Beans with benefits

Date: 07.05.2015.

A new German-funded project in Uzbekistan aims to develop new varieties of mung bean resistant to salinity and heat. Photo by Ravza Mavlyanova.

In parts of Uzbekistan and Central Asia, mung bean is a common ingredient in food. There are a number of mung bean dishes as nutritional qualities make it a healthy dietary choice. For agricultural scientists, however, its virtues do not stop there. Mung bean is hailed as a crop which improves soil, needs little water and can increase farmers' profits.

As there is a growing focus on productivity, researchers look for ways to help farmers make the most of their lands and other resources. For example, fertilizers make up a large share of production costs. So the less farmers use fertilizers, the more they save and earn. Mung bean's capacity for nitrogen fixation can help to reduce the amount of fertilizers needed and thus the cost of production. And if used as a catch crop sown after winter wheat harvest, it helps to increase land and water productivity.

In recent years considerable work has been done to introduce and promote new varieties of mung bean in the Fergana Valley under the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Dryland Systems. Seeing potential financial gains, a number of seed producers in Andijan and Fergana regions, Uzbekistan, are already producing seed of improved varieties of mung bean (see here). More and more farmers are also engaged in experiments. On-farm trials help researchers to test technologies in the field and farmers see them work in real conditions. In an experiment in 2014, a group of scientists from the International Water Management Institute (IMWI), ICARDA and AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, members of the Dryland Systems program and the CGIAR regional consortium, demonstrated how double cropping could improve water use efficiency in the Fergana Valley. Double cropping is an effective way of converting evaporation losses from fallow land into useful crop transpiration. This may result in improved water use efficiency, enhanced food security and increased income for farmers. A farmer, who took part in the experiment, planted mung bean after winter wheat in mid-June and made a net profit of 1,000 USD per ha (see here).

In collaboration with national partners, AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center has released a number of improved varieties like 'Zilola', 'Marjon', 'Durdona' and 'Turon' to date. However, as salinity and heat are commonplace in the country, more new varieties are needed.

This is the goal of a new project funded by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and implemented by AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center. Aptly titled "Beans with Benefits", the project will run until March 2018, and aims to integrate improved mung bean as a catch crop into the dryland systems of South and Central Asia to increase smallholder farmers' income and establish more sustainable production systems.

To plan future actions and joint collaboration with national partners, the project team organized a project launch workshop on 6-7 May 2015 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The meeting brought together 20 scientists and experts from AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, research institutes of Uzbekistan, Germany, Pakistan and India, as well as representatives of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

During the meeting, participants agreed that the main focus of efforts will be on introducing new varieties of mung bean as a catch crop with such traits as short growth period, high yield, resistance to bruchid and mung bean yellow mosaic virus (MYMV), salinity and heat. Overall, the project will help to achieve five major objectives: ensure better access to mung bean trait diversity from gene banks for breeders; make available improved farmer-preferred mung bean lines with increased resistance to viruses and bruchid pests, and resilience to environmental stresses; develop mung bean production technologies increasing soil fertility and crop productivity in marginal areas and under salinity stress; strengthen the uptake pathway for improved mung bean varieties and technologies; and enhance research and development capacity of project staff and extension personnel and farmers.

As the project targets resource-poor smallholding farms and households, it is hoped that new varieties will be an extra source of income for them. Researchers also plan to involve farmers extensively in variety evaluation and selection and testing new cultivation methods that mitigate land degradation. And forming learning alliances of major stakeholders is expected to contribute to high uptake and sustainability of the project results.

See also