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Grain legumes – triple benefits for farmers, nutrition and soil fertility

July 24, 2014

Dr. Aakash Goyal, ICARDA chickpea breeder, with Moroccan farmers during farmers’ participatory selection in Karim Moullablad farm.

Food legumes bring multiple benefits to smallholder communities – better nutrition, the prospect of new income streams, and increased soil fertility when rotated with wheat or barley. Through its research program, ICARDA is a catalyst for promoting improved varieties of legumes and their wider use in many countries over the past two decades. This report highlights recent results in ICARDA legumes research in Morocco. A key element of this work is the center’s expertise and science provided to the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.  

Farmers test and recommend improved food legume varieties

Despite being an integral part of rainfed agriculture in Morocco, food legume productivity has been hard hit in recent years by a series of challenges and debilitating constraints: an acute shortage of labor for tasks such as weeding and harvesting and rampant infestation by orobanche weeds. ICARDA supports Morocco’s national agricultural research program in its efforts to reverse this situation through breeding to develop improved chickpea, faba bean, and lentil varieties that are suitable for machine harvesting. A set of 25 improved chickpea lines is being tested in on-farm trials and demonstrated to 45 farmers. Participating farmers are providing practical input to the research process, rating varieties for their potential for most effective machine harvesting and other important criterial for market value such as seed size, color, and visual appearance.  All the varieties tested scored well. The best-performing ones will be proposed to national breeding programs. 

South-South research and learning: India-Morocco Food Legumes Initiative In another initiative on legumes, ICARDA contributed to the annual review and planning meeting of the India-Morocco Food Legume Initiative, held in New Delhi, to review progress and plan activities for the coming year.   An innovative partnership between India, Morocco, and ICARDA is sparking new south-south learning,and the transfer of technologies and practices. The end result will be fast-track development and dissemination of proven food legume technologies that will improve nutrition and food security in the North Africa and South Asia. At the Food Legumes Initiative’s second annual review and planning meeting, research teams tracked progress and shared recent achievements. Participants reviewed work completed and developed the 2014-15 workplan for the project: “Increasing food legumes production by small farmers to strengthen food and nutrition security through adoption of improved technologies and governance within South-South cooperation.” The initiative has an innovative south-south research and knowledge sharing component, bringing together senior officials from Morocco’s Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP) Foundation, ICARDA, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, and the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals. Participants exchanged experience on progress of their trials in India and Morocco, aimed at raising the productivity of pulses and the income generation potential of new varieties of chickpea and lentils.

Moroccan farmers excited about ICARDA varieties

How do you convince farmers to adopt new crop varieties, encouraging them to shift from older less productive varieties that are more prone to pests and disease? Introducing varieties that are developed on research stations is often problematic – they may not have been tested in ‘real world’ conditions and thus may fail to win the confidence of farmers who remain unconvinced about their efficacy.  

One potential means of encouraging farmer confidence in new varieties is Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS), providing farmers a choice of crop varieties which are matched to their specific needs. PVS schemes throughout the world, across multiple farming systems, are generating impressive results and the approach is now being applied in Morocco through the EU-IFAD initiative, managed by ICARDA (within the frame of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes) and targeting strengthened wheat-legume production systems across North Africa and West Asia.  

More than 40 participants – farmers, extentionists, and researchers – came from across the country to evaluate advanced lines of chickpea and lentil produced by ICARDA. A total of 25 elite advanced lines, planted at a farm in the Romani Region, were introduced by researchers from ICARDA and Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherhe Agronomique (INRA), who described their main characteristics.  

Farmers were asked to rate the lines and expressed preferences for the delivery of particular seeds. The event also provided an opportunity to interact directly with researchers and describe some of the problems they were encountering – in particular the parasitic weed ‘orobanche’ which is a significant threat to faba bean and winter chickpea yields.  

Some have also expressed a desire for improved machine ‘harvestability’ to save time and costs’ and ICARDA scientists, through the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes, are now breeding crops that are helping to achieve this - chickpea, lentil, and faba bean varieties of an appropriate height which are also resistant to pod drops and pod shattering. The best-performing lines will be proposed for registration by the national program after confirmation of their adaptation to other locations in Morocco.

More solutions from: ICARDA (International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas)

Website: http://www.icarda.org

Published: August 14, 2014

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