Promoting the Bambara groundnut in Madagascar

Lié Maminiaina, Shamba Centre for Food & Climate
Published on 27-03-2024

The year 2023 has served as a warning to the world. According to the State of Global Climate report published by the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures are rising at an alarming rate. It confirms 2023 as the hottest year on record with the global average temperature at 1.45 °C above the pre-industrial baseline. Records have been broken for ocean heat, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice loss and glacier retreat with a devastating toll on food security.

Climate change is further exacerbating the existing challenges of hunger and malnutrition. As extreme weather events become more frequent, food systems are struggling to produce sufficient yields for a growing global population. It is therefore essential for the agricultural sector to adapt and mitigate against climate change.

The production of climate resilient crops has been touted as one solution. The Vision for Adaptive Crops and Soils (VACS), a joint initiative by the U.S. State Department, the African Union Commission, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, aims to boost crop productivity and nutritional quality through the promotion of diverse and resilient crop varieties and the promotion of soil health. Its recent report identified the Bambara groundnut as one such high-potential crop and offered a closer look at its practical application.

The introduction of the Bambara groundnut to Madagascar, particularly among small-scale farmers through various projects, aligns with the broader goals of improving nutrition, sustainability and poverty. These objectives also align with the Zero Hunger Coalition and its study which focuses on operationalizing the food systems transformation pathway in Madagascar. 

Benefits of the Bambara groundnut

Native to West Africa, the Bambara groundnut thrives in adverse environments whether intense heat, heavy rain, disease or pests. It is valued for its drought tolerance, enabling stable production yields with little or no water needed, and thus providing a secure food source for local communities.

The Bambara groundnut is highly adaptable to a wide range of soils including those that are poor, lacking nutrients, poorly drained and exposed to high heat. Because it can fix nitrogen directly into the soil through its roots, the Bambara groundnut helps improve soil health and thus enhances soil biodiversity and quality. It also acts as a natural fertilizer, eliminating the need for chemical inputs and thus helping farmers to reduce their costs and enabling sustainable agriculture.

Post-harvest, the Bambara groundnut can be stored in its shell for long periods without significant loss of quality or nutritional value. In regions with limited storage infrastructure, this feature can help farmers to manage their food reserves more effectively between harvests and stabilizes local food supplies – and prices – during periods of low production.

Despite these benefits, the Bambara groundnut remains largely under-exploited. Its worldwide production, estimated at 300,000 tonnes per year, contrasts sharply with that of other crops such as the cowpea, which has an average yearly production of over 5 million tonnes.

Introducing the Bambara groundnut in Madagascar

ProSAR "Food and nutrition security, enhanced resilience to food crises,” co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MinAE), has focused on the benefits of the Bambara groundnut in Madagascar given the nut’s ability to achieve three of the initiative’s missions: diversify agricultural crops, enrich local diets accustomed to rice and promote sustainable agricultural practices adapted to new climate conditions.

The ProSAR initiative specifically targets women of childbearing age and young children. The Bambara groundnut offers an opportunity to enhance food security while also empowering women. By directly engaging with women, the initiative hopes to not only improve access to nutritious foods but also to promote greater gender equality by giving women the tools to assume greater decision-making and serve as a catalyst for positive change in their communities.

Another activity, piloted by Inter-aide, which is an implementation partner of ProSAR, promoted the use of the Bambara groundnut among small scale farmers  in the District of Farafangana. Locally known as voanjobory, the Bambara groundnut is an under utilized subsistence crop despite its agronomic and nutritional properties. 

As part of the programme, farmers received training on the many advantages of the legume including the economic benefits of seed recycling, its resilience and respect for the ecosystem. The results have been positive. The Bambara groundnut has improved food security and increased livelihoods thanks to its demand on local markets. In a survey conducted two years after the project, 76% of households continued to grow it.

The transition towards under-utilized crops, such as the Bambara groundnut, will require their improved access and availability in markets. Dedicated research and development will be necessary to scale up the production of these crops. In addition, it will be necessary to help consumers change their eating habits. Adopting a multi-faceted strategy with the active involvement of public authorities can help  to raise awareness, introduce new foods into school meals and develop value chains that support farmers and appeal to consumers.


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