Lentil (Lens culinaris L.), often known as an ancient crop for modern times, is a nutritious food legume. Its seed has relatively higher contents of protein, carbohydrate and calories compared to other legumes. Because of its high average protein content and fast cooking characteristics, this important pulse crop is predominantly grown and consumed in South Asia, West Asia, North Africa and East Africa.
Lentil is a cool season annual crop which grows well in limited rainfall areas of the world and is a good rotation crop with wheat. Lentils can be used as livestock feed because of their high protein content and lack of digestive inhibitors. They are also used as a green manure crop and provide a large amount of fixed nitrogen, thus increasing soil fertility.
Despite the nutritional significance of lentil, over two billion people across the developing world suffer from micronutrient malnutrition – iron and zinc deficiencies in particular – that lead to anemia, impaired physical and mental growth, and decreased learning capacity. Women and children are the worst affected.
ICARDA and Lentil
Biofortified Lentil Varieties
To address the challenge of micronutrient malnutrition, ICARDA has adopted a new approach of biofortification, under the HarvestPlus Program of CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, where many international and national research bodies are engaged to enrich the staple foods with micronutrients. Biofortification, the process of breeding crops to increase their nutritional value, is done by using genetic diversity stored in genebanks. ICARDA’s Biodiversity and Integrated Gene Management Program, as a partner of HarvestPlus Challenge Program and national agricultural research systems and partners in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Morocco and Syria, is long engaged in breeding lentil varieties with higher iron and zinc concentration and developing the related production technologies.
In early 2015, the Pulses Research Centre of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) released a micronutrient-rich variety – ‘BARIMasur-8’ – which is an outstanding lentil line developed from a crossing made between a Bangladeshi lentil cultivar and an ICARDA breeding line. It was selected from among 412 lines supplied by ICARDA. While in the commonly available local varieties, iron and zinc contents vary between 55-62 ppm and 32-41 ppm respectively, this improved variety has iron and zinc contents in the range of 72-75 ppm and 58-60 ppm respectively – a significant gain in micronutrient nourishment. Other advantages of this variety are its enhanced seed yield of 2000-2200 kg/ha as compared to 1050-1100 kg/ha with the previous varieties. Also it's a short-duration variety maturing in 110-115 days, fitting in well with the existing cropping patterns.
Eleven biofortified lentil varieties have been released so far in South Asia in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, to alleviate micronutrient deficiency (read more).
Similarly, in Ethiopia, the 'Alemaya' variety is on fast track seed dissemination, increasing nutrition while also protecting lentil crop from disease.
Research findings show that lentil varieties with high iron, zinc and protein content can be developed together. Advanced research is being carried out to further explain genetic control and molecular mechanisms affecting the accumulation of iron and zinc in lentil grain. A comprehensive knowledge of this will further help in combating micronutrient malnutrition.
To read ICARDA's recent publications related to nutrition potential and the opportunity in lentil, visit:
Lentils (Lens culinaris L.), a Rich Source of Folates
Lentils (Lens culinaris L.): Linking Whole Foods for Better Human Health (pp. 193-208)
Early and Super Early Maturing Lentil
Developing short duration lentil varieties that are high yielding and disease resistant is another major focus of ICARDA’s crop research program. These varieties, along with related growing techniques, are successfully testing and demonstrating in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, as winter crop grown in rice fallows. The strategy of growing lentil in rice fallows is enabling farmers to obtain a second income from their smallholdings and produce more nutritious food for the local population, while contributing to the much needed increase in national pulses production.
ICARDA’s lentil breeding team has developed extra early maturing varieties of lentil, which mature in just 80–100 days, along with their attendant integrated crop management practices. This development will expand the uptake of growing lentil in rice–lentil–boro rice systems in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as replace fallow lands Lowland areas in Ethiopia.
Machine Harvestable Lentil
At the cutting edge, ICARDA’s crop breeders have developed machine harvestable lentil suitable for the conditions of developing countries like India. These have the potential to unleash production potential as they will reduce the production cost, increase the farm profit and reduce the drudgery of farm labor.