Improving yield and nutritional quality of legumes through managing soil biodiversity and pollination services – sustainable and nutritious legumes in India

2016 was the UN International Year of Pulses (legume crops) in view of their importance for nutrition, in crop rotations to maintain soil fertility, and the low carbon and water footprint of their production (iyp2016.org). Legume crops provide a balanced and nutritious source of calories, protein and oil, especially in comparison with staple crops commonly grown in the tropics such as plantain and cassava 1-4. Twenty percent of people in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) suffer protein-energy malnutrition 5, with higher rates found amongst women from low income communities, the least educated people, and the lowest two wealth quintiles 6. During the International Year of Pulses numerous national and multi-national programmes were established with the central objective of improving productivity and increasing production and consumption of legumes (http://www.fao.org/3/a-bl213e.pdf). Building on this legacy to produce high yielding, nutritious legume crops is a key step towards achieving the first and seventh Millennium Development Goals: (1) Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty and (7) Ensure Environmental Sustainability (http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/).

India is the largest producer of legume crops in the world. Despite the importance of legume crops in India, legume yields are approximately one third of yields achieved in High Income Countries 1,7. This yield gap is thought to be the result of agronomic practices, including fertilizer regimes and soil management 4, and pollination limitation 8,9. This project would investigate the relationship between land management, the soil microbial community and pollination services with the aim of closing the legume yield gap and increasing nutritional quality.