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Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective. 1994. J.E. Hernándo Bermejo and J. León (eds.). Plant Production and Protection Series No. 26. FAO, Rome, Italy. p. 289-301.

Traditional varieties of grain legumes for human consumption

The author of this chapter is J.I. Cubero (ETSIAM, Córdoba. Spain).

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 roots 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 tor 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.


(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 contusion 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 Cordoba 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.

Figure 36. Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), legume and seeds.


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.

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 modern 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 on 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.

Broad Bean

(Vicia faba)

Origin of the name

The origin of the name is old in the Latin world. The Romans used to celebrate the fabarias, a religious festival in which broad beans used to play a specific role. It is not certain whether the prestigious name of the Fabios derives from faba, or vice versa, but in any event one of the most noble Roman families was clearly linked to this species. It was in the Roman world, moreover, that table beans were selected for fresh consumption. The Romans expanded the typically Mediterranean cultivation through their legions, since the seed was used not only for human consumption but also for feeding horses. The Celts, in turn, spread it through the central and Atlantic regions of Europe, to the point that, in some cases, it became known as Celtic grain.

Present situation

On the coast and in the kitchen gardens, the situation of broad beans (Vicia faba) coincides with that of the old beans (cowpeas) and with that of the new beans (judías, alubias, etc. ). Both were replaced by the former in regions which were a little colder. with lesser rainfall and, in particular, where winter and not summer rains occurred. Broad beans may not need irrigation above 400 mm of precipitation although. obviously, production is to a certain extent dependent on the water they receive. As regards their place in cooking. broad beans. haricot beans and cowpeas have been part of culinary preparations that still exist in traditional dishes. For example, the very popular Asturian fabada is made with fabes, which had to be broad beans, the usual name up to 100 or 900 years ago, but which nowadays designates certain varieties of haricot bean.

It is with broad beans that dual use of the legume also began—both for human consumption and for animal feeding—which is unthinkable with Vigna and Phaseolus, and not only in the Spanish agricultural environment. Broad beans have known every type of use: in this respect. they could be the model of grain legumes. In Spain. they are not at present eaten in the form of whole seeds and boiled with meat and animal tat. but in the recent past they were still prepared in this way (for example, in fabada), as in the case of chickpeas, haricot beans and lentils. In other countries. where the shortage of proteins makes it necessary to use those that exist for human consumption, broad beans continue to be eaten like this. just as grain legumes have generally speaking always been eaten. Where there are other sources of proteins. the use of broad beans has been diversified. Some traditional varieties, of which those of Iberian origin—particularly the Aguadulce—stand out because of their quality, have been earmarked for fresh consumption, both as seeds and as whole pods. These are kitchen garden broad beans for direct sale on the market. which in recent times have been prepared as preserved foods. These varieties, which are tree of bitter ingredients, are sweet and mild tasting. Those without these characteristics have continued to be fed to animals; of these, types suitable for horses have been selected (which botanists have called Caballares in Spanish, Horse beans in English and Equina in Latin) and others for pigs (called Cochineras, Tick beans or Minor). The division between them (for reasons of convenience in work) has been so great that it is even reflected in separate agronomic and plant improvement categories. The same situation applies in the case of the garden pea.

During collection of the germplasm at the beginning of the 1980s, it was possible to gather together over 1000 specimens of local populations with a high representation of the types for human consumption, as was to have been expected owing to the reduction observed in those for feedstuffs. Of the grain legumes suitable for animal feeding, broad beans are included among those that suffered most with the arrival of machinery and industrial feedstuffs. Broad beans were the basic feedstuff for horses and oxen and were strong competitors of chickpeas f or feeding pigs. The 1973 energy crisis and the rise in the price of American soybeans that same year aroused new interest in the species, not only because of its possibilities as an animal feedstuff, but also for its role in fixing atmospheric nitrogen. ICARDA took charge of it; the EEC subsidized projects in various areas of agronomy and animal feeding, research and working meetings. The exchange of information produced excellent results in broad beans as a feedstuff, and satisfactory results in horticultural broad beans. Private undertakings in particular took charge of the latter. It should be mentioned that there was an interesting transfer of horticultural varieties to the extensive cultivation varieties, given the importance of broad beans in the human diet throughout North Africa and in other countries such as the Sudan and Ethiopia.

At present, there are numerous kitchen garden and feedstuff varieties. The former have been selected from local races, of which the English Windsor and the Italian Policoro deserve mention and, among the Spanish, Muchamiel, Ramillete and, in particular, Aguadulce, which has invaded all the cultivating countries (France, the United Kingdom and Italy), where it is known by this name as well as by the name Seville and others. As a general defect of the species, it should be mentioned that it does not have any commercial types of highly productive determined growth. Although suitable mutants are available and an attempt is being made to introduce them into better cultivars, high-yield mechanical harvesting (which is carried out with peas and haricot beans) is still not feasible.

As regards broad beans intended for animal feeding, the numerous tests carried out by the EEC and by ICARDA have made it possible to obtain numerous high-yield varieties that are competitive with other grains, including cereals. The broad bean cultivation technique, which was very primitive even up to 20 years ago, is now suited to a modern cultivation. Even for its traditional enemies (broomrape [Orobanche sp.] in the Mediterranean countries and chocolate spot [Botrytis fabae] in the humid climate of Europe) genes have been identified which have effective resistance.

Prospects for improvement

There continues to be a reduction in the cultivated area of broad beans grown for feedstuffs in the European countries, particularly in Spain. There are many reasons for this: the abandonment of traditional cultivation lands; a lack of demand on the part of the compound feedstuffs industries; better profitability of other crops, especially those subsidized by the EEC; etc. The situation is odd, since plant material exists which has been obtained both by public institutions and private undertakings and there is sufficient technical knowledge to achieve a profitable crop. On the one hand, there is no adequate information service for the grower and, on the other hand, there is not a sufficient homogeneous supply for the industrialist. The latter obtains other raw materials more easily and in greater quantities. With a slightly better treatment on the part of the EEC authorities, or if an actual small increase in yield were achieved for the grower, and with a more efficient organization of the supply, the problem could be solved. Otherwise, the attraction that broad bean cultivation still has for the grower particularly in cases of crisis with other crops may disappear.

The trade in market garden broad beans is showing a slight market growth and an increase in the interest shown by commercial undertakings which, in some countries (the United Kingdom, for example), have incorporated genes of agronomic importance (determined growth, absence of tannins, resistance). These factors could turn the broad bean into an industrial market garden crop in a short time. The quality of some industrialized products and good acceptance by the consumer allow one to assume that market garden broad beans still have vast prospects. The role played by the Aguadulce varieties in this process should not prevent other local races from being introduced into the work of improvers, industrialists and traders, particularly Ramillete and Muchamiel.


(Cicer arietinum)

Origin of the name

The Latin cicer gives the words Cicero, pods chiche, chickpea and the Spanish word "chícharo", which seems to have been a fairly common name for dry seeds of legumes, including some Lathyrus species. The Spanish word "garbanzo" therefore seems to be a pre-Roman indigenous name, since it has no connection with either the Greek or Arabic. The antiquity of the crop in Spain seems evident.

Present situation

In climates that are too dry, broad beans are replaced by chickpeas, which have the additional advantage of a short cycle (from March to June: autumn sowing is a recent introduction).

As in the case of broad beans, chickpeas have been used for human consumption and for animal feeding, particularly cattle and pigs. Modern studies have revealed the high biological value of the chickpea in animal feeding, which is the equivalent without any industrial treatment, for example, to suitably processed soya cakes. Moreover, as in the case of broad beans, the dual use in feeding has caused a clear varietal separation. particularly in the western Mediterranean: white or cream-coloured seeds, very large and wrinkled for human consumption; seeds of varying colour, shape and size (but never very big) and appearance for feedstuffs. The difference affects the cooking time and palatability, the former being easy to cook and having a smooth texture and mild flavour, unlike the latter. This is a consequence of culinary use: in the countries of the western Mediterranean basin, chickpeas continue to be eaten cooked and whole; the representative dishes could be the Spanish cocido where the seed is accompanied by meat, animal fat and various vegetables, as in the case of other legumes; and the North African couscous in which it is added to durum wheat semolina and also meat and vegetables. In other regions, it is first of all converted into flour, either to obtain a paste with oil and other condiments (in the eastern Mediterranean), or mixed with other flours to make various types of bread (on the Indian subcontinent).

There are excellent varieties for all these uses. In Spain the quality of the Andalusian "milky whites" and of the Leonese "pedrosillano" (both local races and not cultivars) has enabled them to spread to other areas for cultivation or for use by improvers. Agronomic techniques have for their part developed to the level required of a modern agriculture, and a genuine revolution has even been achieved in this cultivation, with varieties being obtained which are suitable for autumn sowing; are resistant to Ascochyta sp. and frost; and which, by utilizing winter rainfall more efficiently, double and sometimes quadruple production. The winter chickpea was bred by ICARDA and the new technology rapidly spread to all producer countries. Its advantages are considerable but ill-informed growers and technical experts often sow in the autumn with local varieties which, since they are not genetically prepared for this, may end up disappearing because of the low temperatures and Ascochyta sp. attacks.

Prospects for improvement

In spite of the high price received by the grower for quality chickpeas, it is difficult to explain the reduction in area which is also occurring in the case of this crop. In addition, considerable shortcomings are being noted in marketing. Industrialists complain of the absence of a sufficient, homogeneous supply, which obliges them to resort to imports from Mexico, the United States (California) and Chile. Mexican imports began not less than 20 years ago for political reasons relating to trade. As imported chickpeas were clearly of Spanish descent, similar to the milky whites, introduction on to the market was easy. The imported quantities have for a long time exceeded those produced in the country, which is surprising at a time when new profitable crops are being sought.

Some 40 years ago, Puerta Romero collected about 600 specimens from all over Spain. Ten years ago, he once again collected a similar number. but the genetic richness had suffered a considerable loss: almost all were chickpeas for human consumption whereas, in the first collection. there were splendid examples of chickpeas for animal feedstuffs, but which were lost—as has been shown in so many other collections made by Puerta Romero—as a result of the negligence and ignorance of the agricultural research bodies. At present. the improvement plans for chickpeas for cooking and those for use in the feedstuffs industry and in the food industry in general. as well as the intervention of public and private institutions, suggest that the major local races will be saved and that the crop should be protected from further risks through a good advisory service and adequate marketing. In the case of the developing countries, ICARDA and ICRISAT have succeeded in promoting cultivation worldwide with new varieties and agronomic techniques.


(Lens culinaris)

Origin of the name

The derivation from the Latin lens is common to European languages.

Present situation

There is no legume more resistant below 350 mm of precipitation and in the coldest climates: the lentil replaces all the others in these conditions. It accompanies barley, which it leaves behind below 250 mm, when it is no longer possible to speak of agriculture in the strict sense. Like the chickpea. it has practically no antinutritional factors except for ingredients which cause flatulence but which are easily tolerated, particularly in the extreme conditions in which it is usually an essential foodstuff.

Its great resistance to severe conditions and its value as a food explain why lentil seed is not used in animal feeding. For the latter purpose, other legumes are used with seeds that are as hard but of lesser value to man because of their antinutritional constituents. These include the one-leaved vetch (V. monanthos), bitter vetch (V. ervilia), chickling vetch and vetchling (Lathyrus sativus and L. cicera) and perhaps some others, as old as agriculture itself and in a permanent state of semi-domestication (see previous chapter).

Nowadays, it is not an essential food in Spain, although it is in other parts of the world (ICARDA also concerns itself with the lentil at this level). In Spain, it is consumed in the traditional way as a grain legume: cooked in a mixture with meat and various accompaniments. It continues to be a valued dish, particularly in the case of quality lentils, such as the Verdinas varieties.

Up to ten years ago, the lentil was a crop in the ascendant, the only grain legume to be so in the country. The reason for this was its good quality and considerable acceptance by the consumer. Agronomic techniques had improved but not the varieties, of which only the local races were known. Around 250 specimens were able to be collected, particularly from the northwest of the Castilian plateau, approximately the same and. for once, with the same variation as those represented in Puerta Romero's collections from the 1950s. However, marketing difficulties have meant that. in recent years, the area is also in regression. Imports from Turkey, Chile and recently also from the United States have brought about this change. In this case, it was exclusively a problem of prices. It is regrettable that, in order to promote an imported product, for example, it was even announced that Turkish lentils contained more proteins and were of a better quality for cooking than Spanish lentils. In the case of North American lentils, the way was opened up by the excellent organization of the producers of the northwestern United States. Spanish growers did not know how to react to the sales drives of the imported product.

Prospects for improvement

Contrary to what has happened in the case of closely related species, genetic improvement work on the Spanish lentil has been very limited and has lacked institutional support. It is essential to continue, nevertheless, with the aim of obtaining more productive high-yield cultivars, particularly from the local race Verdinas. This would prevent the import of foreign cultivars, which are accepted because of the absence of Spanish material since, in spite of everything, the crop continues to be profitable. Otherwise, the indigenous material will diminish irremediably.

The improvements in agrarian techniques are also due to private initiatives, which have managed to solve even the problem of mechanization. In Spain, the crop is not affected by pests (the weevil only attacks poorly tended crops) or diseases (except for slight damage caused by fusarium disease). However, elsewhere no resistance has been found against the broomrape (Orobanche sp.).

In actual fact, growers are concerned only with prices, imports and marketing.


(Pisum sativum)

Origin of the name

As in the case of the chickpea, the Spanish use a completely original word for this species. The Latin pisum has given rise to the names by which the chickpea is known in most of the European languages.

Present situation

Peas are grown over a greater area than that of any other grain legume. They are suited to both kitchen gardens and to semi-arid cold zones. They are not far from reaching the limits of the arid and subtropical zones where lentils and cowpeas, respectively, are grown. Being a legume typical of the Near Eastern agricultural complex, the pea was for centuries intensively bred throughout Europe as a green table grain (and pod) in a similar way to broad beans, subsisting in regions with difficult environmental conditions because it was hardier than the latter. However, unlike broad beans, at the time of the new agriculture propitiated by the industrial revolution (eighteenth century), table peas (i.e. for fresh consumption) were already firmly established in countries that were industrialized early. Unlike broad beans, forms with determined growth were known since the sixteenth century at least, which enabled them to be harvested mechanically whenever this was possible and facilitated their conversion to an extensive horticultural crop. In this connection, the process followed in the case of peas was similar to that of haricot beans.

Dried peas which, like broad beans, are now beginning to be known as products (and wrongly named "fodder", instead of "feed" or simply "seed"), are no longer used for human consumption in Europe, although there have been regions where they were eaten in the traditional way until not long ago. They are still eaten in this way in some Mediterranean areas, although they were never as popular in this respect as lentils, chickpeas, broad beans and haricot beans.

This species has a twofold use (for human consumption and as animal feed), with consequent varietal specialization. Garden peas which are branching or which have determined growth are in big demand. In Spain, hardly any more local races remain, except for various Tirabeques (frequently of unknown origin, rather than indigenous, because of the remote source of imports). Instead there are cultivars that are bred to a greater or lesser extent, mainly of European or American origin. Numerous private and public institutions are undertaking improvement work throughout the developed world, particularly of the dwarf types suitable for mechanical harvesting. Industry incorporated them from the beginning of agricultural mechanization and since the canning industry began rapid expansion. They share this advantageous situation with haricot beans. intended for the same purpose.

Fodder peas have a very different history. Not having had the popularity of other legumes, either for human consumption or as animal feed, they have suffered competition from all of them, since they do not occupy a specific ecological niche that enables them to be the only one possible or the most suitable. Their populations were abandoned by improvers and agronomists after they had taken from them the best of their genetic content for their market gardens. Being a hardy crop. they have resisted the worst soils but, when these were abandoned, they perished with them. It is not surprising that, in the collection of grain legumes made in the early 1980s, the number of samples of peas used in feedstuffs did not even reach 100. No predominant local race is known, and there is considerable genetic poverty in this type of pea in Spain.

Prospects for improvement

It would be appropriate to plant peas on land where there is a requirement for a plant for animal feed, where neither winter broad beans nor chickpeas are able to survive owing to the harshness of the climate and where an autumn-sown crop is needed: the Castilian plateau would be a suitable region for this crop. It is there that the first two Spanish cultivars were bred, and which have thus come into competition with the few foreign cultivars which have been introduced.

The genetic richness of the species is bound to allow rapid improvement since there are no major pests to control (except damage caused by Pseudomonas sp.).

Once the appropriate cultivars have been obtained, a rational supply will have to be secured for the feedstuffs industry: peas for animal feeding are of excellent quality. In fact, after the 1973 crisis, the EEC considered the pea as priority protein species, along with broad beans and lupine.


Three conclusions can be drawn from the experience provided by grain legumes for human consumption: the first is that genetic erosion has been and remains extensive and has occurred in relatively few years. The second is that this erosion was the consequence of the world being separated into two parts; one developed and the other developing. The former accepted, conserved, multiplied and improved the species that were suited to agriculture with a largely technological basis. The abandonment by scientists and technical experts of the other species resulted in their being lost insofar as consumption was concerned. However, definitive abandonment was due to a poor agricultural policy and, in particular, deficient marketing.


last update Tuesday, June 16, 1998 by aw