Butterfly pea gains fame in Uganda

FARMERS in Wakiso District of Uganda are growing butterfly pea (Centrosema pubescens) to increase household incomes and fodder for their livestock.

“Butterfly pea is a legume and is good for nitrogen fixation. It is highly resistant to drought and can give good yields for more than 10 years,” says Stephen Kirumira, a farmer in Kasengejje, Wakiso.

The plant grows well in roughly prepared seedbeds, provided the fertility requirements are met. Butterfly pea’s best performance occurs when the seedbed is well prepared in fertile soils. In poor soils, it responds to phosphorous.

“It can be drilled or broadcast and planted 2.5-5cm deep in rows that are one metre apart. Four kilogrammes are enough to establish a one-hectare farm. And it is planted after the first rains,” says Chris Tunanukye, a Victoria Seeds Limited agronomist.

Butterfly pea prefers the wet tropics with rainfall in excess of 1750mm, the minimum rainfall being 1000mm a year. It grows well in sandy loams to heavier clay loams. It grows vigorously on alluvial soils and is self-pollinated.

The plant is deep rooted and fairly drought tolerant. The dry season slows down growth and the leaves drop off in prolonged drought.

However, it is suitable for semi-arid areas such as the cattle corridor stretching from south western to north eastern Uganda.

Tunanukye explains that the butterfly pea is a vigorous, trailing, twining and climbing perennial herb.

“It is advisable to plant cassava to support butterfly pea in the second month for easy management. Cassava contributes to the food basket as well.

It forms a very compact dense cover, 40-45cm high in four to eight months, if grown in pure stands,” he says.
Tunanukye adds that farmers should control weeds, insects and pests to obtain high yields.

He says the hardest part of the job is weeding. Every two weeks one has to weed.

A kilogramme of butterfly pea contains about 39,600 seeds. An acre yields about 400kg on average, fetching around sh3.2m per season. Currently, a kilogramme of costs sh5,000. It is expected to increase to between sh7,000 and sh9,000.

“When animals with dilute milk take butterfly pea, the milk becomes thick, sweet and it has a good aroma. It is appetising and its nutrient values are similar to the sweet potato vines,” says Kirumira, one of the farmers growing the plant.

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