Background and Rationale
Grain legumes are important components of agricultural production, and are major sources of protein for the poor, especially in tropical and sub-tropical countries.The last four decades saw significant improvements in agricultural productivity and production in many parts of the world regions. These events have bypassed Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and parts of South Asia (SA), however. Today, large numbers of people in SSA and SA are undernourished. The 2002-04 FAO data show that an estimated 33 percent of people in SSA and 22 percent in SA are undernourished. This means 214 million people in SSA and 299 million in SA face hunger.
Tropical legumes, including common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), chickpea (Cicer arietinum), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan), and soybean (Glycine max) are very important in the farming systems of SSA and SA. They constitute an important source of protein and cash, and help maintain soil fertility for the poor farmers in these regions.
Of the total world average area planted to these crops for the period from 2003-05, the two regions combined accounted for close to 40 percent, with nearly 100 percent, 99 percent, and 86 percent of the world’s total pigeonpea, cowpea, and chickpea, respectively, grown here (fig. 1). About 74 percent, 67 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, of all the world’s groundnut, common bean, and soybean were also grown in the two regions during the same period.
Yields of these crops in the two regions have remained almost stagnant, or even declined in some instances, particularly in Africa, over the years (see table 1). The modest gains made in total production, at least in SSA, have been achieved from area expansion (see fig. 2) rather than from increases in productivity. Further expansion in area can no more be an option considering the increased pressure on land, due to unchecked population growth and associated environmental concerns.
Major constraints to tropical legumes productivity and production in SSA include moisture stress (mainly drought), decline in soil fertility, disease and insect problems, poor crop management practices, unavailability of and lack of access to quality seed of improved varieties, and poor market access.
Legumes are highly susceptible to pests and diseases that reduce yields substantially. Diseases such as wilt disease in chickpea and rosette disease in groundnut can cause 100% yield loss. Pest damage, especially during the early seedling stage and pod formation, also causes severe yield losses. Low yields also result from various abiotic constraints, such as salinity, low soil fertility, heat stress, and, in particular, drought – which is a major and common constraint across all regions. Genetic and crop management options could greatly reduce crop losses caused by these stresses. Some technologies are already available for immediate adoption by farmers, though in other cases more crop improvement research is needed to generate and/or fine-tune genetic solutions suited to drought-prone areas. Many studies on the adoption of improved cultivars bred by national programs or provided by international agricultural research centers (IARCs) have concluded that the major bottleneck preventing adoption by farmers is the fact that good quality seed is either difficult or impossible to access by resource-poor farmers. Some of the major difficulties associated with the production and distribution of legume seeds are a low seed multiplication ratio, the bulkiness of the seed (transportation costs), and its poor storability (as a result of infestation by pests and rapid loss of viability).
No single agency can produce and provide that quantity of seed. Therefore, it is essential to produce the seed at village level by farmers themselves (and avoid storage and transport) The project therefore aims to enhance the linkages between the formal and informal seed sectors (non-governmental and community-based systems), train farmers, farmers’ associations/ groups, and local seed traders in seed production, processing and distribution and to develop models of small enterprises that will allow efficient, sustainable, and more equitable seed production and delivery systems. Strong linkages will be established with PASS (Program for Africa’s Seed Systems) and other programs to derive synergies in promoting local seed enterprises.