The adoption and impacts of new lentil varieties in South Asia

With NARES partners throughout South Asia, ICARDA is promoting nutritious and climate resilient pulses to rural communities

With partners in South Asia, ICARDA has continued its research in improved lentil varieties, of which three new genotypes were released in 2016 by Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

Lentil is the single most important pulse crop in South Asia. Considered the ‘poor man’s meat’ because it has high protein concentrations, as well as high levels of vitamins and macro- and micro-nutrients, it is crucial to the staple diet of the poorer segments of Bangladeshi, Indian and Nepalese societies.

Bangladesh, India and Nepal have released a number of varieties from ICARDA’s genebanks, some of which are particularly rich in iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn). These have been particularly important, as insufficient nutrition and iron deficiencies are responsible for ‘hidden hunger’ in these communities, which lead to underweight and anemic pregnant women, and growth impairment and stunting in young children.

In conjunction with Virginia Tech University (USA), and Bangladesh Agricultural University, ICARDA carried out a study examining the introduction, adoption and diffusion of lentils throughout the country since the first released variety in 1991.

The study was carried out using a combination of expert opinion, household surveys, and DNA fingerprinting. The DNA fingerprinting showed that improved varieties now cover 99.37% of the total lentil growing area in the country, with 45.4% showing varieties released after 2005. Since 1991, 15 improved lentil varieties have been released in Bangladesh, of which 8 varieties (which cover 98.24% of the cultivation area) contain genetic material that originated from ICARDA’s cultivars.

A slower uptake and diffusion of post-2005 varieties was blamed on blamed on consumer (taste) related preferences. Interestingly, breeders focused primarily on yield and agronomic advantages when choosing varieties, while farmers focused on the cooking and consumption qualities of the lentil types.

Regardless, the adoption of improved lentil varieties has brought greater overall production in the country and helped Bangladesh to achieve higher yields and household incomes, saving an estimated $25.8 million in foreign exchange per year, due to a decrease in foreign imports necessary to fill the demand deficit.