Detoxified Grasspea: Nourishing under Extreme Conditions

The Challenge

Grasspea is a protein-rich hardy legume crop that can withstand even the harshest conditions of drought and salinity. Used often as cattle fodder, the crop also serves as a safety net for subsistence farmers and their families in South Asia region and Ethiopia. However, when consumed in significant amounts, as during a famine, grasspea can transfer toxic amounts of neurotox­in ODAP, causing permanent paralysis in adults and brain damage in children.

Project Summary

A research partnership between ICARDA and Indian institutions is working to develop and disseminate new strains of grasspea that are safe for prolonged consumption, while reaping higher yield and greater biomass content for enhanced fodder production. The project is implemented in five states in India (Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal), promoting improved grasspea in traditional rice growing areas as a second crop in rice fallows and for mono-cropping in degraded land where no other crop is grown.

The project developed several new varieties with less than 0.1% toxin, with tolerance to drought and water logging, and far higher yields (up to 43% more). Varieties like ‘Prateek’ have 0.08% and ‘Ratan’ only 0.06% toxin levels. The improved varieties were evaluated by partner institutions in India under local conditions for disease and pest resistance and suitable ones demonstrated to farmers through on-farm demonstrations for final selection.

To widely disseminate the safe grasspea technology, the project partners with the local NGOs to conduct grassroots outreach in villages, helping replace farmers’ traditional high-toxin grasspea varieties with improved varieties, as well as training them on planting and crop management. The Tagore Society for Rural Development in Sunderbans runs awareness campaigns and field days, with particular focus on training women farmers on growing grasspea in rice fallows as a second crop, and storing and cooking methods to ensure its safe consumption.

For seed security, the project has established seed hubs at the village level, 20 thus far, producing quality seed of improved grasspea varieties with the participation of farmers. The farmers are able to swap old toxic seeds with new safe varieties through these hubs. 

The project, implemented under Government of India’s National Food Security Mission, had started out as a pilot project in 2010 in the aftermath of a massive cyclone that struck the Sunderbans villages along India’s Bay of Bengal in 2009. The flooding by sea water had left the soil severely saline and hostile to any crop, leaving thousands of farmers without source of food and livelihood.  Today the detoxified grasspea is offering a safe and nutritious crop option to the farmers that can survive severe salinity, droughts, heat and water-logging. 

Project Highlights

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  • Improved grasspea reached a coverage of 1745 ha across 283 villages with a total of 4817 farmers directly participating in the project (2013-15)
  • Twenty seed hubs established at village level providing timely quality seed of improved grasspea. A total of 1280 tonne of seed have been produced by farmers at different project sites
  • Close to 8,800 farmers trained (1700 women) on detoxifying grasspea and its safe handling and cooking 

(See ICARDA’s South Asia and China Regional Program)