, Volume 186, Issue 3, pp 647–654 | Cite as

Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus): Is there a case for further crop improvement?

  • R. J. HillocksEmail author
  • M. N. Maruthi


An ideal legume for resource-poor farmers, grass pea [Lathyrus sativus] is a drought tolerant crop that thrives with minimal external inputs. It is grown on 1 million ha throughout South Asia, mainly as a relay crop after rice. It is also grown extensively in Ethiopia, where it is an important legume for human consumption. Traditionally used for human consumption and as a source of animal feed, this protein-rich legume is favoured for its excellent flavour. There is great potential for an expansion in the utilization of grass pea in drought-prone economies, such as Ethiopia. However, L. sativus produces small quantities of a neurotoxin, β-N-oxalyl –L-α-diaminopropanoic acid (ODAP), which, when consumed alone in large quantities, may cause ‘lathyrism’, an irreversible paralysis of the legs. Lathyrism is a medical condition closely associated with poverty in rural areas. Despite efforts in some countries to discourage production of L. sativus, poor farming communities continue to rely on the crop to supplement their meagre diets. As local land races with high toxin levels generally outperform introduced varieties with lower toxin levels, farmers have little option but to continue to grow their locally-adapted varieties. While there has been some success in breeding grass pea lines with low levels of ODAP, crop improvement programmes are scarce and under-resourced. Facing rising food prices and more frequent natural disasters associated with climate change, we should not neglect the ability of grass pea to provide human and animal feed, under conditions unsuitable for economic production of other legume crops.


Grass pea Lathyrus sativus Production Utilization Improvement Markers 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural Resources Institute, University of GreenwichChatham MaritimeUK

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