By Supriya Kumar
In the drought-prone state of Rajasthan in India, farmers struggle to grow nutritious crops. One vegetable, however, that thrives in the region is the indigenous guar or cluster bean (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba), a leguminous crop with a variety of uses.
Like other legumes, guar’s roots have nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which improve the quality of the soil and increase the yield of subsequent crops. In addition to being an organic green manure, the guar seed is a valuable source of vegetable protein for humans and cattle. Unlike the seeds of other legumes, cluster beans have large endosperms that contain galactomannan, a gum that forms a gel in cold water. This gel is used as an ingredient for strengthening paper and as a thickener for ice cream and salad dressing.
Due to its high fiber content, guar also has medicinal uses. It helps in maintaining a healthy digestive tract and can effectively treat various intestinal diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
With such valuable traits, it is no surprise that organizations like Practical Action are encouraging farmers in the semi-arid Zambezi valley of northern Zimbabwe to grow cluster beans. This project has provided small-scale farmers with some of the inputs they needto cultivate the crop, as well as helping them develop a sound market system to reap benefits from the harvest.
There have been additional efforts to introduce guar in other parts of Africa as a way to increase both nutrition and income. The Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Sudan recently conducted a study to evaluate the crops’ adaptability to the semi-arid environment of the Darfur region. In this study, guar was grown along with other crops under the same environmental conditions. When harvested, guar had the highest yield, prompting suggestions that it should be introduced in the region as a new food crop. This could be an important step to reduce hunger in Darfur, a region that is still one of the “world’s worst hunger hotspots” according to Amer Daoudi, representative for the UN’s World Food Program in Sudan.
As the popularity of guar increases, this versatile crop could prove useful in not only combating hunger but also providing an economic outlet for small scale farmers in semi-arid regions of the world.
Supriya Kumar is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
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