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Magical lentil – a quiet revolution

Jan 05,2013

Experimental lentil field at ICARDA. After the harvest, seeds of each variety are packed for weighing, measurement and laboratory analysis.
Improved lentil varieties are short duration, high yielding and resistant to crop diseases such as rust and blight

In food security terms, while the attention of much of the world is focused on headline grabbing crops such as wheat, rice and corn (maize), a quiet revolution has been taking place with a “humble” legume – lentil. Across much of North Africa, through Arab lands to South Asia, the lentil is a crucial food staple.

South Asia (chiefly India, Bangladesh and Nepal) is by far the largest producer, consumer and importer of lentil and accounts for 45% of global lentil production. The “quiet revolution” here has seen total production double from 0.62 million tons in 1980, to 1.21 million tons in 2010.


In Bangladesh, the economic and nutritional benefits that improved lentils have brought to the population are well documented. Bangladesh grows some 150,000 ha of lentil, but has traditionally needed to import more than half of its consumption. Joint research between ICARDA and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has helped reduce this gap with the development of a number of new lentil varieties.

These new varieties are generally short duration, high yielding with resistance or tolerance to crop diseases such as rust and blight. Lentils are grown in the post-rainy season, about half as a sole crop and half intercropped with wheat, oilseeds or other crops.

In 2009 an ICARDA impact study showed improved varieties on over 110,000 ha in Bangladesh, delivering an annual extra production gain of some 55,000 tons, and valued at US$38 million annually. That’s a significant figure in an economy as fragile as Bangladesh.

It’s reckoned that 1.1 million farmers (average land-holding 0.1 ha) are now benefiting from increased farm incomes and extra household lentil consumption. About 5.5 million people are assessed to be receiving direct benefit from improved BARI/ICARDA lentil technologies.

Farmers use the extra income to purchase clothes and medicine, for funding the education of their children, building brick houses, buying rice and bullocks, and for repaying loans.


Similar lentil magic has been at work in Ethiopia in collaborative efforts between the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research and ICARDA. Their joint legumes program has delivered chickpea varieties that can be successfully grown in waterlogged and fungal disease-prone areas as well as lentils that yield six times the harvest of traditional landraces.

An IFPRI impact study in 2010 showed that the release and uptake of high yielding, rust and wilt resistant lentil varieties in Ethiopia has increased the growing area and harvest at an annual rate of 15% from 1994 to 2009. This resulted in 105,956 ha cropped with lentils, and 123,777 tons of production in the 2009/2010 cropping season.


Shiv Kumar Agrawal    Email: S.Agrawal[AT]

It’s reckoned that 1.1 million farmers are now benefiting from increased farm incomes