Blog post by Dr William D. Dar, Director General, ICRISAT

Dr William D. Dar Director General, ICRISAT

The CGIAR Research Programs are a new way of doing things that links institutes and partners throughout the world for a shared and interdisciplinary mission. ICRISAT has taken the responsibility for leading two of these programs.  One of them is the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes (Grain Legumes) where ICRISAT partners with three other CG Centers, namely, CIAT, ICARDA and IITA.

Grain legumes are often considered minor components of agricultural systems, but the eight focus crops of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes (chickpea, common bean, cowpea, faba bean, groundnut, lentil, pigeonpea and soybean) together contribute significantly to the world economy. In Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDC), these eight crops together have an estimated farm gate market value of US$ 24 billion, at par with maize or wheat.

Grain Legumes contributes significantly towards all four of the CGIAR System Level Outcomes (SLOs): reducing poverty, improving food security, improving nutrition and health, and sustaining the natural resource base.

Over 600 million of the world’s most vulnerable people from the drylands continue to depend on legume crops for food and fodder.

ICRISAT steers its R4D activities by a strategic framework called Inclusive Market Oriented Development (IMOD) that guides the way we want to make interventions for the benefit of smallholder farmers. The idea is that farmers should perceive the benefits of improved crops and management practices in terms of increased income that can be reinvested in agricultural development. This means we have to deliver benefits that accrue directly to farmers.

Legume crops present a viable way to achieve this. They are high value, nutritious and great for soil fertility. Their natural ability to fix nitrogen to the soil helps to increase their yields and those of companion and/or subsequent crops. By complementing cereals, roots and tubers in farming systems of smallholder farmers, legumes can help intensify and diversify systems.

Grain legumes usually play a dual role for smallholder farmers. They are consumed as food or sold for cash. Their haulm is used for fodder. They are rich in protein, oil and micronutrients such as iron and zinc. Their amino acid composition complements that of cereals such that consuming them together increases the nutritional effectiveness of both.

IMOD focuses on making sure that smallholder farmers gain access to markets and begin to move from subsistence agriculture to commercial farming. This can be achieved by creating new, innovative processes and products across the entire agricultural value chain.

The value chain approach for Grain Legumes brings an additional attention to constraints that have hobbled impact in the past, such as insufficiencies in input supplies (e.g., seed and soil fertility inputs). It will also enhance gains in value capture by the poor through enlarged, higher-value and novel markets, creating opportunities, particularly for women, who bring special strengths to post-harvest processing and marketing issues.

Grain Legume cultivation directly benefits women who are often the primary cultivators of these crops (especially in sub-Saharan Africa) and derive employment in small-scale processing, preparation and marketing of grain legume foods. Women will not only maintain their prominent role in managing grain legumes on farm, but will also increase their role in other links of the value chain.

Grain Legumes along with its partners is steering its R4D priorities to leverage the uniqueness and potential of these eight crops to generate income and promote international trade for people in the dryland areas.

Unlocking this uniqueness and potential of grain legumes can bring prosperity to the smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.