Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 45–64 | Cite as

Innovations in agronomy for food legumes. A review

  • Kadambot H. M. SiddiqueEmail author
  • Chris Johansen
  • Neil C. Turner
  • Marie-Hélène Jeuffroy
  • Abul Hashem
  • Dogan Sakar
  • Yantai Gan
  • Salem S. Alghamdi
Review paper


Although there is increasing awareness of the importance of food legumes in human, animal and soil health, adoption of improved production technologies for food legume crops is not proceeding at the same pace as for cereal crops. Over the previous decade, the only food legumes to have shown significant production increases have been chickpea, lentil and faba bean in North America, chickpea in Australia, and faba bean in Europe. In smallholder farming in developing countries, production trends have mostly been static or have declined over the past decade despite the existence of technology that should permit higher and more stable yields. Ability to reverse negative trends is jeopardized by climate change as food legumes are mostly grown rainfed and are being exposed to increasingly variable and extreme weather. This review examines recent innovations in cultivation technology for the major food legumes—chickpea, lentil, dry pea, faba bean, lupin, common bean, mung bean, black gram, cowpea, and pigeonpea—and explores constraints to their adoption, particularly by resource-poor smallholder farmers. Conservation agriculture, involving minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover, and diverse rotations, has contributed to sustainable cropping system production in large-scale commercial farming systems in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Turkey. Temperate food legumes have been incorporated into such systems. Adoption of conservation agriculture is only just beginning for smallholder farming in Asia and Africa, catalyzed by the development of low-cost implements suitable for minimum tillage. Water use efficiency improves with conservation agriculture as it allows for earlier planting, reduced soil evaporation, better weed management, and increased access to nutrients. Ecosystem-based approaches to plant nutrition are evolving which place more reliance on accessing organic and mineral reservoirs than in replenishing the immediately available pool with chemical fertilizers, leading to enhanced nutrient use efficiency of cropping systems. Ecosystem-based approaches are also being applied to management of weeds, diseases, and insect pests of food legumes, again with decreased reliance on synthetic chemicals. In achieving sustainable agricultural production systems, there is increasing realization of the need to move towards the tenets of organic agriculture, as exemplified in conservation agriculture and ecosystem-based approaches to plant nutrition and pest management. This does not necessarily imply a desire to qualify for organic product certification but more a realization of the need for sustainable agriculture. The movement towards conservation and organic agriculture encourages greater inclusion of food legumes, and legumes generally, in cropping systems. Unfortunately, however, technology transfer to resource-poor farming situations, where most food legumes are produced, remains a major bottleneck to meeting global demand. More participatory approaches to technology development, testing, and dissemination are required than hitherto practiced. It is suggested that this process could be enhanced by better focusing on major constraints within the value addition chain for food legumes.


Legume area trends Climate change Conservation agriculture Smallholder farming Water use efficiency Nutrient use efficiency Weeds Integrated disease management Integrated crop management 



We thank Dr. Sabine D. Golombek, Kirchen, Germany, for assistance with figure preparation.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Kadambot H. M. Siddique
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
    Email author
  • Chris Johansen
    • 2
  • Neil C. Turner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marie-Hélène Jeuffroy
    • 3
  • Abul Hashem
    • 4
  • Dogan Sakar
    • 5
  • Yantai Gan
    • 6
  • Salem S. Alghamdi
    • 7
  1. 1.The UWA Institute of AgricultureThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.UMR Agronomie INRA/AgroParisTechThiverval-GrignonFrance
  4. 4.Department of Agriculture and Food WANorthamAustralia
  5. 5.Dicle University Faculty of AgricultureDiyarbakrTurkey
  6. 6.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSwift CurrentCanada
  7. 7.College of Food and Agricultural SciencesKing Saud UniversityRiyadhSaudi Arabia

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