Mungbean network sprouts new opportunities

ACIAR

A global research collaboration led by the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg) and supported by ACIAR is helping countries around the world tailor new mungbean varieties to local conditions and markets.

Mungbean is popular in many traditional Asian dishes like noodles and salads, with the legume increasingly forming the basis of plant-based protein meals.

Since 2016, the International Mungbean Improvement Network (IMIN), has been helping smallholder mungbean farmers across Asia and Africa tackle pests and diseases threatening their crops, while helping improve agricultural practices to increase quality and productivity.

ACIAR Research Program Manager for Crops Dr Eric Huttner said the short duration legume crop is important for the sustainable intensification of farming systems in South Asia and beyond.

‘Mungbean has demonstrated great value as a warm-season rotation crop between the major crops of wheat, rice, sorghum and sugarcane. It can fit with many crop rotations, provide highly nutritious food to growers and consumers, and contribute to the maintenance of soil health.

‘Improving mungbean varieties is important in providing smallholder farmers with options for productive and disease-resistant varieties.’

Mungbean is also becoming a more popular crop among Australian farmers keen to access high value markets. More resistant mungbeans adapted to local conditions and markets will help support growing demand.

As part of the IMIN initiative, Dr Ramakrishnan Nair at WorldVeg is developing a ‘library’ of mungbeans. The collection contains 7,000 accessions – mungbeans with different traits and representing important genetic diversity.

‘Within this is a “core” collection of 1,500 accessions that have variation for traits such as colour and lustre of the grains, days to maturity,’ explained Dr Nair.

‘Then there is the “mini-core” collection of 296 accessions that have had their DNA mapped – which makes it easier to find mungbeans with traits of interest and their matching genes.

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Research staff
Dr Ram Nair (left) with research staff from Myanmar’s Department of Agricultural Research visiting a trial crop in 2020. Photo: Dr Ram Nair, WorldVeg.

‘We’re also using high throughput phenotyping, where cameras are set up to take pictures 24 hours a day to document plant growth.

‘The photos are converted into data, which breeders like me can use in our breeding programs.’

Participating countries in the IMIN are Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Myanmar. But the network reaches beyond this, building research collaborations to share knowledge and breeding material.

Now in its second phase, the network aims to help smallholder mungbean farmers access improved varieties of mungbean.

Dr Nair is particularly excited about the discovery of mungbeans in the core collection with resistance to diseases such as Mungbean Yellow Mosaic Disease, Dry Root Rot and also to abiotic stresses like waterlogging that can cause serious yield losses to mungbean crops.

‘When you find mungbean with resistance to diseases from different countries – this is a big plus because our partner countries can use it in their breeding programs with a view to releasing disease-resistant varieties and sharing them with famers,’ he said.

Two new mungbean varieties have already been released in Tanzania. They have a higher productivity of more than 0.8t/ha, shorter maturity and increased disease resistance compared to existing varieties.

ACIAR funded the establishment of the IMIN in 2016, with the current research initiative scheduled to run until June 2025.

ACIAR has a strategic partnership arrangement with WorldVeg, which supports breeding activities and capacity-building in low- and lower-middle-income countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Learn more via the ACIAR website.

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