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Prospects for AVRDC mandate legumes in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi

AVRDC Legume Breeder Ram Nair traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi from 9-20 April 2012 to investigate the potential for legume production and expansion, particularly mungbean and vegetable soybean.

In sub-Saharan Africa mungbean is known by the common name, green gram. The region’s climatic conditions are conducive for producing mungbean, which already is being grown in East Africa. “The time is right for a green gram revolution in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ram.

Mungbean varieties currently grown by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are of longer crop duration, maturing in 90 days. The introduction of early maturing varieties (about 60 days duration) will be the first step—and a vital one in regions where the frequency of rainfall is low, according to Phillemon Mushi of the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Tanzania. AVRDC will develop mungbean production capacity in national agricultural and extension services, such as SARI and Kenya’s Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), and will assist in the further expansion of the crop. Mungbean is consumed by local people and needs no introduction on the consumption front; the preference is for larger seeds with a dull, not shiny, seed coat.

Closer links with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which runs a grain soybean breeding program based in Malawi, would help promote the value of vegetable soybean and its cultivation in southern Africa. Vegetable soybean provides an option for smallholder farmers who have limited incentive to produce grain soybean without access to crushing facilities for soybean oil production.

The IITA staff at Malawi was enthusiastic about vegetable soybean; they felt it would be a welcome option for farmers in the region who already are familiar with grain soybean. The institute had some impressive grain soybean breeding trials in the field, particularly the screening for rust resistance. Small farmer associations like the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and private companies have expressed interest in promoting vegetable soybean.

Increased consumption of both mungbean and vegetable soybean will help alleviate malnutrition in the region. Both crops offer good potential for income generation from domestic consumption, and export opportunities for vegetable soybean make it an attractive option for farmers.