SO2. Transforming Grain Legume Systems and Value Chains

SO.2. Transforming Grain Legume Systems and Value Chains: To transform grain legume-based systems through improved smallholder production management decision making and more effectual governance management of legume value chains by stakeholders, including smallholder farmers and consumers.

Transformation of smallholder, legume-based productions systems and value chains, as advocated under Feed the Future (FTF), requires greater clarity of system functions and fundamental changes in system management, if the FTF goals of sustainable productivity enhancement and increased consumption for improved nutrition are to be achieved. Unlike many other crops, grain legumes provide a wide range of multifunctional benefits to smallholder farmers and their families. The Legume Innovation Lab Management Office, however, believes that a dual research approach that addresses both the supply and demand sides of the legume value chain continuum is necessary to achieve this strategic objective.

On the farm-level supply side, soil infertility due to low native fertility, soil degradation, and persistent soil problems (e.g., pH extremes, heavy metal toxicities, micronutrient deficiency) are limiting legume productivity worldwide. The challenge to addressing soil constraints—considered the primary factor contributing to the yield-gap in grain legumes—is not simply a problem of access to fertilizers but a fundamental inability of smallholder farmers to diagnose their soil, to identify factors that may be limiting crop productivity, and to choose cropping system management practices that lead to sustainable improvements in soil fertility and health and, ultimately, long-term improvements in productivity.

The approach proposed by the Legume Innovation Lab is based on the premise that sustainable and productive agriculture systems require soil fertility management that relies considerably on using legumes in the cropping system (rotation, intercropping, relay cropping). To address this objective, the Legume Innovation Lab will develop tools to enable smallholder farmers to better diagnose their soils and to make more effectual integrated production system management decisions to improve soil fertility over the long term.

For grain legume value chains to function effectively in developing countries, stronger vertical and horizontal relationships must be instituted among subsector participants to reduce transaction costs and to increase performance and, ultimately, incomes. Building the governance capacity of the grain legume trade is essential to improving value chain performance and ensuring remunerative farm-gate prices for grain legumes to smallholder farmers. A demand-side knowledge gap, however, exists in eastern and southern Africa about how consumers rank legumes in their food preferences and dietary decision making. Research is needed to better understand the preferences of urban and rural consumers, the findings of which will enable stakeholders of grain legume value chains to scope for supply chain business opportunities, exploit market opportunities, and formulate recommendations to policy makers to incentivize grain legume consumption and utilization by consumers, resulting in improved nutritional outcomes.