Pigeonpea production practices and gender role
Pigeonpea is an important crop integrated in cropping systems in growing areas in Benin. The crop is mainly grown by adult and experienced men. This observation suggests that farmers have accumulated knowledge related to the crop through years of cultivation and exchanges with elders and other farmers . The socioeconomic data about the pigeonpea growers are of great importance to identify those to be included in a participatory varietal selection or participatory plant breeding programs. It is worth noting that pigeonpea production in Benin is confined to the southern and central regions, while its cultivation could be more adapted to the northern regions of the country with less rainfall. This observation may be an opportunity to expand the cultivation to these areas, which are more prone to drought. However, sociocultural factors that may limit the cultivation of the crop in these regions of Benin need to be investigated for successful introduction of the crop.
Pigeonpea was grown in association with various crops species due to its slow growth during the 2–3 months after sowing . Thus, depending on the growing area, pigeonpea was mainly associated with maize, cassava, cowpea, groundnut and vegetables. The Department of Couffo recorded the highest crops combination with pigeonpea. This Department is characterized by degraded soil and a high pressure on agricultural land , and pigeonpea has been promoted to cope with depletion in soil fertility [13, 14]. As a result, pigeonpea is associated with a wide range of crops in the production systems in this area. The association of pigeonpea with maize and cassava was reported in other pigeonpea-growing countries for instance in Nigeria , Uganda  and Kenya . Few pigeonpea growers planted the crop in pure stand. Similar result was observed in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya [16, 19, 33]. The primary reason given by farmers was that pigeonpea has a long growth cycle and its cultivation in sole crop occupies land that should be used for other crops. As such, farmers may be more willing to grow in pure stand early or extra-early pigeonpea cultivars since they can harvest within a short period (3–4 months) and allocated the land for other crops. In crop rotation system, pigeonpea was reported to control weeds and improve soil fertility for subsequent crops notably maize. This observation was consistent with findings of similar studies [4, 10]. In fact, as a legume, pigeonpea fixes atmospheric nitrogen in its various parts and the leaves drop forming litter and root residues enhance soil fertility [8, 34].
Most of the farmers used no product to conserve pigeonpea grains. Nevertheless, some farmers use chemical products and indigenous products to conserve their grains. The chemicals products used by farmers to conserve pigeonpea grains are not registered for such use. Consumption of pigeonpea grains treated with these products with residual and toxic ingredients might be detrimental to consumers’ health .
The majority of pigeonpea growers saved seed for planting next season. Similar observation was made for many other crops in developing countries where most of the farmers saved seed for the next planting season and few of the farmers purchased seeds [16, 19, 36]. To some extent, this situation is the result of a non-existing formal seed system [10, 37, 38]. The informal seed system involving seed exchanges among farmers and among villages as well favors the introduction of new varieties or helps to spread existing cultivars across villages [39, 40]. However, farmer-saved seed and seed acquisition from market do not guarantee physical and genetic purity and an acceptable germination percentage [21, 40]. Currently, apart from sporadic seeds distribution to farmers by extension services, there is no formal seed supply system for pigeonpea in Benin. It is important to make available to farmers good quality seed in order to increase productivity of pigeonpea . Hence, farmers should be trained in seed production of crops that are not covered by private seed companies.
Both male and female pigeonpea producers were differently involved in decision making regarding to farming activities and income management. To perform the labor-intensive operations such as land preparation (clearing, plowing), weeding, harvesting and threshing, households often hired labor or get involved in mutual aid groups. This observation was in agreement with finding on fonio (Digitaria spp.) in Togo . The relatively low proportion of female involved in pigeonpea production as compared to other crops may be explained by its long life cycle, and then, its cultivation requires access to land on long duration. Such condition is difficult to fulfill by female who, in Benin, are rarely landowner . Popularization of early or extra-early-maturing cultivars may make the cultivation of pigeonpea more attractive to women. Contrary to our observation, that is, women were more involved in pigeonpea commercialization, in some regions in Tanzania (e.g., Babati), men played the major role in pigeonpea grains commercialization probably because in this region, pigeonpea was introduced as cash crop . This suggests that the role played by male and female in pigeonpea value chain is context specific and depends on the status, subsistence or commercial, of the crop.
Several constraints hampered farmers in their production activities to which they respond by adopting mitigating measures. Lack of improved varieties to meet farmers’ needs is one of the major constraints limiting pigeonpea production. Furthermore, in regions where improved varieties exist, there is no functioning supply seed system since seed enterprises and governments are unwilling to invest in crops others than cash crops . Poor agronomic practices, lack of improved varieties and quality seeds and lack of organization of the pigeonpea market negatively affect pigeonpea productivity and the capacity of farmers to sell their products at fair prices [4, 10, 37]. Farmers developed coping strategies including seed saving and/or exchange to have access to seeds. Furthermore, farmers resort to mutual aid to maintain their field and cope with lack of labor and lack of financial resources. Existence of improved varieties, farmers’ organizations and market outlets both at national and at international levels  can be capitalized on to alleviate the constraints and develop pigeonpea value chains in Benin.
Farmers’ preferred traits of desired varieties and implications for varietal development
Farmers’ varietal preferences are based on their desire to meet socioeconomic and agroecological conditions [20, 22]. Failing to take into account these traits may hinder the success of any pigeonpea varietal improvement program targeting these areas. The preferred traits stated by farmers were early maturity, high yielding, big seed and flood tolerance, resistant to pod borers, short cooking time and grains taste. Farmers’ preference for early-maturing cultivars is driven by the desire to get quick return on their investments, multiple harvests in one season, to limit competition of pigeonpea with intercropped species and to reduce the extent of yield loss because of drought at the end of the season [42, 43]. The preferred seed attributes such as big seed size, short cooking time and taste were probably based on consumers’ preferences. In South Africa, Gwata and Silim  reported consumers’ preference to white seed color in pigeonpea, which drive the choice of varieties by farmers. Even though within a given village, varieties preferences criteria may depend on gender, sociodemographic conditions, cropping systems , grouping of villages based on the preferences criteria may facilitate variety popularization and seed production. In fact, the outcrossing rate of pigeonpea is relatively high, up to 24% . To cope with this challenge in seed production and maintenance of genetic purity of released varieties, the concept of “seed village,” whereby all farmers in a village are encouraged to grow one variety of pigeonpea .
Up to now, none of the grown varieties is early maturing and there is no ongoing pigeonpea breeding program in the country. Thus, the only source of improved varieties is introduction from International research Institute notably International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Varieties to be introduced for evaluation should have the major traits identified in this study to increase their chance to be adopted by farmers. However, prior to varieties introduction, we recommend a collection, characterization and evaluation of Beninese pigeonpea germplasm.