Date released
04 April 2024
Bowl of mungbean next to a bowl of rice
The 2024 International Mungbean Congress allowed industry stakeholders to identify the research priorities looking ahead to 2030, such as improved genetic knowledge the accelerated breeding of new varieties. Photo: ACIAR

The 2024 International Mungbean Congress brought together 110 mungbean industry stakeholders from 23 countries to share current research and discuss research priorities for the future, including research supported by ACIAR.

Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR Research Program Manager, Crops, said the ACIAR investment in mungbean improvement research has the potential for large impacts in partner countries.

ACIAR has invested in genetic improvement by supporting the International Mungbean Improvement Network, as well as projects to intensify cropping systems in various partner countries.

‘The grain is valuable, both economically and as a source of nutrients. And due to limited investment in mungbean research previously, we have the potential to make positive impacts quite quickly,’ said Dr Huttner. 

The congress in Bangkok in March 2024 was the first mungbean-focused gathering of researchers since 1987. 

‘The availability of genomic resources, together with multi-location trials of germplasm, is providing new knowledge about mungbean genetics. With increasing capacity of researchers, this will accelerate the breeding of new varieties,’ said Dr Huttner.

Research priorities

A workshop on the third day of the congress identified research priorities for the mungbean industry, looking ahead to 2030. These include improved mechanised harvesting, mungbean varieties more resistant to heat, drought and salinity, and varieties with improved resistance to biotic stresses – diseases and pests.

Dr Ramakrishnan Nair, a legume breeder at the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg) and project leader of the International Mungbean Improvement Network, said it was exciting to have so many people gathered from different countries to discuss the crop. Dr Nair said one of the research priorities identified included the integration of phenotypic and genotypic data to help breed varieties with more desirable traits, such as disease resistance, as well as traits specialised to the needs of certain regions.

This is an active priority of the International Mungbean Improvement Network, led by WorldVeg and supported by ACIAR. The network was established in 2016 to boost the potential of mungbean by improving system productivity and the livelihoods of mungbean growers.

The network has collected a library of mungbean varieties, with a total of 8,000 accessions, or entries, to capture the genetic diversity of the crop. There is a core collection of 1,500 accessions, and a mini core of 296 accessions, which is the collection most shared with partner countries.

A large group of people, most wearing hats, outdoors, in front of a large sign
he 2024 International Mungbean Congress took place in Bangkok, Thailand, in early March with 110 attendees from 23 countries. Photo: ACIAR

Improving mungbean traits

The mini core has been evaluated for resistance to biotic stressors (for example, insects and disease) and abiotic stressors (for example, salinity and waterlogging), as well as a variety of physical traits.

The cores represent the diversity of the larger collection, which is being evaluated in more detail for genotypic and phenotypic traits to improve mungbean varieties. The library is the first phase of the International Mungbean Improvement Network activities. The second phase focuses on improving smallholder access to improved varieties that have new traits, increasing knowledge and promoting the adoption of newer varieties. 

New varieties are already being developed because of the library, including 2 varieties released in Tanzania and 3 in Kenya that have higher yields, a shorter growing season and improved disease resistance. 

Dr Nair said the congress also provided an opportunity to discuss plant traits needed for different cropping systems. 

‘While there has been a focus on early maturing varieties, a later-maturing variety could produce a higher yield and help with constraints such as lower water availability,’ explained Dr Nair.

Other considerations included catering to different market segments and ensuring that varieties had the desired qualities for their intended end product. For example, varieties developed for dal would not be suitable for the sprout market segment.

About 8 million hectares of mungbean are grown around the world each year, and Dr Nair is optimistic this will expand through the efforts of the network and partners such as ACIAR. 

A harvesting machine in a mungbean field
The opportunities and impacts of mechanical mungbean harvesting were also identified as a research priority at the congress. Photo: ACIAR

Smallholder value chains

A sustainable industry will also require strong value chains that support smallholder farmers and Dr MG Neogi spoke at the congress about value-adding opportunities for smallholder farmers in Bangladesh.

Dr Neogi, from the University of Western Australia, is based in Bangladesh and was a member of the ACIAR-supported project ‘Incorporating salt-tolerant wheat and pulses into smallholder farming systems in southern Bangladesh’ (CIM/2014/076). 

Dr Neogi explained how some small changes to farming practices allowed smallholders to significantly increase returns from their mungbean crops.

Agriculture in southern Bangladesh centres around annual rice grown during the monsoon season. Dr Neogi said mungbean worked well as a dry season crop after the rice was harvested. 

‘During the dry season, salinity increases, making it difficult for farmers to cultivate a second crop. But because of the short duration of a mungbean crop, you can plant and harvest it early in the dry season before the salinity becomes too bad and while there is still some remaining moisture in the soil, making it a good companion crop to rice in the area,’ said Dr Neogi.

However, the project team found that local farmers were discouraged by the local farm-gate price of 50 to 70 Bangladeshi taka per kilogram of harvested grain, compared to retail prices of 150 to 200 taka per kilogram for husked grain. 

Because of the lack of mungbean de-husking machines in the area, smallholder farmers were not able to add value to their product and had to sell unprocessed grain at a lower price. Farming families were also less likely to eat the mungbean they grew because they could not de-husk it. 

Man presenting at a podium with a large screen behind
At the congress, Dr M. G. Neogi presented some insights from his work developing mungbean de-husking mini mills in Bangladesh through an ACIAR-supported project. Photo: ACIAR

De-husking adds value

Dr Neogi and the project team got in touch with local manufacturers who had experience de-husking rice and lentils.

‘They are familiar with how to prepare and install this type of machine, as well as how to maintain and repair them. So it was important to include them in the process to ensure we developed a sustainable business in the community,’ explained Dr Neogi.

With help from local manufacturers, 2 mungbean de-husking machines were trialled in 2022, with refinements made after initial trials to improve efficiency. This reduced the de-husking of mungbeans from 7 rounds of processing to 3 rounds. The proportion of beans damaged in the process was also reduced from 20% to 5–10%.

‘Mini mills’ were then installed in 21 mungbean-growing communities across southern Bangladesh. Smallholders paid 10 taka per kilogram to de-husk their mungbeans, and sold them for 120 to 140 taka per kilogram, significantly increasing their profits. 

‘This one change – establishing a mini mill in a community – has changed the entire picture,’ said Dr Neogi. 

‘The local community has better access to mungbean for their own use and, with the almost doubled profit, farmers are able to invest more in their crops, such as using pesticides and fertilisers, so their yields have increased.

‘Some countries represented at the conference expressed that they were having some similar problems, so I am optimistic about the future extension of the knowledge gained through this project both in Bangladesh and in other countries facing similar challenges.’ 

Two people standing need a machine as it husks munbean
Through an ACIAR-supported project, mungbean de-husking machines like this one were provided to communities in the coastal region of Bangladesh. Photo: Dr MG Neogi

ACIAR Projects ‘International Mungbean Improvement Network 2’ (CROP/2019/144), ‘Incorporating salt-tolerant wheat and pulses into smallholder farming systems in southern Bangladesh’ (CIM/2014/076)