Fighting Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Multiple Roles of Legumes in Integrated Soil Fertility Management

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Socio-Economic Contribution of Legumes to Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • M. OdendoAffiliated withSocio-economics Division, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Email author 
  • , A. BationoAffiliated withAlliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Soil Health Program
  • , S. KimaniAffiliated withKenya Agricultural Research Institute

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Legumes play important roles in provision of food security, generation of income, and maintenance of environment in most smallholder farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Grain legumes are particularly important human food as they are rich in protein and are sometimes sold for cash income, whilst herbaceous and tree legumes are important livestock feeds. Legumes have the ability to biologically fix atmospheric nitrogen and are usually intercropped in cereals. Cowpea (Vigna uinguiculata (L) Walp), groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), soybean (Glysine max L.Merril) and common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) are the most important grain legumes in SSA. Maize-bean intercrop is predominant in eastern Africa, whilst in southern Africa maize is intercropped with cowpeas, groundnuts and bambara nuts. In SSA, annual quantities of groundnut production are highest, followed by cowpea, beans, soybean and peas. Promotion of grain legumes in SSA offers important opportunities for improving smallholder livelihoods and sustainable land productivity. However, the contribution of legumes to food security and poverty alleviation can be substantial when bio-physical and socio-economic constraints are simultaneously addressed. This involves development of innovative strategies for improving access to markets as well as incorporation of consumer preferences and appreciation in the research and development processes.