Professor Lateef Bamidele Taiwo, is a research scientist and works at the grain legume improvement programme department of the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan. He is also the chairman, Local Organising Committee, underutilised legumes conference scheduled to hold next month. In this interview by NURUDEEN ALIMI, he narrates how some legumes aside cowpea and soybean are being underutilised and how the conference intends to bring about a paradigm shift.
What are underutilised legumes?
We actually call them underutilised legumes because people are not utilising them enough. Cowpea and soybean are adequately utilised because they are very common leguminous grains that people consume almost everyday. And we found out that the underutilised legumes include wingbean, which we call psophocapus tetragonolobus, kidney beans which is phaseolus vulgaris, bamabara groundnut (vigna subterranea), African yam bean (Sphenostylis stenocarpa), Limabean (phaseolus lunatus), pigeon pea (caljanus cajan) and Mungbean (vigna radiata).
In those days, they use to eat them very well and they considered them as security food. Because once the popular grains such as cowpea and soybean were not available, they resorted to these legumes and that is why we refer to them as underutilised and we discovered that they are going into extinction because farmers are no more interested in producing them. It is now becoming a problem such that at the end of the day, we may no longer have them and that is why the society has come up with the idea that we need to come together, that is farmers, scientists and all the stakeholders, to work on these legumes so that we would be able to keep them afloat on our food menu.
At IAR&T, we have done a lot of work in this regard, we have gone to collect different samples from different villages in the country and we have assembled a number of them. We now want to work alongside other institutions like International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and others so that we can come together and ensure that these crops are not lost. So, that is why we want to converge in form of a conference to discuss the issue. How do we increase production? how do we ensure that these crops are protected? That is in terms of pathological, in terms of disease, in terms of pests infection and what can we use these crops for aside eating. There are industries that can take this up, for instance in our product development programme, we are now thinking of processing these underutilised legumes into consumable items that we can eat and also adding value so that we do not only rely on eating them. And in the livestock sector, we are also thinking of substituting soybean with these underutilised legumes. Soybean has as much as 40 per cent protein, but these underutilised legumes have around half of that. But if we need 40 per cent of protein, we can double what we have as our underutilised legumes to substitute soybean. We also need to look at these alternatives because there is much competition for soybean in the livestock industry and other manufacturing industry. So, that is why we now want to lay emphasis on the production, utilisation and value addition of these lesser legumes we are talking about.
Who are the core participants at the conference?
We have invited a number of speakers. We have three lead speakers for the plenary session, they are coming from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and the University of Calabar.
Do you think this conference would give you the platform to reach out to the peasant farmers who are actually the major players in this quest to focus on the underutilised legumes?
We have planned to constitute a platform whereby we have all the stakeholders on that platform. The farmers, the researchers, the end users and possibly the industries. Because the new idea now is that by the time you start producing your crops you should have offtakers, you should also have the private sectors that can drive the production and utilisation of these commodities. And we should also have the financial institutions that can fund the production, that can fund utilisation, that can fund value addition. This process will generate employment for a lot of people and it would also reduce poverty in the society. With time, we want to involve the government because today, government is very much interested in exporting crops to other countries. Doing all these, we generate employment, generate foreign exchange and we would also reduce poverty to a very appreciable level.