Room for improvement: unleashing the potential of the mungbean

The ACIAR-funded International Mungbean Improvement Network (IMIN) project is now in its second phase, working with countries across the world to tailor new mungbean varieties to local conditions and markets, and improve food, income and nutrition security.

Madaline Dunn

By Madaline Dunn - Reporter Website

Room for improvement: unleashing the potential of the mungbean

Founded in 2016, the
International Mungbean Improvement Network (IMIN) is a global research collaboration led by the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg) that has been working to unlock and harness the potential of mungbean to enhance system productivity and improve food security and livelihoods. With international partners in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Australia and Kenya, the IMIN has been assisting smallholder mungbean farmers to access improved mungbean varieties, and, so far, according to the IMIN’s most recent report, has addressed the needs of an estimated 10 million smallholder farmers growing mungbean on 7 million ha in Asia and Africa through new and improved varieties. 

Following the success of the project’s first phase, which ran from 2016 to 2020, the second phase is expected to run until 2025. Funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) , the project is led by WorldVeg’s Dr. Ramakrishnan Nair, who, alongside being IMIN’s project leader, is also the regional director for South and Central Asia and leader of the WorldVeg global legume breeding program.

Mungbean as an important pulse crop 

Mungbean is a short-duration legume crop that is protein-rich (25%), profitable for smallholder farmers and contributes significantly to the nutrition of resource-poor populations. Speaking to the GPC about the prospects of mungbean, Dr. Eric Huttner, the Research Program Manager for Crop at ACIAR, said: “Thanks to its short duration, nitrogen fixation and nutritional value, mungbean has great potential for intensifying and diversifying farming systems in South Asia and East Africa.” 

Mungbean is grown across several countries in Asia (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar) and Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) as well as in Australia, and each has its own use for the crop. In Indonesia, for example, mungbean is the third most important legume, following soybean and peanut, and an essential food crop that provides an affordable source of dietary protein to the population. Likewise, its popularity also stems from its ability to grow in tropics with altitudes of 500-700 m above mean sea level, having an early maturity of 55-65 days, and a higher drought tolerance than other crops. 

Meanwhile, in Myanmar, the humble bean is increasingly being grown as a cash crop for export. Global output of mungbean rested around 5.3 million tons between 2015-17, of which Myanmar supplied roughly 30%. For smallholder farmers in the country’s drought-prone Central Dry Zone (CDZ), the bean is more profitable than rice. Similarly, in Australia, mungbean production is now a $100m industry and the most widely grown summer pulse crop, of which 95% is exported. It’s becoming an increasingly popular crop for Australian farmers as a way to gain access to high-value markets.

Elsewhere in Uganda, while smallholder farmers have historically taken the reins with regard to mungbean cultivation, selling around 70% of their produce, interest from large commercial farms means that the crop is moving away from its label as a ‘smallholder crop.’ According to Emmanuel Mbeyagala, a legume breeder with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), these commercial farms are now looking into cultivating the crop twice a year. 

A lack of research 

In the most recent IMIN report, which reflected on the history of mungbean production and the overall work of the IMIN’s first phase, it was explained that, although two decades ago the work of the World Vegetable Center (previously known as the AVRDC) had increased the production and cultivation area of mungbean, progress and improvement in Asia has been slow since then. 

The reason for this was partly cited as the crop being outside the CGIAR mandate, resulting in fewer opportunities for coordinated research, leading to fewer increases in genetic gain or improved mungbean varieties when compared to other crops. 

Alongside this, the report outlined that the non-availability of seed of improved varieties, poor crop management practices, pests and diseases have also acted as a barrier to expanding mungbean, all factors that the IMIN is working to address. 

A mungbean makeover

From its inception, the IMIN project sought to build a network aimed at attracting new members and investors in mungbean research to enable better access to genetic diversity for breeders, develop improved germplasm and elite lines and ultimately improve system productivity and livelihoods.

Delivering on its goal to broaden the genetic diversity available to breeders, the IMIN developed a ‘library’ of mungbeans containing 7,000 accessions, within which there is a “core” collection of 1,500 accessions with variation for traits including color and luster of the grains and days to maturity. Further to this is the “mini-core” collection of 296 accessions that have had their DNA mapped. According to IMIN project leader Dr. Ramakrishnan Nair, this DNA mapping assists in the discovery of mungbean with “traits of interest and their matching genes.”

The mini-core collection underwent genotyping and genome-wide association studies were also undertaken to map traits of interest such as disease resistance and agronomic traits. It was also screened for resistance to a number of diseases, including Mungbean Yellow Mosaic Disease (MYMD), powdery mildew, tan spot, halo blight and dry root rot.

In an email correspondence with GPC reporter Madaline Dunn, Dr. Nair, explained that through the initiative the mungbean mini-core collection and improved breeding lines were shared with the project partners, and have consequently been adopted by a number of partnering countries, including India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In Bangladesh, for example, it was found that 3 improved breeding lines outperformed the popular mungbean variety BARImung-6 regarding yields, while in Myanmar 7 AVMU lines and 2 mini-core accessions showed superior agronomic traits.

Further to this, as a result of collaborative research between the World Vegetable Center and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), two new mungbean varieties have been named. According to Papias H. Binagwa at TARI, these new varieties are attributed with “higher productivity, short maturity and disease resistance compared to existing varieties.”

Although the IMIN report outlined that economic impacts were not expected during the time of the project, previous international research into mungbean improvement led by the World Vegetable Center has led to significant economic gains. A testament to the success, importance, and potential of sharing of plant genetic resources between national agricultural research systems, Myanmar has seen economic gains of USD 1.4 billion from 1980 to 2016 through four mungbean varieties developed by WorldVeg. 

Commenting on what the IMIN’s research has achieved so far, Dr. Huttner explained: “ACIAR’s support to the International Mungbean Improvement Network has enabled a thorough characterisation of the mungbean core collection assembled and managed by the World Vegetable Center in multiple environments from Australia and Bangladesh to India and Myanmar. The research has identified sources of genes for important traits, addressing key disease management issues.” 

He added: “At the same time, mungbean breeding programs in these countries are adopting modern plant breeding practices to accelerate the development of improved varieties adapted to their farmers’ needs. The network - now extended to Kenya and Indonesia – is supported by ACIAR until the end of 2025.”

IMIN 2 to tackle newly emerging challenges

The IMIN project is now in phase two and also supported by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Dr. Nair explained that its main focuses will be on ensuring genomic resources are made available for the mungbean breeding program and screening the germplasm and advanced breeding lines for abiotic stresses such as heat, water deficit stress, and waterlogging tolerance. Likewise, Dr. Nair said it will also be testing improved lines developed and strengthening the seed delivery system by establishing partnerships between private sector NGOs and farmer groups.

Reflecting on the achievements of the IMIN so far and discussing his projections for phase two, in a statement to the GPC, Dr. Nair said: “The timely funding support from ACIAR enabled WorldVeg to develop a network of mungbean researchers, the International Mungbean Improvement Network (IMIN). We received encouraging comments during the recent review of the first phase. Now in the second phase, we expect to see the release of improved varieties suited to the partner countries in both Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and raise the profitability and the sustainability of local production systems."


Room for improvement: unleashing the potential of the mungbean
Room for improvement: unleashing the potential of the mungbean
Room for improvement: unleashing the potential of the mungbean

mungbean / new mungbean varieties /  International Mungbean Improvement Network / World Vegetable Center / India / Bangladesh / Indonesia / Myanmar / Australia and Kenya / Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

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