Vicia faba (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Vicia faba L.

Protologue: Sp. Pl. ed. 1: 737 (1753).
Family: Leguminosae
Chromosome number: 2n= 12

Vernacular names

  • Faba bean (En)
  • fève (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kacang babi
  • Thailand: thua yang
  • Burma: sandusi.

Origin and geographic distribution

The origin of the faba bean is in the Mediterranean region or in S.W. Asia, where it has been cultivated since ancient times. At present it is widely cultivated in all temperate regions and at higher altitudes in the tropics. It ranks among the world's most important grain legume crops.


Faba bean is grown as garden cultivars for the green shell beans and as a field crop for the dried beans which are used as food for man and animals. They are also grown for fodder, hay and green manure (whole plants or harvested plants).

Production and international trade

In 1981 faba bean was grown in more than 50 countries, on 3.6 million ha with a production of more than 4 million t beans. Largest producer is China (60% of total area, 65% of world production), second is Ethiopia with 9% of the world area.

From S.-E. Asia, production is reported from Indonesia, Thailand and Burma, without data.


Per 100 g edible portion whole dried seeds contain about: water 10 g, protein 26 g, fat 1 g, carbohydrates 59 g, fibre 7 g, ash 3 g. The energetic value averages 1450 kJ/100 g. Seed weight varies between 40 and 180 g/100 seeds.


  • An erect, stiff, glabrous annual, 30-180 cm tall. Stem stout, square and hollow, with 1-7 branches at the base.
  • Leaves alternate, pinnately compound; leaflets 2-6, ovate to elliptic, 3-10 cm x 1-4 cm.
  • Inflorescences axillary short racemes, 1-6-flowered; flowers ca. 2-4 cm x 1.5 cm, white with black or purplish streaks and blotches, fragrant.
  • Pods subcylindrical to flattened, in field cultivars 5-10 cm long, in garden cultivars up to 30 cm long.
  • Seeds very variable in shape and size, strongly compressed to nearly globular, 1-2.6 cm long, white, green, buff, brown, purple or black.

Germination is hypogeal. Cropping season duration varies widely from about 3 months (Sudan, Canada) to 11 months (e.g. winter beans in N.W. Europe). In African and Indian cultivars supra-optimal temperatures at flowering time can adversely affect fertilization.

Faba beans are mainly cross-pollinated by insects. Flowering progresses from the lower part to the top part of the stem and takes 14-20 days.

Four cv.-groups are distinguished:

  • cv.-group Major - the broad bean, with large flattened seeds, average length 2.5 cm;
  • cv.-group Equina - the horse bean, with medium sized seeds, average length 1.5 cm;
  • cv.-group Minor - the tick bean, with small rounded seeds, about 1 cm long;
  • cv-group Paucijuga - with less than 4 leaflets per leaf.


Faba bean is an annual from temperate regions. It can be grown at high altitudes in the tropics and in winter season in the subtropics, but it usually fails to produce pods in the hot humid tropics. It is a quantitative long-day plant, some cultivars are day-neutral. During growth period an average temperature of 18-27 °C is required, with little or no excessive heat, some cultivars tolerate frost. Rainfall needs to be 650- 1000 mm/year; moisture requirement is highest ca. 9-12 weeks after establishment. It is not drought resistant and cannot tolerate waterlogging. It tolerates nearly any soil type but grows best on rich loams, pH may range between 4.5-8.3, optimum is 6.5.


Faba bean is propagated by seed. Seeds are usually sown 5-10 cm deep in rows ca. 75 cm apart, within the rows 15 cm apart. Rate of sowing for small-seeded cultivars is 90-122 kg/ha, for large seeded cultivars 78-90 kg/ha, but up to 450 kg/ha are used. For green manure or forage small-seeded cultivars are usually broadcast. Faba beans are cultivated by smallholders and by estates.

Faba beans should be thoroughfully cultivated throughout their growing period. Post- and pre-emergence herbicides are often applied. In Egypt and Spain faba bean is often irrigated.

Fertilizers and seed inoculation with proper legume bacteria are recommended. In temperate regions faba beans are usually rotated with wheat or barley, in warm climates with rice, cotton, maize, sorghum, rapeseed and sweet potato. In tropical areas the application of superphosphate (phosphoric acid) and potash, at rates of 50-100 kg/ha and 25-50 kg/ha respectively, are recommended.

For animal fodder, faba beans are sometimes grown intercropped with cereals, peas or Lathyrus spp.

Major diseases are caused by Botrytis fabae, Ascochyta, Uromyces and Fusarium. Virus, nematode and bacteria diseases are numerous. Most serious insect pests are faba bean weevil, Bruchus rufimanus and bean aphid, Aphis fabae. In the Middle East, broomrape Orobanche crenata may be a serious problem.

Faba beans mature in 90-220 days after planting. The crop should not be cut until the lower pods are matured and the upper ones fully developed. The crop should preferably be cut on a cloudy day or at night and stocked early the next day. Mechanical harvesting is well possible. If grown for forage, faba beans are normally harvested a little before the end of flowering and when the first pods are well formed.

Dry bean yield varies per region and cultivar. In 1981 yield in UK was 2 700 kg/ha, in China 1 230 kg/ha, in Egypt 2 500 kg/ha, in Ethiopia 850 kg/ha, in Mexico 1 720 kg/ha; world average was 1 154 kg/ha.

Yield of fresh green faba bean for home consumption as a vegetable averages 11-12.5 t/ha in the UK.

After threshing seeds are cleaned with ordinary fanning mills. For canning, beans are allowed to swell on the plant and picked by hand before they become hard. As a dried vegetable they are prepared in the same way as other common beans.

Genetic resources and breeding

Faba bean germplasm collections exist at ICARDA (Syria), the University of Bari (Italy), at Braunschweig (BRD) and at Gatersleben (DDR).

The main breeding objectives are complete self-fertilization, determinate growth habit, shorter racemes, improved harvest index, white flowers and testas free of tannin.

Complete genetic isolation appears to exist between V. faba and other known Vicia species (148). Within V. faba variability is great and more collections are needed in the centres of origin.


A renewed interest throughout the world for the faba bean exists, because of rising costs of protein rich food and feed, need for diversification, increasing human populations. Hence, faba beans could well have a promising future. Through international cooperation improved cvs appear. In S.-E. Asia faba bean is an interesting crop for the high mountaineous regions.


  • Bond, D.A., Lawes, D.A. et al., 1985. In: Summerfield, R.J. & Roberts, E.H. (Editors). Grain Legume Crops. Collins, London. p. 199-265.
  • Duke, J.A., 1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. Plenum Press, New York. p. 275-279.


  • P.C.M. Jansen