Prospects for improvement

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Since the appearance of modem agriculture, biological, technical and economic limitations have caused the present marginalization of these cultivated legumes, the situation of which varies according to the geographical area. Of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particular reference will be made here to Spain.

TABLE 12 Antinutritional factors of grain legumes

Species Antinutritional factors Remarks
Lathyrus sativus L. b -N-oxalyl-L-a - b -diaminopropionic acid (ODAP), trypsin inhibitors, hydrocyanic acid, maltose, saponins, quercitin, flavins Neurolathyrism
Lathyrus cicera L. ODAP Neurolathyrism (content less than L. sativus)
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Complex polysaccharides (gums and mucilages), trypsin inhibitors, sapogenins Contains numerous chemical components of interest to the pharmaceutical, food, perfume and cosmetics industries (diosgenin,mucilages, coumarin, lecithin, etc.)
Vicia ervilia (L.) Wilid. Cyanogenic glucoside, canavanine trypsin inhibitors  
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. Cyanogenic glucoside, canavanine  
Vicia narbonensis L. Cyanogenic glucoside  

Sources: Arora, 1983: Harborne, Boulter and Turner, 1971; Gómez Cabrera, 1983; Mateo Box. 1960: Villax, 1963.

The biological limitations lie in the absence of genetic improvement in a plant material that is extremely diverse and has been cultivated for thousands of years, which is evident from the stability of yields during the last 50 years (Figure 35), depending on the ecological conditions (the differences in the trend of barley yield during the same period can be seen).

The presence of toxic elements or antinutritional factors,the elimination or reduction of which would have to be tackled in breeding programmes, is a restriction on its use in human consumption and particularly in animal feed. Although the list of pests and diseases that attack this group of legumes is very extensive, there are important gaps owing to the low extent of its cultivation and the paucity of studies carried out. However, generally speaking, attack by pathogens is not found to be a serious limitation on cultivation.

Fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) has been found to be tolerant to insects and diseases, chick ling vetch (L. sativus) to rust and viruses, and V. narbonensis to Aphis fabae. Among the pests and diseases of economic importance are Aphis craccivora and Myzus persicae for fenugreek and Ascochyta pisi and A. orobi for the chickling vetches in India. In Spain, the major pests are aphids (not specified) in fenugreek and one-leaved vetch; Bruchus spp. in V. ervilia, L. sativus and L. cicera; and Apion spp. in L. sativus and L. cicera. The major diseases are rusts (Uromyces pisi or U. fabae) in one-leaved vetch, and nematodes (unspecified) in V. ervilia.

From the agronomic point of view, the precariousness of the techniques used has prevented yields from increasing. The use of such techniques is unavoidable because of the lack of response of cultivation to new practices and the low profitability of their application. The difficulty of mechanizing harvesting, given the aerial structure of the plant and its propensity to shedding its grain on ripening, is undoubtedly the factor of greatest importance. Also, competition from wheat has been a limiting factor on yields wined suitable herbicides have not been used. For these reasons, there has been an increase in cereal monoculture and in the area of fallow, while new crops have been introduced on fallow land, for example sunflower, which has been extensively promoted by the extractive industry through the spread of techniques, machinery loans, the granting of advances to farmers and guaranteed purchases. Moreover, changes in irrigation have given rise to the introduction of much more profitable crops such as beetroot and maize.

TABLE 13 Botanical characteristics of grain legumes

Species Structure of the plant Flowers Pods Seeds
Lathyrus sativus L. Branched. Stems suberect and climbing. Height: 40-90 cm. Main root: 50-70 cm. Secondary roots very numerous Solitary, axillar with a long peduncle. Colour bluish-purple, pink or white 2.5-5 cm long with and flattened . Contain 1-5 seeds Wedge-shaped. Cream or greyish brown, sometimes dark speckled and with a small hilum on the wider edge
Lathyrus cicera L. Smaller than L. sativus. Height: 30-50 cm. Deep taproot (80- 120 cm) and fewer secondary roots Solitary, reddish colour Typically grooved with 3-5 seeds Similar to those of L. sativus, but less angular and more rounded. Greyish colour with dark spots.
17 000-18000 grains/kg
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Stems erect. Height: up to 40- 80 cm. Branched only if there is a high planting density. The plant and seeds have a characteristic strong odour Solitary or in pairs, axillar and sessile. Colour yellowish white, stained violet at the base of the corolla 7.5-15 cm long, erect and sometimes curved. Longitudinal veins with a long point (2-4 cm). Contain 10-20 seeds Oblong, quadrangular, sometimes compressed. Yellow or light-chestnut colour. Approximately 50 000 grains/kg
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. Low height (20-70 cm) and little branching. Very trailing habit. Highly developed root system Inflorescence with 1-3 pendulous flow joined at the axis by a small pedicel. Whitish colour sometimes with a violet tinge 2-3 cm. Seeds are prominent as the valves adhere to them closely. 2-4 seeds per pod Tetrahedral, sometimes angular. Light colour, from cream to reddish brown. 25 000-35 000 grains/kg
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. Trailing stems, polygonal in cross-section. Height: up to 80 cm. Deep, very branched roots Uniflorous inflorescence, with pedicellate, pendulous flowers. Whitish colour Flattened, from 3-4 cm long. Light-brown colour.
2-5 seeds per pod
Similar to the lentil but smaller and less flattened. Colour variable, from light, pinkish yellow to dark chestnut, with black dots. 10 000-20 000 grains/kg
Vicia narbonensis L. Stems erect and branched, of quadrangular cross-section. Height: up to 70-80 cm. Deep, well-developed roots Inflorescence with large violet or reddish flowers and different contours in the various parts of the corolla 5-7 cm long, wide, ending in a short, curved point. Almost black in colour.
6-7 seeds
Spherical with dents,
4 000-5 000 grains/kg

Sources: Duke, 1981; Mateo Box, 1960; Villax, 1963.

TABLE 14 Collections of grain legume germplasm

Country Species Institution
Afghanistan Vicia ervilia Plant Research and Soil Science Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Kabul
Australia Lathyrus sativus Department of Agriculture, Adelaide, South Australia
Bulgaria Vicia ervilia Institute of Plant Introduction and Genetic Resources, Sadovo
CIS Lathyrus spp. N.I. Vavilov All-Union Institute of Plant Industry, St Petersburg
Cyprus Vicia ervilia Agricultural Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Nicosia
Czechoslovakia Lathyrus spp. Plant Breeding Research Institute of Technical Crops and Legumes, Tumenice
Germany Vicia ervilia Institut für Pflanzenbau und Pflanzenzuchtung, Braunschweig
Vicia narbonensis Zentralinstitut für Genetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung,
Lathyrus spp Gatersleben
Ethiopia Trigonella foenum-graecum Plant Genetic Resources Center, Agriculture Research
    Institute, Addis Ababa
France Vicia narbonensis Station d'amélioration des plantes, INRA, Dijon
Iran Trigonella foenum-graecum Seed and Plant Improvement institute; Plant Genetic Resources Division, Karaj
Pakistan Lathyrus spp. Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad
Portugal Vicia ervilia Estação Agronómica Nacional, INIA, Oeiras
Spain Lathyrus cicera Centro de Conservación de Recursos Fitogenéticos, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Madrid Estación Experimental del Aula Dei, CSIC, Zaragoza
Lathyrus sativus
Vicia ervilia
Vicia monanthos  
Vicia narbonensis  
Vicia ervilia  
Turkey Lathyrus spp. Aegean Agricultural Research Institute, Menmen, Izmir

Traditionally, there has not been a policy for the protection of these legumes (whereas there has been for cereals), nor any marketing channels; there have been shortages in regulation of the supply and the producer sector has been separated from the feedstuffs industry. The latter has been developed under the protection of measures that have favoured soya meal: low price imports and all types of facilities and aid to producers. As an example, in its common organization of the market, the EEC has recently only provided for aid in the case of fenugreek production, completely disregarding the rest of this legume group.

TABLE 15 Traditional cultivation techniques of grain legumes1

Species Tillage Fertilization Sowing Herbicides Harvesting
Lathyrus sativus L. and L. cicera L. First tillage (sometimes with cultivator or harrow) None (sometimes 100-200 kg/ha of 18% superphosphate) In autumn, after the first rains: 150-200 kg/ha of seed (sometimes barley is used as a support at 15-20 kg/ha). With cereal drill, 15-40 cm between rows None (Avena sp., Papaver sp. and crucifers) With cereal harvester (losses 20-30% because of dehiscence and plant's low habit). Also cut with a motor scythe (in rows, dried) and harvester with pick-up
Trigonella foenum- graecum L. Harrowing and rolling None (sometimes 100- 150 kg of 18% superphosphate) In October: 110-130 kg/ he of seed. With cereal drill, 15-18 cm between rows None (Avena sp., Papaver sp.and Veronica sp.) With cereal harvester (difficulties from flattening and grain drop)
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. Harrowing and/or cultivator and rolling None (exceptionally 100 kg/ ha of 18% superphosphate) In October- December: 100- 130 kg/ha of seed. With cereal drill, 15-20 cm between rows, sometimes broadcast None (Avena sp., Lolium sp., Papaver sp., Cirsium sp., Veronica sp., Pofigonum sp. and crucifers). Very sensitive to hormonal herbicides of cereals which cause serious damage With cereal harvester and motor scythe, threshing and cleaning. Sometimes manual, with threshing on floor
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. Tilling, harrowing and rolling None In October-December: 95-100 kg/ha of seed. With cereal drill, 15-20 cm between rows None (Avena sp., Lolium sp., Papaver sp., Matricana sp. and Cirsium sp.) Motor scythe, threshing and cleaning. Sometimes pulled up by hand, with threshing on floor

Note: There are no data on Vicia narbonensis, as its cultivation is practically non-existent in Spain.

Within the framework of a sustainable agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy that seeks to encourage alternative crops, the several million hectares of fallow land in Spain could benefit from promotion of the cultivation of these legumes, which are sources of protein and which improve soil fertility. The role of the legumes in soil conservation and environmental improvement should not be forgotten, nor should their non-food uses, such as the production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in the case of fenugreek.

TABLE 16 Grain yield of various legumes

Species Region Remarks Authors
(kg/ha)
Lathyrus sativus L.      
500 -2 600 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
1000-1500 - Cultivation Duke, 1981
312 India Cultivation Duke, 1981
2126-6242 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Lathyrus cicera L.      
1 500-2500 Southern Europe Cultivation Villax, 1963
1 580 -3 037 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Trigonella foenum-graecum L.      
750 -3 800 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
500 -3 320 - Trials Duke, 1981
3 700 Great Britain Trials Duke, 1981
1000 Morocco Trials Duke, 1981
800 -1 500 Western Mediterranean basin Cultivation Villax, 1963
338 -1 490 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia ervilia L      
400 -2 200 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
1 000 -2 500 Western Mediterranean basin Cultivation Villax, 1963
1 299 -2 830 Northern Spain Trials Various
2 600-3 000 Central Spain Trials Various
1 580 -2 358 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia monanthos L.      
400 -1 800 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
106 - 249 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia narbonensis L.      
1 070 -3 307 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989

In addition, thorough research needs to be carried out in the short and medium term to provide a knowledge and evaluation of the plant material and its genetic improvement, as well as to develop more suitable cultivation techniques for increasing production. Such techniques would then be passed on to farmers, encouraging the cultivation of the different species according to the different cultivation systems and regions. The animal feedstuffs industry must take part in this process, gradually integrating the utilization of these raw materials into their processes.

Bibliography

Arora, S.K. 1983. Chemistry and biochemistry of legumes. London, Edward Arnold.

Duke, J.A.1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. New York, Plenum.

Esquinas, J.T. 1983. Las colecciones de leguminosas a nivel mundial. In J.I. Cubero & M.T. Moreno, eds. Leguminosas de grano, p. 273-320. Madrid, Mundi Prensa.

Franco Jubete, F. 1989. Iniciación a la selección de Lathyrus cicera L. en la provincia de Palencia. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. (thesis)

Gómez Cabrera, A. 1983. Los granos de leguminosas como componentes proteicos pare la alimentación animal. In J.I. Cubero & M.T. Moreno, eds. Leguminosas de grano, p. 249262. Madrid, Mundi Prensa.

Guerrero, A. & López Bellido, L. 1983. Producción y sistemas de cultivo en leguminosas-pienso. Aspectos técnicos y económicos. In I Jornadas Técnicas sobre Leguminosas-Pienso, p. 51-83. Madrid, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Harborne, J.B., Boulter, D. & Turner, B.L. 1971. Chemotaxonomy of the Leguminosae. London, Academic.

IBPGR. 1989. Directory of germplasm collections. 1.I. Food legumes. Rome.

Jiménez Diaz, R.M. 1983. Información preliminar pare un inventario de las enfermedades de leguminosas de grano en España. In J.I. Cubero & M.T. Moreno, eds. Leguminosas de grano, p. 175-196. Madrid, Mundi Prensa.

Mateo Box, J.M. 1960. Leguminosas de grano. Barcelona, Spain, Salvat.

Pascual, M.1978. Leguminosas de la Península Ibéricay Baleares. Madrid, INIA.

Santiago, C. 1983. Inventario de plagas de leguminosas de grano. In J.I. Cubero & M.T. Moreno, eds. Leguminosas de grano, p. 197210. Madrid, Mundi Prensa.

Villax, E.J. 1963. La culture des plantes fourragères en la région mediterranéenne occidentale. Rabat, INRA.

Traditional varieties of grain legumes for human consumption

Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata)
Field bean, kidney bean, garden bean, haricot bean, french bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Broad bean(Vicia faba)
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum)
Lentil (Lens culinaris)
Pea (Pisum sativum)

Since the beginning of agriculture, grain legumes have had multiple uses depending on how the different parts of the plant were utilized. The seeds are used dry or green, the legumes green and the plant dry as straw for animal feed and green as fodder or as organic manure. The dried grain is used for animal feed or human consumption. In the latter case, it is used whole or hulled, as flour, boiled or roasted. The flour is used on its own or mixed with other flours, generally made from cereals. Legumes are served as a main dish, either alone or accompanying meat or fish, as a snack, green or dried.

The same diversity exists in the cultivation systems (extensive dry or irrigated, purely horticultural and winter or spring) and in postharvest handling (for fresh consumption, dry storage or immediate use). Packaging can be simple and the product can be frozen or canned or precooked. Grain legumes are a source of oil with which protein-rich cake is made and they also have other substances of interest for industry and pharmacology.

In addition to everything that the plant offers immediately, legumes have constantly been accompanied by species that produce carbohydrates, i.e. cereals in temperate zones or roofs and tubers in tropical zones. This is due not only to their great nutritional value, but also to their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen which is then released into the soil, a fact which has been perceived intuitively by farmers throughout the ages because of its effects on crops and one which necessitated the inclusion of legumes in all farming.

There is always a legume which is suitable for sowing whatever the climate and soil conditions. For example, the cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) can be used if the climate is semi-arid and subtropical, which means it can be recommended for cultivation throughout the Mediterranean basin, as indeed happened in the past (until American beans became totally established). The field bean and, in general, American beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, P. Iunatus, P. coccineus and perhaps others) share Mediterranean gardens with the cowpea, replacing it in colder regions such as northern Spain. Broad beans do not tolerate subtropical and semi-arid climates but they can be cultivated exclusively to below 400 mm of winter precipitations. They therefore replace cowpeas and beans perfectly in those environments, and even enable new land to be colonized. Below 400 mm, the preference is for the chickpea which, with the broad bean, shares a dual use in food for both humans and animals. Below 300 mm and at a lower temperature, the lentil is the only legume suitable for human consumption that is free from problems (there are restrictions on the consumption of other grain legumes by humans). The garden pea can occupy very different areas: from kitchen gardens, where it is found with the broad bean and haricot bean, up to cold and semi-arid moorland, although it does not tolerate extreme conditions like the lentil.

It is therefore not surprising that grain legumes have had a favoured position in agriculture and in the human diet. However, according to the overall figures, their situation in world agriculture is currently that of a group of crops clearly in regression. These data are subject to qualification: in fact, horticultural crops are prospering but this is not the case with extensive crops and those specific to subsistence farming. Given that the latter occupy a much bigger area than the former, which in actual fact are concentrated in a few species, the figures may reflect the average situation well but they do not describe it adequately.

This situation affects all species of grain legumes. It should be noted that their decline is occurring in agricultures that make abundant use of technology, i.e. Western or surplus agriculture, in contrast to the subsistence farming of many developing countries. In the latter type of agriculture, legumes may not play a very important role as regards quantities produced, but their value is high from the qualitative point of view, as they generally supply the scarce proteins available for human consumption.

Highly sophisticated agriculture is very recent in humankind's history and is actually a consequence of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. At that time in the United Kingdom, scientific principles were successfully applied to certain agricultural problems. Experimentation, at the same time as inventions in other areas of knowledge, caused a genuine agricultural revolution which may be summarized as follows: the demonstration of the fact that monoculture, particularly of cereals, is possible; the gradual introduction of natural or artificial fertilizers; the idea that animals are not essential to farming; the accompanying reduction in the importance of crops intended for animal feeding; the increase in trade by rail or steamboat, which made self-sufficient farming unnecessary; the replacement of oxen and horses as draught animals, with a consequent reduction in the importance of crops intended for them; the production, outside farming, of concentrated or compound feedstuffs; and the abandonment of rural areas, which may still be seen nowadays, in favour of industrial regions.

New scientific improvement was established on a firm basis in the mid-nineteenth century, and the essential needs for crops of the first order were met, in particular, when genetic improvement came into its own this century. Grain legumes were not among them, unless they had a horticultural use, in which case they became part of a refined human diet as a complement and not as a basic food. The legumes of the poor, which had served as a source of protein for thousands of years and which still perform this function through subsistence farming in developing countries, were relegated to marginal regions away from trade routes and scientific interest and away from new agricultural techniques and improvement work.

In an agriculture as highly competitive as ours, while knowing the advantages these species possess as regards a given aspect of farming, farmers put them in second place solely on the grounds of yield. This is reflected in a limited and fragmented supply that is inappropriate for proper marketing and which, in its turn, results in the species' abandonment. It is interesting to note how, in an emergency situation, farmers revert to legumes. In regions of Spain where broomrape (Orobanche sp.) has practically caused sunflower to be abandoned, broad beans are once again beginning to be sown. The same can be said of chickpeas in Seville, owing to problems connected to the price of cereals. When agronomy and genetic improvement are applied to legumes, the latter respond generously.

In sum, the situation of the species dealt with here applies also to numerous other legumes: valued by the farmer, the consumer and by industry, their cultivation is nevertheless decreasing from year to year. The ultimate cause of their marginalization is that they arrived late in the marketing world.

Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata)

Origin of the name

Cowpeas today are usually called "caupíes" in Spanish, which is a phonetic transcription of the English name to distinguish them from the cultivated species of Phaseolus. However, the Spanish "frijol" or "judía" always corresponded to the vegetable that is now called "caupí" and to a few other species that are related from the agronomic and cultivation point of view (particularly those belonging to the genera Dolichos and Lablab). The cowpea is the Greek faseol, the Latin faseolus and the Arabic fasulia. It has also been given the name "habichuela", probably because of its pods which are like those of the broad bean for human consumption but finer (the Mozarabic word favichiela is found in writings of the year 1100), and the name "judihuela". The latter name, which is important because it is where the word "judía" comes from, and not the other way round, is not easy to define etymologically. It seems that "judihuela" is formed from faseol through the Mozarabic faseol ('fusiol, 'fusiola which diphthongizes into 'fusihuela; 'f indicates aspiration, still present in the old Romance dialects and languages), from which "judihuela" came to be formed through popular deformation and perhaps also through attraction.

Transfer of the name to the species of Phaseolus was due to morphological, agronomic and culinary similarity (as well as botanical similarity: delimitation of the genera Vigna and Phaseolus has not been easy and may still be unsatisfactory) between the old bean and the current bean. In practice, the confusion began with the discovery: Columbus called a bean what obviously could not be so, because of its great similarity with the legumes he knew by that name in Spain. Thus, the superimposition with "caupí " and "frijol" occurred not only in agronomic contexts but also in botany and in the conceptual sphere.

Present situation

The cowpea was still cultivated in Córdoba 20 years ago. It may still survive in some kitchen gardens of the Spanish east coast and in others on the peninsula, but it must be considered to have practically disappeared in Spain. In the supermarkets of the larger towns, it has not been seen for some years: the influence of American salads has even meant that a product is being imported that could be cultivated perfectly well domestically.

In the collections of grain legumes made on the peninsula, no sample of cowpea was gathered and, if it has been, it should appear among the current beans, pending a botanical revision to classify it correctly. The specific cause of its marginalization, apart from the general causes mentioned previously, is its total replacement by the American beans. Both in the cultivation system and in use (green pod, dry or green seed), the beans of the new continent, and especially P. vulgaris, quickly gained an advantage over the cowpea and, around the eighteenth century, it is possible that references to beans under their various names referred exclusively to the latter.

Prospects

The cowpea is one of the priority crops for the IITA, a member of CGIAR, because of its importance in the tropics. The IITA is carrying out extensive work on the cowpea, both in the agronomic and the genetic area, and its future is safe at world level.

Figure 36 Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), legume and seeds

As far as Spain is concerned, however, the situation does not seem very promising, unless new culinary uses originating from tropical countries are introduced, and even this will not be enough to re-establish the cowpea significantly in Iberian agriculture.

Field bean, kidney bean, garden bean, haricot bean, French bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Origin of the name

These names (in Spanish judía, frijol, alubia and habichuela) and others are given nowadays to the species of Phaseolus that reached Spain after the discovery, in particular P. vulgaris, which is rightly called judía común (common bean). The word "judía" did not appear before the eighteenth century (for example, in Suárez, 1733 edition of the work by Laguna: in Laguna's text, only the word "judihuela" appears, whereas in the comments of Suárez, judía is already synonymous with beans, frisoles, alubias, etc., as well as judihuelas). In some regions, the dried seed is also given the name "chícharo", a term applied to more than one grain legume and obviously derived from the Latin "cicer" which, strictly speaking, corresponds to the chickpea.

Present situation

As already mentioned, the only important species is the common bean. Another two species, Phaseolus lunatus and P. coccineus are cultivated on small areas for specific purposes (as an ingredient of paella, for example), and the trend is to replace both of them completely with the former. In fact, in the collections of genetic material made in recent years, very few samples of either have appeared and always with some doubt as to whether they are from recent populations or, as would be desirable, old populations. All are summer-grown species in Spain and, consequently, require water. This is why, like the cowpea, they are kitchen garden or extensive irrigation crops, except when dry-farmed in the moist soils of the Cantabrian coast.

The selling prices on the common bean market, both in the pod and fresh, as well as the popularity of some dishes (fabada, with chorizo sausage, pochas, caparrones, green beans, etc.) suggest a promising future for the legume. Although this is relatively certain for the species, it is not so much the case with traditional cultivars. One has only to compare the situation in the 1950s with that of the 1980s: the wealth of indigenous forms described by Puerta Romero (1961) (who studied in detail no less than 300 from a collection of 1000) was not maintained, and numerous local races of excellent quality are in danger of extinction. The collections made in the second period mentioned barely amount to 12 specimens, although surveys in northern Spain were described in detail (Galicia, Asturias, Basque Country, Navarra) and with relatively good results: the alubias of Toulouse, the pochas of Rioja and the Asturian beans of La Granja could be considered as saved.

The reason for this change was the extensive irrigated cultivation of modem forms of determined growth, for example in El Páramo, León. Until then, the predominant cultivation was typically horticultural, involving branched varieties on small dispersed areas, a situation in which pests and diseases are not generally limiting factors. In the transition to extensive cultivation, both have made their appearance and it was necessary to replace local races with imported cultivars. In El Páramo, for example, the excellent local race, Riñón, has been replaced by Cannellini, which is of lesser quality but resistant to fusarium disease.

What happened with beans for dry seed also occurred in the case of varieties intended for fresh consumption. The branching varieties were replaced by dwarf varieties, and those with flat, curved pods (the exquisite Garrafal), traditional in Spanish cooking, by those with a round cross section, irrespective of the type of growth. The cause has to be sought once again in the industrial sphere. The straight, round pod makes canning possible without any loss of material and, moreover, if the stalk has a given growth, it can be harvested mechanically.

The situation has now worsened. Direct import at higher prices has had a completely negative effect on Spanish farmers and, consequently, on cultivation. It should be borne in mind in favour of importers and marketers that they require large, uniform quantities which are not found in Spain. The fragmentation of supply, a consequence of genetic diversity, in the haricot bean and in all species dealt with here, plays a curiously negative role in its survival. Those who advocate an ecological agriculture and in situ conservation should take this into account.

Prospects for improvement

As in the case of the cowpea, the future seems secure as far as the species is concerned. The developed countries consume the green pods however tasteless they are, generally offering them as an accompaniment to a main dish. Numerous public and private institutions are working genetic improvement, in particular to obtain low plants with a specific growth and with straight, rounded pods. The IITA is in charge of them within the framework of the developing countries, whatever their use.

In Spain, however, the situation is alarming as regards the conservation of native material. Although the beans of La Granja (the basic ingredient of Asturian fabada) seem out of danger in view of the active research being done on them, and although some commercial seed-producers are carrying out improvement work with some beans of the variety Garrafal (for fresh consumption), in many regions such as El Barco de Avila, La Bañeza, and even in the kitchen gardens of Valencia, the loss of excellent local races may occur in the very short term. The Garbanceras, Riojanas, and Arrocinas of El Barco, the Panchinas and Moritas of Asturia and the Riñón of La Bañeza, all produced for seed, and the numerous and varied Garrafal varieties, as an outstanding example of green beans, may very soon be no more than a number in a gene bank.

This is a curious case in which a stable demand and a high price are causing considerable genetic erosion.


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