• From: "Lion Kuntz" <lionkuntz@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lifesaviors@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 05 Sep 2002 04:52:40 +0800


Information Sheet #2 - Tropical Legumes
Dynamic information about regenerative agriculture



Soil health is critical for producing high quality crops whose yields can be 
sustained. Leguminous plants are an excellent tool for this purpose, improving 
soil health through regenerative means.

Soil-improving legumes access atmospheric nitrogen (N2) through a symbiotic 
relationship with soil bacteria. These bacteria, Rhizobia and Frankia, form 
nodules on plant roots, enabling them to take N2 that has diffused through the 
soil and convert it to ammonia (NH3), which the plant can use. This process, 
called nitrogen fixation, is the legume's primary source of nitrogen when soil 
nitrogen is low. When plowed under, there is usually a net gain of soil 

Usually the bacteria that indigenous legumes require are present in the native 
soils. However, if a legume is being introduced to an ecosystem for the first 
the necessary bacteria may not be there. In this case the legume seeds can be 
inoculated by coating the seed with the bacteria before planting.

In addition to N2, legumes provide a variety of benifits to regenorative 
such as weed and erosion control. As a cover crop, legumes can outcompete 
weeds, reducing labor costs. Legumes control erosion in several ways:

- They cover the soil and protect it from the impact of heavy rainfall during 
times of 
the year when it would normally be bare.

- Their roots stabalize slopes.

- They act as a barrior to water running down the surface of a slope.

- They improve soil structure, allowing the water to infiltrate the soil more 
rather than running off the surface.

Additional benefits include increased organic matter, reduced compaction, and 
providing a source of forage, medicine, fuel building materials. Below are 
descriptions of a few tropical legumes that illustrate these diverse 

Mucuna sp., or "velvetbean," is a fast-growing climbing species native to Asia. 
annual that thrives under warm, moist conditions, it is primarily utilized as 
intercrop with maize, and as such, is an excellent green manure. Mucuna sp. has 
also been used as an animal feed.

In Honduras, many farmers have replaced their bush-fallow system with an 
intercrop of velvetbean and maize. The velvetbean is left to grow in the fields 
maize has been harvested, producing a vegetative mat up to 1.5m thick. This 
layer outcompetes weeds, protects the soil from water erosion, retains soil 
moisture and provides nutrients for the next maize crop. Velvetbean is more 
managed than weeds such as Imprerata (Alang-alang), reducing labor.

When velvetbean technology is not used, summer planting of maize or beans is 
preceded by the slashing and burning of a fallow field. In the Sierra de Santa 
Marta, Mexico, weeding is done manually; weed and crop residues are used as 
mulch. Increased demands on the land have required shorter fallow periods, 
resulting in sub-optimal soil conditions for crop production. In turn, this has 
required more weed control and increased demands on the soil. Velvetbean 
technology has made the fallow more efficient; as a result, fallow periods can 
shorter. In addition, its mulching effect has greatly reduced weeding labor.

Farmers adopt this technology with considerable ease, incorporating the legume 
almost immediately. The Centro Maya Project, a joint effort of teh Rodale 
Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE) and the 
Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) is spreading velvetbean technology 
throughout the Guatemalan farmer cooperatives of Bethel, La Tecnica, Monte 
Sinai and la Lucha. From 1993 to 1995, on-farm trials of velvetbean 
with maize increased from 60 hectares to 410 hectares. Currently, 635 farmers 
from 58 communities are using the technology as a result of Centro Maya.

Gliricidia sepium
Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, G. sepium is a medium sized tree 
(average height is 12m) that has gained recognition as a fast-growing, 
multipurpose legume. It has been used as animal forage, fuel wood and 
medicine. It is adaptable to degraded soils, making it an important 
species. As an intercrop or in hedgerows, G. sepium provides fodder and 
fertilizer, though its rapid decomposition makes it less effective as a mulch. 
It can 
also serve as a shade and support tree for climbing species (vanilla, pepper, 

Farmers in the Misamis Oriental Province, Philippines plant G. sepium in 
hedgerows along the contours of hillsides to reduce soil erosion. More than 
of the regional farmers cultivate on a slope of 15% or greater. The hedgerows, 
combination or G. sepium and Napier grass (Pennisitum purpureum), reduce 
soil erosion by up to 90%. From 1987-1993, technicians from the International 
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) worked with farmers to develop and evaluate the 
contour hedgerow technology. Of the farmers surveyed, 96% saw the hedgerows 
as a way to control erosion (Hedgerows in the Philippines. 1994. In 
Ag-Sieve VI(3). 1994).

The Minkanao Baptist Rural Life Center's Sloping Agricultural Land Technology 
(SALT) incorporates a double row of G. sepium along slope contours. A cash crop 
is planted between each double row. Planted on the uphill side of the tree, the 
legume's root system, with help from rocks, branches and crop residues, 
stabilizes the soil and privents water erosion. At the same time, G. sepium is 
pruned monthly and applied as mulch.

Erythrina sp.
There are over 100 species of Erythrina, many of which are used ofr fodder, 
support for climbing plants, live fences, shade and medicinal purposes. Most 
species are fast-growing, long-living trees or shrubs. Erythrina is generally 
tolerant of regular pruning and easily propagated.

In the Turrialba district of Costa Rica, rural communities are harnessing three 
Erythrina species: E. berteroana, E. poeppigina and E. costaricensis. E. 
berteroana is planted as a live fence in pastures, compensating for the 
scarcity of 
fence wire. Farmers consider E. poeppigiana the most effective shade tree for 
coffee and cacao, while E. cosaricensis is primarily harnessed for its 

Erythrina variegata, native to the Indian Coast and Malaysia, grows up to 25m 
height and is tolerant of a wide range of soils. Farmers in India use E. 
as a support tree for climbing crops (black pepper, grapes, yams, etc.). Rapid 
straight growth makes E. variegata an ideal live fence post and shade tree. It 
is an 
excellent high protein feed for livestock, and it decomposes rapidly to enhance 
soil organic matter. Farmers use it as a light, durable building wood, but it 
is not 
desirable as fuel.

Arachis pintoi
Arachis pintoi, or Perennial Peanut, can be planted in a wide range of 
ecosystems, ranging from tropical rainforests to subhumid tropical rainforests. 
can tolerate a wide range of soil types. In humid environments, Arachis pintoi 
proved to be successful as a cover crop with a wide variety of tree crops, 
oil palm, citrus, pepper and grapes. It provides weed and nematode control and 
requires low maintenance once established.

Arachis pintoi has been evaluated during the past 13 years in Central America 
and Mexico for its value as livestock fodder. In Guapiles, Costa Rica, A. 
pintoi is 
planted in association with vigorous tropical grasses like Brachiaria 
brizantha. In 
this association, the legume biomass increases with heavy grazing. The A. 
pintoi-grass association also increases beef production. Liveweight gains with 
pintoi have been 40 to 80 percent higher than on pure grass pastures.

Milk production on Arachis pintoi-grass pasture has been higher than on pure 
grass pasture fertilized with inorganic nitrogen. Combined with star grass 
(Cynodon nlemfuensis), A. pintoi increased daily milk production of 
cows in Turrialba, Costa Rica by 14%


Selecting the appropriate legume for a given use and environment should be 
done with care. Marianne Sarrantonio's "Methodologies for Screening 
Soil-Improving Legumes" - available in English and Spanish - is a useful aid in 
this process. Once you have identified the right match, legumes have great 
potential for improving soil health and sustaining yields.

Buckles, D. 1994. Velvetbean: A "New" Plant with a History. CIMMYT internal 
document submitted to the Journal of Economic Botany.

Buckles, D. 1993. Velvetbean (Mucuna spp.) in the Farming Systems of Atlantic 
Honduras. Prepared for the 3rd Wye International Conference on Sustainable 
Agriculture, "Soil Management in Sustainable Agriculture."

Buckles, D. and Perales, H.1995. Farmer-Based Experimentation With 
Velvetbean: Innovation Within Tradition. CIMMYT internal document submitted for 
external publication. CIDICCO Cover Crop News, Vol. 1(1) and Vol. 1(2).

Glover, Nancy. 1989. Gliricidia Production And Use. Nitrogen Fixing Tree 

Westley, Sidney B and Powell, Mark H. 1993. Erythrina in The New And Old 
Worlds. Nitrogen Fixing Tree Research Reports Special Issue.

Argel, Pedro J. PhD. 1993. Regional Experience with Forage Arachis in Central 
America and Mexico. Biology and Agronomy of Forage Arachis.

Contacts and Publications

Legume Resources

*       The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR is 
informal organization of some 40 countries, international and regional 
organizations, and foundations whose mission it is to contribute to sustainable 
improvements in agricultural productivity. The following CGIAR research centers 
are making significant strides in work with tropical legumes.

*       International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, 
Patancheru 502 324
Andhra Pradesh, India
Phone: (91-40)596 161
Fax: (91-40)241239
Email: icrixat@xxxxxxxxx
Description: ICRISAT works to improve sustainable agriculture production with 
tropical legumes in the Semi-Arid Tropics. ICRISAT's three mandate legume 
crops are chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut. Activities in Sout Asia are 
oriented towards pigeonpea and chickpea, and in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, 
activities involve the groundnut. The legumes Entomology Unit helops scientists 
develop integrated pest management (IPM) systems with special reference to 
host plant resistance. Regional Offices: Niger, Mali, Negeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, 

*       International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT
Lisoboa 27
Apartado Postal 6-641
06600 Mexico, D.F. Mexico
Phone: (52-5)726-9091
Fax: (52-5)726-7559
Email: icrixat@xxxxxxxxx
Description: CIMMYT works in developing countries to enhance the productivity 
maize, wheat and triticale, specifically using legumes in maize and wheat 
systems. Current work in Bolivia looks at the role of leguminous cover crops in 
reduced and no-till systems. Crotelaria juncea, or Sunn hemp, is the current 
focus of this research as a cover crop in a maize rotation. Crotalaria juncea 
Pennesitium americanum are also being studied there for their residual value in 
no-till systems between plantings of soybean and maize. Daniel Buckles, from 
the regional office in Mexico, has done extensive work with mucuna sp. Regional 
Offices: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, 
Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya (Nairobi and Njoro), Nepal, Syria, Bangkok, Turkey, 
Uruguay, Zimbabwe

*       International Center for Tropical Agricultur, CIAT
Tropical Forages Program
Contact:Dr. P. Argel
Apartado Postal 55
2200 Coronado
San Jose, Cost Rica
Phone: (506)290-222
Fax: (506)294 741
Email: pargel@xxxxxxxxxx
Description: CIAT researches the production related problems of beans 
(Phaseolus), cassava, rice and tropical pastures. The Tropical Forage Program 
CIAT emphasizes the use as soil covers and green manures. CIAT's tropical 
forage gene bank holds one of the largest collection of forage legumes in the 

*       International Rice Research Institute, IRRI
P.O. Box 933
Phone: (63-2)818-1926/812-7686
Fax: (63-2)818-2087
Email: r.huggan@xxxxxxxxx
Description: IRRI has been actively working with aquatic legumes (azolla) and 
with Sesbania and Gliricidia used as green manure in lowland rice. Food, forage 
and tree legumes are incorporated in rice-based cropping systems.

*       Heifer Project International, HPI
Contact: Jerry Aaker
PO Box 808
1015 South Louisiana
Little Rock, Arkansas 72203
Phone: (501) 376-6836
Fax: (501) 376-8906
Email: 72754.2400@compuserve
Description: HPI assists people by supplying food producing animals and related 
educational materials. Legumes are a part of most projects at HPI. Legumes 
such as Leucaena, Calliandra and Sesbania are used in their projects as fodder, 
erosion control and building materials. Heifer Project International publishes 
bi-monthly newsletter called The Exchange, which is devoted to small scale 
animal production in developing areas. Subscriptions are $10 per year (US) and 
free to developing countries and resource-poor farmers.

*       International Cover Crop Clearinghouse, CIDICCO
Contact: Milton Flores, Director Apartado Postal 4443
Tegucigalpa, M.D.C., HONDURAS C.A.
Phone: (504) 32-7471
Fax: (504)39-9896
Email: cidicco@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: CIDICCO is involved in tropical legumes research and education. 
They work closely with farmers in Honduras to incorporate green manures into 
traditional cropping systems. Their newsletter, "Cover Crop News," contains 
useful information on tropical legumes.

*       Mennonite Central Committee, MCC
Contact (Bolivia): Agriculture Advisor
Comite Central Menonita
Casilla 213
Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Phone: (591) 334-3773
Fax: (504) 39-9896
Email: mcc.bolivia@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Contact (Bangladesh): Amal Krishna Roy
Principal Technical Officer
Agriculture Program, Mennonite Central Commitee
P.O. Box #5, Maijdee Court,
Noakhali-3800, BANGLADESH
Description: In Bolivia, MCC promotes the use of leguminous trees in pasture 
systems for forage, shade and live fence posts. At the MCC Research Station in 
Bangladesh, Sesbania aculeata and Sesbania rostrata were studied for their 
effect as green manures on the subsequent rainy season rice crop.

*       Nitrogen Fixation by Tropical Agriculture Legume, NifTAL
Contact: Paul Singleton 
University of Hawaii
1010 Holomua Rd.
Paia, Maui, HI 96779-9744
Phone: (808) 579-9568
Fax: (808) 579-8516
Description: The University of Hawaii's NifTAL Center is an interdisciplinary 
for the study of biological nitrogen fixation and soil management resources. 
NifTAL provides an integrated package of BNF and soil management needs 
assessment, applied research, training, technology transger, and private 
enterprise development.

*       Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association, NFTA
Contact: Mark Powell
Rt. 3, Box 376
Morrilton, Arkansas 72110 USA
Phone: (501) 727-5435
Fax: (501) 727-5417
Email: receptionist@xxxxxxxxxxx
Description: NFTA promotes the use of nitrogen fixing trees to improve the 
protect the environment and enhance the well-being of farm families and other 
land users. NFTA publishes "NFT Highlights," a series of fact sheets 
different legumes and "Network News," which provides update for NFTA network 
members. NFTA gan an extensive list of publications for sale.

*       On Farm Productivity Enhancement Program
Contact: Mary-Lou Surgi
Bird Building
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28723-9056 USA
Phone: (704) 227-7492
Fax: (704) 227-7422
Email: pvouc@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: The On-Farm Productivity Enhancement Program (OFPEP) at the 
PVO/University Center uses biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) and legume 
management techniques to enhance soil fertility, improve soil management 
practices and seed quaility for farmers in Senegal, The Gambia and Uganda. On 
farm Research includes rhizobial trials in Ghana. "Of Soil and Seeds" is the 
newsletter of teh OFPEP and includes updates on project work.

*       World Neighbors
Contact: Gregg Biggs
4127 NW 122nd Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73120-8869 USA
Phone: (405) 752-9700
Fax: (405) 752-9393
Email: info@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: World Neighbors works with marginalized communities to meet their 
basic needs. In Mexico, Mucuna sp. and Gliricidia sepium are incorporated into 
their projects to help regenerate and maintain soil fertility. In Nepal, Mucuna 
sp. is 
used as green manure and fodder in fruit trials.


*       Roland Bunch
Apartado 3586
Tegucigalpa HONDURAS
Phone: (504) 76-2256
Fax: (504) 76-2354
Description: Roland Bunch, author of "Two Ears of Corn," promotes 
people-centered development in Latin America. Bunch has extensive knowledge 
and experience with legumes.

*       Edwin C. French
Agronomy Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
304 Newell Hall
P.O. Box 110500
Gainsville, FL 32611-0500 USA
Phone: (904) 392-1811/8896
Email: ecf@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: French has done extensive reserach and development of Arachis 

*       William Loker
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
P.O. Drawer C
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, MS 39762 USA
Phone: (601) 325-1663
Fax: (601) 325-8690
Email: wloker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: Loker has worked extensively with tropical legumes, especially 
forage legumes in the Peruvian Amazon. He has worked with CIAT's on-farm 
research on nitrogen fixing trees in tropical agroecosystems.

*       B. Rajasekaran
Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network
2250 Pierce Road
University Center, MI 48710 USA
Phone: (517) 797-2749
Fax: (517) 797-2622
Email: raja@xxxxxxxxxx
Description: Rajasekaran has done extension work in India promoting the 
cultivation of Black Gram (Vigna mungo) and Green Gram (Vigna radiata). He has 
also researched the integration of indigenous and scientific knowledge of 

*       Ancha Srinivasan
Maezato, Ishigaki
Okinawa 907 JAPAN
Phone: 81 9808 22306
Fax: 819808 20614
Email: ancha@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: Srinivasan has been examining heat tolerance in legumes. Her 
research has included work with Chickpea, Groundnut, Pigeonpea and Soybean 
in the subtropics of Japan.


*       Directory of BNF Resource Persons in Developing Countries
NifTAL Project, University of Hawaii.
Description: Lists inoculant producers, researchers, extension personnel, 
teachers and others linked by an interest in BNF. The directory includes 
from 71 countries. Free copies can be obtained by contacting NifTAL (see 
address above).

*       International Legume Database and Information Service
ILDIS Coordinating Centre
Department of Biology
University of Southampton
Southampton SO16 7PX UK
Phone: 44 1703 594269
Fax: 44 1703 592444
Email: ildis@xxxxxxxxxxx
Description: The ILDIS project is continually adding to a database of legume 
species, subspecies and varieties. They are currently merging data sets from 
around the world. ILDIS publishes the ILDIS Newsletter.

*       Legume Seed Source Directory (1992)
Contact: Radale Institute
611 Siegriedale Road
Kutztown, PA 19530
Phone: (610) 683-1459
Fax: (610) 683-8548
Description: This 23 page directory lists legume sources by both common and 
Latin names. It provides a listing of seed companies and cross references 
legumes, inoculants and seed companies. Cost: Free with Methodolgies for 
Screening Soil-Improving Legumes (below).

*       Methodologies for Screening Soil-Improving Legumes (1991)
Author: Marianne Sarrantonio
Contact: Rodale Institute
611 Siegfriedale Road
Kutztown, PA 19530 USA
Phone: (610) 683-1459
Fax: (610) 683-8548
Description: A 340-page field manual for selecting and growing legumes for soil 
improvement. Useful for both the beginner and the expert, this readable 
guide describes how to determine if your land would benefit from legume 
production and if so which ones. Readers with a minimum of experience in 
agricultural research can use the book as a teaching aid to carry out field 
trials to 
identify and test various soil-building legumes.
Cost: US $23.

*       New Forests Project
Contact: Stuart Conway
731 Eighth Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003 USA
Phone: (202) 547-3800
Fax: (202) 546-4784
Description: The New Forests Project provides tree seeds, technical information 
and training materials free to groups worldwide interested in starting 
projects with fast growing, leguminous trees. Available for immediate 
are seeds of Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia sepium, Robinia pseudoacacia 
and Prosopis juliflora. Please include an environmental description of your 

*       Oxford Forestry Institute
Contact: Alan Pottinger
Department of Plant Sciences University of Oxford
Douth Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3Rb UK
Description: The Oxford Forestry Institute has several species of Leucaena 
available for distribution to those interested in joining the Leucaena trial 
The network's purpose is to compare lesser known species of Leucaena with 
more commonly used species.

*       The Leucaena Research and Develpment Network
Contact: Dr. Max Shelton
Department of Agriculture 
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Queensland 4072 AUSTRALIA
Fax: 61-7-365-1188
Email: m.shelton@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: LEUCNET is an informal network of scientists, extensionists and 
tree growers working to improve the productivity and utility of Leucaena. Their 
newsletter, Leucnet News, is published every 6 to 12 months and provides a 
medium for information exchange and distribution of Leucaena seeds.


*       The Crop Expert
Description: A listing of legume scientists in the United States, their area of 
expertise, and contact information.

*       CGIAR Home Page
Description: This home page connects you to the Web pages for each of the 
CGIAR affiliates. These pages include contact information, and information on 
CGIAR projects.

*       The FAO Tropical Feeds Database
Description: The database provides an extensive list of tropical legumes with a 
description of each, accessible by latin or common name.

*       The Bean Bag
Contact: Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr.
USDA, Ag. Research Service
Systematic Botany and Mycology Lab.
Room 304, Building 011A
Beltsville, Maryland 20705-2350 USA
Phone: (301) 504-9447
Fax: (301) 504-5810
Email: jkirkbri@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Description: Kirkbride is the senior editor of the Bean Bag, a newsletter for 
legume research scientists. The Bean Bag appears in May and November and 
can be accessed via the world wide web at the above address.

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