoperiod requirements and can be grown successfully up to 460 latitude (Saxena, 2009).

The cultivation of pigeonpea globally is in upward trend in terms of area and production from 2.86 million hectares (M ha) and 1.96 million tons (MT) in 1980 to 4.63 M ha and 3.46 MT in 2006, respectively. However, the productivity level of pigeonpea has stagnated over-time between 750 - 890 kg ha-1 (FAO Stat Data, April 2008). In India, the domestic consumption demand is estimated at 3.4 MT annually and the production stands at 2.5 MT annually (Price et al., 2003). Clearly, the production in the country is not sufficient to satisfy the domestic demand and hence it has to rely on imports of the crop from Myanmar and Africa.

Pigeonpea is consumed in a wide variety of ways. In the Indian sub-continent its dry dehulled splits are cooked as a thick soup (dhal) and eaten with bread or rice.

In Africa and Central America, whole dry and immature seeds are cooked as vegetable. Its seed husk and pod wall are fed to domestic animals, while dry stems are an important household fuel wood. In China, pigeonpea is grown in the hilly tracts for soil conservation because of its deep tap root system and rapid canopy development.

The protein content in pigeonpea seeds range between 18-22% and it complements well with cereal protein quality. The protein of wheat, the staple diet of the poor section of the population in many countries, is deficient in the essential amino acids like lysine and threonine.

The prolonged dependence on cereals could result in the prevalence of protein-calorie malnutrition, especially in the vulnerable group of masses of developing and underdeveloped countries like the Philippines.

The nutritional intervention programs to reduce such malnutrition are of immediate interest. Pigeonpea, which has high source of lysine and other essential amino acids, carbohydrates and minerals, can be an excellent crop to bring about food and nutritional security.

It is estimated that with an average yield of 650 kgs/ha by pigeonpea farmers will be able to generate about 170- 200 kg of protein ha-1 (Saxena et al., 2002).