Beans are an important source of protein and fiber around the world. They have a short growing season and can adapt to different cropping systems. Bean crops often play a key role in crop rotation and intercropping due to their ability to fix nitrogen.

The term “bean” refers collectively to a number of species within a large family of flowering plants (Fabaceae, a.k.a., the pea, bean, or legume family) and includes soybeans, chickpeas, peas and lentils. Originally, bean referred only to the seed of broad (fava) beans. The term then broadened to include members of the Phaseolus and Vigna genera. The term “pulse” also refers to members of the pea family, but it is usually reserved for crops harvested for their dry seed (e.g., lentil, kidney and pigeon pea).

Humans have been cultivating beans since 7,000 BC. They first appeared in Thailand and travelled to Europe and the Mediterranean countries very early, marking their appearance in the Americas by 2,000 BC. Today beans are grown in more than 120 countries. The top bean producers of the world are Brazil, Myanmar, India and China, who together account for more than 50% of world production. Africa produces about 17% of the world total, with 70% of production occurring in Eastern Africa. They are the 8th crop in terms of acreage in sub-Saharan Africa. Top producers are Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, followed by Cameroon, Kenya and Ethiopia. In terms of yield, however, China only ranks 30th in the world with 1.7 mt/ha, Cameroon 50th with 1.3 mt/ha, Myanmar yields 1.2 mt/ha, and all the other main producers have yields of less than 1 mt/ha. Bean yields are highest in Barbados, Ireland, Belgium, Libya and Egypt with more than 3 mt/ha.

Reference to numbers/statistics are from FAOSTAT 2010 for the year 2008.

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