Legumes and its Importance in Nepalese Agriculture
Agriculture is the main source of income and livelihood of 66% of the rural population in Nepal (MOAC 2009), with about 80% of the population depend on subsistence farming and have major concerns on household food security and poor nutrition (FAO 2004). Cereal crops are the staple food and contribute major share in area and production. Legumes are important in terms of nutrition and subsistence farming. It plays an important role in enhancing soil fertility by symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Legumes supply the major part of the dietary protein (20-25% protein by weight, which is 2-3 times that of wheat and rice) for the majority of poor who cannot afford expensive animal protein and vegetarians. Crop residues and by-products are valuable as fodder, feed, and firewood.
Grain legumes play an important role in Nepalese agriculture contributing to food and nutritional security, nitrogen economy, crop intensification, diversification, and sustainable farming systems. Grain legumes rank fourth in terms of acreage (about 10.8% of total cultivated land) and 5th in production. Grain Legumes Research program (GLRP) of Nepal in collaboration with CGIAR centers works for genetic improvement of lentil, chickpea, pigeon-pea, soybean, moonbeam, black gram, grass pea, faba bean, and cowpea.
Pea, cowpea, and beans are important leguminous vegetables. The other beans of lesser economic importance include cluster bean, broad bean, Lima bean, winged bean, etc. Pea and broad bean are cool-season crops while other beans are warm-season crops. All are direct-seeded crops. Most of these crops are important sources of carbohydrates and protein. As a matter of fact, they rival meat in protein content. Legumes are rich in protein because of a symbiotic relationship between the roots of legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria belonging to the genus Rhizobium. The immature pods of legume vegetables are also high in vitamins A and C. The legumes are also nitrogen fixers, although the major legume vegetable in cultivation does not fix a sufficient amount of nitrogen and it must be provided in fertilizers.