These Crops will Help you Through the Drought

Livestock and beekeeping



“Where are the rains? My crops are dying. How will I feed my family?”

Have you heard someone say this?

Have you said it yourself?

Things can look desperate when you’re depending on the rain – and the rain doesn’t come.

What’s the solution?

Well, there are some ways to make the water you have go further.

You can make the best possible use of every drop of water. You can collect and store rainwater.

Or you can do something completely different.

You can grow crops that don’t need much water.

In the next two programs, I’m going to talk about two crops that don’t need a lot of water – Bambara groundnut and the mesquite tree.


PART 1: Bambara groundnut

Today I’m going to talk about the Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea).

Bambara groundnut grows only in Africa. It is a cousin of the peanut. In other words, it belongs to the same family of plants. These days, it is grown only in small quantities in kitchen gardens. But Bambara groundnut has many advantages!

First, it will grow in difficult conditions. It grows when there is very little rain. It grows in poor soil.

Second, it is a very nutritious food. People make many kinds of healthy, delicious foods from the Bambara groundnut. And the leaves can be fed to cattle. While it is in the field, this crop is not bothered by most insects and diseases. But it can be attacked by insects in storage. Many people solve this problem by mixing their stored seed with ash, sand, tobacco, or peppers.


If you’re going to grow Bambara groundnut, grow varieties that do well in your local area.

Talk to other farmers and find out which varieties are suited to your local climate and conditions.

Though Bambara groundnut will grow without irrigation, you will get higher yields if you water for two weeks after sowing. Many farmers grow Bambara groundnut in the same field with millet, maize or sorghum. Or you can grow it in small hills with yams.

Another benefit of Bambara groundnut is that it feeds the soil itself – you don’t have to use fertilizers or manure.


PART II: The mesquite tree


On our last program we talked about growing the Bambara groundnut.

It is a useful crop if you live in a dry region because it doesn’t need much water. Today we’re going to talk about another drought tolerant crop. The other crop we are featuring today is actually a tree, called the mesquite (Prosopis spp.).

Mesquites are a large family of trees that provide food for humans and animals. They grow in very hot, dry conditions and sandy soil. They can find water when it’s too dry for other food crops or trees. How do they find water?

Their roots are very deep – sometimes 50 metres deep! Mesquites will even grow in places where the water is too salty to drink. In dry parts of India, farmers grow wheat, maize, sorghum and mustard near mesquite trees. The roots of these grain and mustard crops don’t grow as deep as the roots of the mesquite. So they don’t compete with the mesquite tree for water.

And the mesquite trees provide shade during hot summer months, for animals and for people.

Mesquite trees produce pods twice a year. The pods are surrounded by a sweet pulp that is enjoyed by many types of animals – and by children. Many animals – cattle, sheep, mules, donkeys, pigs and goats – enjoy both the leaves and the pods.


Mesquite trees play a very important role in desert areas. On sand dunes, mesquite trees help to keep the sand in place. They should be planted two to two and a half metres apart on sand dunes. Mesquite trees literally stop the desert from taking over the village. Mesquite trees also provide firewood, bee forage and medicines.

If you’re going to grow mesquite trees, here are three things to remember.

First, the trees take 10 to 15 years to mature. But it’s worth it – the trees last a long time, and your children will benefit from them years from now.

Second, the seeds do not germinate easily. You must cut the seeds with a knife to remove the outer covering. Then soak them in cold water for 24 to 48 hours before sowing.

Lastly, plant the trees about five metres apart.



  • Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, researcher/writer, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.

Information sources

  • “Bambara Groundnut,” in Drought Resistant Crops, Notes and Comments, March 1987, page 10. Agrimissio, c/o ICRA, Palazzo San Calisto, Citta Del Vaticano.
  • Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.): promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops,” edited by J. Heller, F. Begemann and J. Mushonga, 1997. Proceedings of the workshop on conservation and improvement of Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.), 14-16 November, 1995, Harare, Zimbabwe. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/Department of Research and Specialist Services, Harare/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy.
  • Use of Trees by Livestock: Prosopis, by N.J.L. Clinch, J.J. Bennison and R.T. Paterson, National Resources Institute, 17 pages.
  • “Prosopis cineraria: Promising multipurpose tree for arid lands,” by S. Arya, O.P. Toky, R.P. Bisht, and Ravinder Tomar, Agroforestry Today, Volume 3, No. 4, October-December 1991, page 13. ICRAF House, United Nations Avenue, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • “The ABCs of MPTs: The multiple uses of leguminous trees,” by Joan and Kellogg Smith, Ceres, #133, January-February 1992, page 38-43. FAO, Viale delle Terma di Caracalla, 00100, Rome, Italy. Tel: 6 52254094. Fax: 6 52253152.