International Development, Community, and Environment

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Smallholders throughout sub-Saharan Africa produce legume crops as sources of food, fodder, and cash income, as well as to improve soil fertility. Ethiopian farmers have developed diverse legume varieties that enable adaptation to changing agroecological and sociocultural conditions. However, over the past several decades, as farm sizes declined and extension services promoted new varieties developed by plant breeders, changes in legume diversity have not been monitored. Based on interviews with smallholder farmers (n = 1296), we investigated the status of inter- and intraspecific legume diversity in major production areas of Ethiopia for five food legumes: common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), field pea (Pisum sativum L.), faba bean (Vicia faba L.), groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.). Legume species richness increased with altitude, relative household wealth, and land area planted to legumes. The highest numbers of varieties were found for common bean, followed by field pea, faba bean, groundnut and fenugreek. The average number of varieties planted per household was low (ranging from 1 to 2) and often much lower than the number reported in the same community or zone, which ranged from 2 to 18. For three out of the five species, the number of varieties significantly increased with total land area planted to legumes. Most varieties were rare, planted by less than 1/3 of farmers; however, informants accurately named varieties planted by others in the same community, demonstrating awareness of legume diversity at the community level. Given that the ability to plant multiple legume varieties is limited by land size, policies need to strengthen community-level conservation based on the diverse interests and needs of individual households.

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