Advances, Challenges and Opportunities in Cool Season Food Legumes in Dry Areas
Agrawal, Shiv Kumar
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Cool-season food legumes (CSFL) such as chickpea, lentil, faba bean, field pea, and grass pea are an integral part of subsistence farming in dry areas and the major sources of nutritious food for human, feed for livestock, and income for smallholder farmers. These crops also fix atmospheric nitrogen into usable form and thus contribute to soil fertility in the cereal based cropping systems. The area, production and productivity of these crops are 26.1 million ha, 31.3 million tones and 1197 kg ha-1, respectively. Cool season food legumes cover 33 and 45% of global pulse area and production, respectively, indicating better yield compared to warm-season food legumes. Past research and development efforts have resulted in development of improved varieties with medium to high levels of resistance to key diseases such as Fusarium wilt/root rot complex in chickpea and lentil; Ascochyta blights in chickpea, lentil and faba bean; rust in lentil and faba bean; and chocolate spot and parasitic weeds in faba bean. The most significant improvement in yield stability has resulted from the genetic improvement to develop appropriate phenology so that the durations of the vegetative and reproductive phases are well matched with the expected water supply. Expansion of chickpea in Central and South India, Myanmar and Ethiopia is an example of such development. With increasing pace of climate and farming system changees and reduced genetic diversity at farm levels, intensity and frequency of abiotic stresses especially heat and drought and emergence of new diseases and insect pests have increased manifold with serious yield losses. This drives the demand to produce more crops per drop of water and per unit area to enhance crop and water productivity. The yield potential of pulse crops is still low and requires substantial improvement in source-sink equilibrium to fit in various cropping systems. To achieve this goal, appropriate changes in phenology and plant type that can be grown in conjunction with cereals or fit within the short-season windows available between major cereal crops and are amenable to machine harvest, disease and pest resistance, and post emergence herbicide application to control obnoxious weeds are required. Thus, enhancing economic competitiveness and stability in performance of CSFL crops under climate and farming system changes require a three-pronged research strategy involving stress characterization, trait/gene discovery using high throughput platforms, and trait deployment through precision breeding in the desired agronomic and quality background along with a variety of specific production technologies. This strategy looks promising, particularly for developing more nutritious, input efficient varieties for enhancing food and nutritional security in developing countries.