Boosting Nutrition, Income and Environment
Poor people’s diets usually lack sufficient protein because they cannot afford enough meat, dairy and fish. This deficiency especially impairs children’s growth and development.
Grain legumes (beans, pulses and oilseeds) are often called ‘poor people’s meat’ because of their high protein content and affordability. Protein sourced from grain legumes costs one-fifth as much as protein from milk. In addition, the amino acid balance of grain legume protein complements that of cereals when eaten together, greatly improving the protein quality of the combined food. Grain legumes are also vital sources of micronutrients such as iron, reducing widespread anemia caused by the lack of diversity in the starch-based diets of the very poor.
By making grain legumes more plentiful, affordable and nutritious, and enriching the nutritional quality of overly starch-based diets, the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes automatically benefits the very poorest people – especially children and women, who are the most vulnerable to malnutrition.
In addition to feeding their households, many poor grain legume farming families derive vital income by selling part of their crop. Grain legumes are often primarily cultivated by women in Africa, providing a strategic window for focusing research benefits towards women – also benefiting the children who depend on them.
Smallholders generally cannot afford to buy enough chemical nitrogen fertilizer; as a result the yields of their crops are very low. A stellar advantage of grain legumes is their unique capacity to biologically convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrogen in the soil – in other words, creating free fertilizer out of thin air.
A second major environmental benefit is that grain legume crops diversify typical farming systems. Greater diversity increases food and income security: if one crop fails due to drought or pests, another may rescue the total farm operation. Ecologically, more diverse systems are more resilient and sustainable.
The CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes focuses on improving chickpea, common bean, cowpea, groundnut (or peanut), faba bean, lentil, pigeonpea and soybean crops grown by poor smallholder families in five regions (in order of production area and numbers of poor): South and Southeast Asia, Western and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central and Western Asia and North Africa. The Program aims to benefit 300 million poor by the end of its first 10-year cycle. It is a global research-for-development collaboration involving four members of the CGIAR Consortium (the International Center for Tropical Agriculture CIAT, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas ICARDA, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics ICRISAT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture IITA), the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme, four large national agricultural research systems (EIAR-Ethiopia, EMBRAPA-Brazil, GDAR-Turkey and ICAR-India) and two USAID-supported Feed the Future initiatives: the Dry Grain Pulses Innovation Lab, and the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (formerly known as Collaborative Research Support Programs).
The on-farm impacts of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes will be felt through eight Product Lines (PLs). The PLs are listed below, grouped into four key priority areas:
- Addressing abiotic stresses and climate change effects
PL 1. Drought and low-phosphorous tolerant common bean, cowpea, and soybean
PL 2. Heat-tolerant chickpea, common bean, faba bean and lentil
PL 3. Short-duration, drought-tolerant and aflatoxin-free groundnut
- Capturing unique legume ability to fix nitrogen
PL 4. High nitrogen-fixing chickpea, common bean, faba bean and soybean
- Managing key biotic stresses
PL 5. Insect-smart chickpea, cowpea, and pigeonpea production systems
- Generating new opportunities to intensify cropping systems
PL 6. Extra-early chickpea and lentil varieties
PL 7. Herbicide-tolerant, machine-harvestable chickpea, faba bean and lentil varieties
PL 8. Pigeonpea hybrid and management practices