Food Legumes
in Detail

Food Legumes

Diversified wheat-pulses cropping systems in Arab countries  

 Funded by the Arab Fund for Economic & Social Development, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development (OFID), ICARDA, led by Dr. Habib Halila develops technology packages for wheat and food legume cultivars and management in agronomy and water. Working in the Middle East and North Africa, in 2020 the project out-scaled the technologies to more end-users, and we strengthened the capacity of national research and extension systems to encourage wider adoption. 

ICAR-ICARDA Collaborative Research Program

Coordinated by Drs. Ashutosh Sarker and Nigamananda Swain, and in partnership with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) funding and several India state agricultural universities, ICARDA targets the identification and deployment of climate-smart faba bean, grass pea, Kabuli chickpea, and lentil for intercropping with durum wheat and barley in different environmental settings. In 2020, 96 lentils, 102 Kabuli chickpea, 36 grass pea, 25 aba bean, 147 durum wheat, and 159 barley varieties were provided to partner institutions. In India, zero tillage approaches with rice-chickpea, millet-chickpea, and soybean-lentil were recommended as profitable technologies. Our 19 cactus nurseries were also expanded to agriculture science centers in three more states. Also in 2020, a salinity-tolerant lentil variety (PDL-1), and a Kabuli chickpea variety ((PBG-8) with a 14.49% yield advantage were released in India. Upscaling chickpea, grass pea, and lentil technologies were also strengthened under various initiatives by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Phosphate Company Foundation, Morocco, OFID, and the Odisha Pulse Mission.   

Capitalizing on idle land for better food security in South Asia  

Under an IFAD grant, ICARDA, led by Dr. Ashutosh Sarker , implements a project in 32 districts across Bangladesh, Nepal, and India involving 24,873 smallholder farmers, (5284 in 2020) to introduce food legumes for use in fallow lands after the rice harvest. Over the last four years, these farmers have harvested average yields of 932 kg/ha of lentil, 1048 kg/ha of chickpea, and 976 kg/ha of grass pea from lands that would have otherwise remained fallow. An additional 150,000 farmers indirectly benefit through farmer-to-farmer seeds and knowledge sharing. The projects established 97 (21 in 2020) Village Seed Hubs and produced 122 tons of seeds to support coming years’ cropping. With the participation of 2610 farmers in 2020, over the years, a total of 12,513 farmers were trained on production technologies, and 7,355 women improved their skills in processing and other value-adding activities.   

The Odisha Pulse Mission   

In collaboration with the Odisha Government’s State Department of Agriculture, ICARDA led by Drs Swain and Sarker has promoted black gram, chickpea, grass pea, lentil, and mung bean in fallow lands in 14 districts. Under The Odisha Pulse Mission, the rice fallow area decreased by 20%. As well as these 4,095 tons of pulses produced from 4,338 ha of rice fallow lands, with an average yield of 940 kg/ha –50 percent plus productivity increase on the state average. The value of total produce is worth USD$3.3 million, and 126 Village Seed Hubs and127 Custom Hiring Centers were established in 18 districts, covering 11,131 farmers. 272.7 tons of quality pulses seeds were produced under a seed self-sufficiency initiative and the installation of mini dal mills has led to the uptake of value addition initiatives by women. Farmer committees were developed and engaged with new farmers across 18 districts. 


The European Union (EU)-funded INCREASE project was launched in 2020 with Dr. Shiv Kumar heading the ICARDA team. The project is under the EU’s Horizon 2020, a consortium of 25 partners that develops collections of chickpea, common bean, lentil, and lupin to generate a pool of genetic and genomic resources for accelerated improvement of the crops. In 2020, we multiplied genetically pure chickpea seed and lentil germplasm through the single seed descent method for multilocation phenotyping in the next crop season. 

Grasspea Project 

Under the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Templeton World Charity Foundation-funded project on grass pea, JIC and ICARDA (led by Dr. Shiv Kumar), are researching 384 grass pea genotypes, while developing a speed-breeding protocol and interspecific hybridization with crop wild relatives, to widen the genetic base and optimize useful traits in cultivated species. In 2020, 27 7 introgressed lines were advanced using the speed breeding protocol and the diversity panel of 384 grass pea germplasm was phenotyped and genotyped for establishing marker-trait association.    

Genomics-enabled legume improvement   

 In 2020, CRP-GLDC and GRDC-funded research optimized the protocol of genome editing in chickpea, intending to apply this technology to improve chickpea production. The research also optimized the genomic selection method for improving chickpea improvement accuracy by developing an efficient single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping for genome-wide association study, to associate specific genetic variations with biotic and abiotic stresses. We also evaluated the MAGIC (an innovative technique to increase the speed and efficiency of breeding) population in chickpea for AB and drought tolerance using field screening and multilocation testing.  

Legumes research under the CRP-GLDC  

At Egypt’s ICARDA/Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute research center led by ICARDA’s Dr. Aladdin Hamwieh, research is carried out on chickpea, faba bean, and lentils focusing on disease resistance as well as climate-smart traits. This research is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC), and Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center. In 2020 working in close collaboration with legume pathologists and partners in the Central and West Asia, and North Africa region (CWANA) ICARDA led a global Ascochyta blight (AB) consortium to gain a better global understanding of AB diversity in chickpea, and develop ways to combat it.   

During the last six years, GRDC also invested in chickpea research at ICARDA’s chickpea breeding program. A number of chickpea varieties were evaluated in multi-locations in Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, and India. The results demonstrated their varying resistance to various common plant diseases as well as cold, drought, and salinity. Over 125 crosses have been developed between Australian genotypes and the new resources between 2014 and 2020 through the ICARDA chickpea breeding program and thousands of recombinant lines have been developed. It is expected that the outputs obtained from this project will enable dryland farmers, including in Australia to receive more developed breeding lines resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses.  This will imply higher and stable grain yield and reduce the cost of inputs and improve profitability for growers, and the results will contribute significantly to the new breeding approaches such as genomic selection.

Led By Dr. Kumar in Morocco under CRP-GLDC funding, we also studied the impact of heat and drought stresses on the nutritional quality of lentil and found that iron, zinc, and crude protein content were significantly reduced under heat and drought stress conditions We also found that heat priming of lentil seeds and foliar treatment with γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) confers protection to reproductive function and yield traits under high-temperature stress environments.    

European Union-funded DIVERSify project  

In the EU-funded DIVERSify project, led by ICARDA’s Dr. Fouad Maalouf in Morocco and Lebanon, three faba bean lines combined well with wheat at Marchouch, Morocco and Kfardan in Lebanon, two at Marchouch and four at Tal Amara, Lebanon. Overall, promising combinations were identified for high rainfall vs low rainfall environments. Further, a 50% wheat + 100% faba bean combination was identified as appropriate for intercropping wheat with faba bean in dryland agriculture.   

Pre-breeding project on lentil   

As part of the Global Crop Diversity Trust-funded DIIVA project, ICARDA’s Legume Team, led by Dr. Shiv Kumar, six high-yielding, biofortified pre-bred lines of lentil showed high yields across the test locations and contain high iron and zinc content in their large yellow grains. Ten accessions that originated from Lens orientalis were superior to the check for protein content, five for zinc and 10 for iron concentration.   

UPGRADE Project on grass pea  

As part of ICARDA’s UPGRADE project with funding from the John Innes Centre, the Legume Team screened grass pea germplasm against major abiotic stresses, including drought, heat, waterlogging and salinity. ICARDA’s Dr.  Zewdie Bishaw headed the research to assess the effects of drought and heat on the concentration of the grass pea natural toxin ODAP.  In 2020, the research identified grass pea mutants with low ODAP (a natural toxin) that were suitable and safe options for farmers.   

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