Vicia faba (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Cereal / pulse|
|Forage / feed|
Vicia faba L.
- Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 737 (1753).
- Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
- Chromosome number: 2n = 12
- Faba bean, broad bean, horse bean, field bean, tick bean (En).
- Fève, fève de(s) marais, fèverole, fèvette, gourgane (Fr).
- Faveira, fava (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Faba bean is only known in cultivation. Its centre of origin and domestication is probably in western Asia, from where it spread into Europe, Africa and central Asia. Ethiopia and Afghanistan are considered secondary centres of diversity. Faba bean domestication occurred between 7000 and 4000 BC, and by the 3rd millennium BC it was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean region. The evolution of the large-seeded type was much later (around 500 AD), and may have occurred in western Asia and in the Mediterranean region. Faba bean was probably not grown to any extent in Japan and China before 1200 AD, nor in the Americas before the arrival of the Spaniards. Nowadays, faba bean is widely grown in temperate and subtropical regions and at higher altitudes in the tropics. In tropical Africa it is mainly found in East Africa, especially in Sudan and Ethiopia.
Faba bean is grown as a field crop for the dry mature seeds and as a garden crop for the immature seeds or pods. In Ethiopia, Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and China the dry mature seeds are widely used as food, and in many countries the green immature seeds are boiled or eaten raw as vegetable. In Mediterranean countries and in India whole immature pods are eaten. In Ethiopia and Eritrea main dishes include ‘shiro wot’ (hulled seeds ground and made into sauce), ‘kik wot’ (hulled and split seeds boiled and made into sauce), and ‘ful’ (hulled and boiled seeds, spiced and minced with butter). Snacks include ‘eshet’ (fresh green seeds eaten raw or roasted), ‘kolo’ (roasted dry seeds), ‘nifro’ (boiled dry or fresh green seeds), ‘gunkul’ (seeds soaked, sprouted and roasted), ‘ashuk’ (seeds roasted first and then soaked), and ‘endushdush’ (seeds soaked first and then roasted). Throughout the Arab world faba bean seeds are consumed minced with onion, garlic and herbs, and eaten for breakfast as ‘ful medames’. Stewed seeds are eaten at any time of the day; seeds made into a paste are often used as a sandwich filling.
Mature seeds and vegetative parts of faba bean serve as concentrate, hay and silage for domestic animals. The straw is used as fuel for cooking in Ethiopia. The stems and leaves are used as green manure, e.g. in China. In China seeds and vegetative parts have a wide range of medicinal applications. In Europe the inside of the green pods is rubbed on warts to remove them.
Production and international trade
According to FAO statistics the world production of dry faba bean seeds in 1999–2003 amounted to 3.9 million t/year from 2.6 million ha. The main producing countries are China (1.9 million t/year from 1.2 million ha), Ethiopia (405,000 t/year from 370,000 ha), Egypt (396,000 t/year from 134,000 ha) and Australia (242,000 t/year from 164,000 ha). The annual production in sub-Sahara Africa in 1999–2003 was estimated at 510,000 t, almost entirely from Ethiopia (405,000 t) and Sudan (100,000 t). The annual world production of dry faba bean seeds declined from about 5 million t (from 5 million ha) in the early 1960s to about 4 million t (from 2.7 million ha) in the early 2000s. The reduction in area under cultivation in China from about 3.5 million ha in the early 1960s to about 1.25 million ha in the early 2000s accounted for the largest share of the reduction in production. In contrast, the annual production in sub-Sahara Africa increased during the same period from 230,000 t (250,000 ha) to 540,000 t (450,000 ha). The world production of green faba bean seeds in 1998–2003 was estimated at 940,000 t/year from 2.6 million ha, with Algeria (118,000 t/year), China (114,000 t/year) and Morocco (112,000 t/year) as the largest producers; the production of green faba bean seeds in tropical Africa is negligible.
World exports of dry faba bean seeds in 1998–2002 amounted to 475,000 t. The main exporting countries were Australia (201,000 t), the United Kingdom (114,000 t), China (63,000 t) and France (53,000 t). The main importers in this period were Egypt (197,000 t), Italy (169,000 t) and Spain (52,000 t). The exports from African countries are negligible.
The composition of raw mature faba bean seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 11.0 g, energy 1425 kJ (340 kcal), protein 26.1 g, fat 1.5 g, carbohydrate 58.3 g, dietary fibre 25.0 g, Ca 103 mg, Mg 192 mg, P 421 mg, Fe 6.7 mg, Zn 3.1 mg, vitamin A 53 IU, thiamin 0.56 mg, riboflavin 0.33 mg, niacin 2.8 mg, vitamin B6 0.37 mg, folate 423 μg and ascorbic acid 1.4 mg. The essential amino acid composition per 100 g edible portion is: tryptophan 247 mg, lysine 1671 mg, methionine 213 mg, phenylalanine 1103 mg, threonine 928 mg, valine 1161 mg, leucine 1964 mg and isoleucine 1053 mg. The principal fatty acids per 100 g edible portion are: linoleic acid 581 mg, oleic acid 297 mg and palmitic acid 204 mg (USDA, 2004).
In certain persons genetically predisposed, living mainly in the Mediterranean area, consumption of faba bean seeds, particularly immature ones, and even the inhalation of pollen, results in ‘favism’, a kind of haemolytic anaemia resulting from the accumulation of β -glycosidase (vicine and convicine) and their aglycones in individuals deficient in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in their red blood cells. Soaking before cooking inactivates the toxic compounds. Other antinutritional factors in faba bean seeds include trypsin inhibitors, lectins (haemagglutinins), tannins, oligosaccharides and phytate. Faba bean seeds have lipid-lowering effects in humans and rats. Proteins isolated from the seed have shown antioxidative activity, whereas the lectin agglutinin may slow the progression of colon cancer. Faba bean straw is a good feed with high protein content (5–20%) and digestibility (50% of the dry matter). The high tannin content of the seeds (up to 9%) results in a bitter taste when they are fed raw to animals, but cultivars have been developed with low tannin content (1%) and high digestibility.
- Erect, robust, stiff, glabrous, annual herb up to 2 m tall; stem stout, square, hollow with one or more basal branches; taproot well-developed, with strong lateral roots.
- Leaves alternate, paripinnate, with 2–6 leaflets, without tendril, but rachis ending in a short acumen; stipules conspicuous, widely varying in shape, toothed; leaflets ovate to elliptical, (3–)4–8(–10) cm × 1–2(–4) cm, entire. Inflorescence an axillary, sessile, short raceme, 1–6-flowered.
- Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, almost sessile; calyx campanulate, 5-lobed, tube c. 7 mm long, lobes almost equal, narrowly triangular, 2–8 mm long; corolla white, marked by a dark brown blotch, fragrant, standard broadly ovate, c. 2.5 cm × 1.5 cm, approaching the keel, wings oblong-ovate, c. 2.5 cm × 0.5 cm, keel c. 1.5 × 0.5 cm; stamens 10, 9 united and 1 free, c. 15 mm long, anthers ellipsoid to ovoid, about 1 mm long, dark brown; ovary superior, sessile or nearly so, very slender, compressed, c. 1.5 cm long, style abruptly upturned, c. 3 mm long, with a tuft of hairs near the glandular-papillate stigma.
- Fruit a narrowly oblong, cylindrical to flattened pod, (3–) 5–10(–30) cm × 1–1.5(–3) cm, bulging over the seeds, sparsely pubescent when mature, beaked, 2–6-seeded.
- Seeds ovoid to oblong, compressed, 1–3 cm in diameter, brown, reddish or green; hilum narrowly oblong.
- Seedling with hypogeal germination.
Other botanical information
Vicia comprises about 120 species, mainly in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere and South America, with a few species in Africa. Vicia faba is unique in the genus: it has larger but fewer chromosomes and the greatest amount of DNA content (around 13,000 Mbp). No other Vicia could successfully be crossed with Vicia faba despite many attempts. Morphometric and seed-protein electrophoresis studies have shown marked differences between Vicia faba and wild relatives (Vicia narbonensis L., Vicia galilaea Plitmann & Zohary and Vicia hyaeniscyamus Mouterde).
The infraspecific taxonomy of Vicia faba is confusing. Several varieties have been distinguished, based on the shape and size of the seeds. Cultivars with small and rounded seeds are often called tick bean, those with intermediate seed size horse bean, and those with large and flat seeds broad bean. However, there is no discontinuity in seed size between the groups, and they can be freely crossed. Arbitrarily, small-seeded types have been recognized as those with a 1000-seed weight of less than 700 g, medium-seeded types with 700–1200 g, and large-seeded types with more than 1200 g.
Vicia sativa L. is widely cultivated as a forage. Its seeds, young stems and leaves are recorded as being used for human consumption in Ethiopia and the Caucasus. However, the seeds and hay can have toxic effects (HCN-poisoning due to the cyanogenic glycoside vicianine; antinutritional effects of β -cyanoalanine). The seeds of Vicia villosa Roth, cultivated for fodder in East Africa, and Vicia paucifolia Baker are also said to be collected and eaten. Vicia monantha Retz. (bard vetch) has at least in former times been grown in oases in the Sahara. However, the seeds of many Vicia species, including Vicia villosa and Vicia monantha, are known to contain canavanine, a toxic arginine analogue.
Growth and development
Five principal stages have been distinguished in a key for faba bean development: germination and emergence, vegetative development, reproductive development, pod senescence and stem senescence. Vegetative development continues after reproductive development has started, thus both stages run concurrently. The onset of flowering strongly depends on environmental conditions (temperature, photoperiod), and may range from 1 month to 7–8 months. The longer durations occur in winter-sown crops in temperate regions. Flowering starts, on average, at node 7 and continues over as many as 20 nodes. Faba bean pollination habit is intermediate between self- and cross-pollinating. Cross-pollination rates up to 92% have been recorded, but they are mostly between 20% and 50%. Insects facilitate cross-pollination. The duration of the growth cycle varies from 3 months (Sudan, Canada) to 11 months ( north-western Europe). In Ethiopia the growth cycle is 3–7 months. Faba bean is effectively nodulated by Rhizobium leguminosarum.
Faba bean is grown in temperate regions, as a winter crop in the subtropics, and as a high-altitude crop in the tropics. It is not suited to the lowland tropics, where it may flower well but usually does not produce pods. A mean daily temperature around 13°C is optimal for growth. In Ethiopia faba bean is grown at 1300–3800 m altitude, but mostly at 2000–2500 m. Rust is the major production constraint below 1800 m, and frost above 3000 m. Faba bean requires an annual rainfall of 700–1000 mm, of which more than 60% during the growing period. Long photoperiods reduce the time to flowering and the position of the first flowering node, e.g. in northern European cultivars, but under field conditions daylength-neutrality is often observed. Faba bean prefers well-drained, almost neutral soils (pH 6.5–7.5), with moderate fertility. It hardly tolerates waterlogging or drought.
Propagation and planting
Faba bean is propagated by seed. The 1000-seed weight is 400–2000 g. Faba bean does not require a fine seedbed, but the land should be ploughed to a loose seedbed. The crop is broadcast or planted in rows; in mechanized agriculture drilling is common. The planting depth is 2–5 cm. Seed rates vary widely; higher rates are required in the cool high-altitude areas of the tropics, where crop growth is slower than in warm mid-altitude areas. Seed rates up to 150–200 kg/ha are recommended in Ethiopia, 70–120 kg/ha in Sudan and 95–100 kg/ha in Egypt. Spacings vary from place to place. In Ethiopia 40 cm between rows and 5 cm between plants is recommended. In Sudan a distance between rows of 20–40 cm is recommended, with 5–20 cm within rows and 1–3 plants per pocket. However, small-scale farmers in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea practice broadcasting. In Egypt planting on ridges is the usual practice. In case of sowing on both sides of the ridges, a spacing of 60 cm between ridges and 15–20 cm between pockets with 2 seeds/pocket is optimal. In Ethiopia common sowing dates are mid-June in mid-altitude areas and late June to early July in high-altitude areas. Planting in Egypt and Sudan may start in mid-October and proceed until late November. Faba bean is grown as a sole crop or in intercropping, e.g. with pea in Ethiopia, sugar cane in Egypt and various crops (wheat, rape, cotton and barley) in China.
Faba bean is sensitive to weed competition and rigorous control of weeds is needed from 3–8 weeks after seedling emergence. Weeds are controlled manually or with herbicides. One or 2 manual weedings may be required, the first one at 3–4 weeks after emergence, the second one at 6–8 weeks. Faba bean is grown under irrigation in Egypt and Sudan, whereas in Ethiopia and Eritrea it is grown entirely under rainfed conditions. Nitrogen application may not be necessary where Rhizobium leguminosarum is present, but in some countries 30–40 kg N/ha is applied as a starter. Atmospheric nitrogen fixation rates of 45–550 kg N per ha per year (on average around 200 kg) have been recorded for faba bean. In areas where the bacteria are absent, inoculation of the seed with bacteria is an option. Most small-scale farmers in Ethiopia do not apply chemical fertilizers. Experiments in Ethiopia have shown little or no response to N-fertilization, but P-application often leads to significant yield increases. In Sudan faba bean is not normally responsive to application of N and K, due to the presence of N-fixing bacteria and high inherent K in the soil. However, P is limiting, as the soils are alkaline (pH>8) and only a little P is available for the crop. Hence, placement of P close to the root system is recommended. In Egypt, 36 kg N and 30 kg P per ha is applied for traditional cultivars (yielding about 2.5 t/ha), whereas for improved cultivars (yielding up to 5 t/ha) additional top dressings (at 40 and 70 days after sowing) of 50 kg K per ha are recommended as well as a micronutrient spray of 60 g Zn, 40 g Mn and 20 g Fe per ha. Faba bean plays an important role in soil fertility management as a rotation crop; it is often grown in rotation with cereals, especially with wheat or barley.
Diseases and pests
The most important fungal diseases of faba bean are chocolate spot (Botrytis fabae and Botrytis cinerea), ascochyta blight (Didymella fabae; synonym Ascochyta fabae), rust (Uromyces viciae-fabae), and black root rot (Fusarium spp.). Chocolate spot and rust have been recorded as causing up to 50% yield loss in Egypt. Suggested control measures include use of resistant cultivars, cultural practices (crop rotation, drainage, disease-free seed, burning of crop residues) and fungicides. Important virus diseases of faba bean are bean yellow mosaic virus (BYMV), bean leaf roll virus (BLRV) and broad bean stain virus (BBSV). Root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.), stem nematodes (Ditylenchus dipsaci) and root-lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus spp.) also affect faba bean.
Aphids (Aphis craccivora, Aphis fabae and Acyrthosiphon pisum) are major insect pests of faba bean, e.g. in Sudan and Egypt. Other insect pests are the leaf weevil (Sitona lineatus), the pod borer (Helicoverpa armigera), the root nodule weevil (Sitona amurensis), cutworms (Agrotis spp.), the leaf miner (Liriomyza congesta) and the lesser armyworm (Spodoptera exigua). Bruchids (Bruchus and Callosobruchus spp.) are major storage pests, e.g. in Ethiopia.
In Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa the parasitic herb Orobanche crenata Forssk. (bean broomrape) is a critical problem. No practical control measure is available.
Harvesting of faba bean is done before full physiological maturity, because late harvesting may result in pod shattering and rotting, particularly when rain is encountered. The appropriate stage is when the leaves and the pods dry out and the seed moisture content is reduced to 16–18%. Faba bean can be combine harvested, but in tropical Africa manual harvesting is the common practice. Plants are hand-pulled or cut using a small knife or sickle. Harvesting is usually done in the early morning or late afternoon to reduce losses from shattering. The harvested plants are gathered into small heaps and left in the field for a few days to dry. Then they are transported to a threshing ground.
The average seed yield of faba bean in Africa (1.3 t ha/ha) is below world average (1.5 t/ha), while the average yields obtained in Asia (1.7 t/ha) and Europe (2.2 t/ha) are higher. Exceptionally high yields are obtained in Egypt and Sudan where the crop is irrigated (3.0 and 2.3 t/ha, respectively).
Handling after harvest
Threshing of faba bean is traditionally done by beating the plants with sticks or by trampling animals. Seeds should be stored under dry and cool conditions, free of pests and prevented from absorbing moisture. Cleaning seeds and storage structures before storing is important. Seeds with a moisture content of 11–14% can be stored for 2–7 years at temperatures of 5–10°C and for 1–4 years at 10–20°C.
Over 25,000 faba bean accessions are currently conserved in different countries. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo, Syria, holds about 10,700 faba bean accessions and 5900 accessions of wild Vicia species. Other important collections are kept in China (Institute of Crop Germplasm Resources (CAAS), Beijing; 3800 accessions) and Australia (Australian Temperate Field Crops Collection, Horsham; 2200 accessions). The largest collection of faba bean germplasm in Africa (2000 accessions) is kept at the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The collections include sources for multiple disease resistance, wild and primitive forms, lines carrying structural mutations, breeding lines and cultivars of special interest. The worldwide diversity available in faba bean has not yet been adequately sampled, and the available collections have not sufficiently been characterized. Faba bean shows orthodox seed storage behaviour.
High yield and resistance/tolerance to both biotic and abiotic stresses are the prime objectives across faba bean breeding programmes. Some breeding efforts to improve the yield potential of conventional indeterminate types have been promising. Sources of resistance to chocolate spot, ascochyta blight and rust identified at ICARDA have been used in many national faba bean breeding programmes. Australia has released cultivars resistant to chocolate spot and ascochyta blight. In Ethiopia the cultivars ‘Wayu’ and ‘Selale’ with resistance to black root rot disease on waterlogged Vertisols have recently been released. More than 10 cultivars have been released for different agro-ecological conditions in Ethiopia and Egypt, and 7 in Sudan. Recently, export-quality seed (large seed size) has attracted attention in breeding programmes in China and Ethiopia. Attempts to develop hybrid faba bean cultivars have not yet been successful because of lack of an effective male sterility system. Efforts to change the indeterminate growth habit into determinate types with increased yield through mutation breeding have also not been successful so far.
In-vitro callus formation and plant regeneration have been achieved with hypocotyl, cotyledon and embryo explants. Stably transformed faba bean lines have been produced using an Agrobacterium -mediated gene transfer system. Genetic linkage maps of the faba bean genome have been constructed based on morphological markers, isozymes, RAPDs, seed protein genes and microsatellites. A gene controlling resistance to rust has been tagged, and quantitative trait loci associated with seed weight, resistance to ascochyta blight and resistance to bean broomrape have been located. The presence of vicine and convicine in faba bean seeds is controlled by a single recessive gene that reduces their content 20-fold. However, the same gene increases susceptibility to pathogens and parasites. Two recessive genes eliminate tannin production in faba bean.
Faba bean productivity is far below the potential in many countries of tropical Africa because of the biological limitations of the traditional cultivars and poor management practices. However, faba bean will remain an important crop in parts of tropical Africa. Export demand is strong and regional markets are emerging, e.g. between Ethiopia (exporter) and Sudan and Egypt (importers). In addition to the needs emanating from the physical environment, farming systems and local consumers’ preferences, export qualities and standards also deserve priority in research. Efforts are being undertaken in some countries, e.g. China, to develop new higher-value types superior in colour, smell and taste, and these efforts, coupled with the wealth of genetic diversity available, might result in new opportunities.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article
Jarso, M. & Keneni, G., 2006. Vicia faba L. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 30 November 2022.
- See the Prota4U database.