Legume Best Bets


Tephrosia vogelli for soil fertility and fuelwood

Tephrosia vogelli for soil fertility and fuelwood

Legume Best Bests are leguminous crops identified for their ability to improve soil quality and agricultural productivity while adequately addressing farmers’ diverse requirements for adoption. Legumes are capable of providing plant-available nitrogen, a highly limiting nutrient in many agroecosystems, improving nutrient cycling and water use efficiency, and offering multiple secondary benefits. However, their performance can be highly variable limiting their usefulness and adoption by farmers. Legume Best Bets are typically represented by a set of options that optimize physical performance while meeting multiple needs of farmers (see multipurpose legumes and doubled up legumes for more information). Continue here to learn more about legume best bets…


  • Improve agricultural productivity
  • Provide Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF),
  • Decrease inorganic fertilizer requirements due to BNF,


Pigeonpea for soil quality and food

Pigeonpea for soil quality and food

  • Possibly a marginal loss of maize yield and resource competition between crops,
  • Requires resources such as seed, labor, and land,
  • May require skilled management

Learning Lab Research:

Beedy, T.L., S.S. Snapp, F.K. Akinnifesi, and G.W. Sileshi. 2010. Impact of Gliricidia sepium intercropping on soil organic matter fractions in a maize-based cropping system. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 138(3-4): 139-146.

Bezner-Kerr, R., S.S. Snapp, M. Chirwa, L. Shumba and R. Msachi. 2007. Participatory research on legume diversification with Malawian smallholder farms for improved human nutrition and soil fertility. Experimental Agriculture 43: 437-453.

Kumwenda, J.D.T., S.R. Waddington, S.S. Snapp, R.B. Jones, and M.J. Blackie. 1996. Soil Fertility Management Research for Maize Cropping Systems of Smallholders in Southern Africa: A Review. NRG Paper 96-02. Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT.

Mhango, W.G., Snapp, S.S., and G.Y.K. Phiri. 2012. Opportunities and constraints to legume diversification for sustainable maize production on smallholder farms in Malawi. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 28: 234-244.   


Annuals for food and soil quality- soybean and groundnuts

Annuals for food and soil quality- soybean and groundnuts

Legume Best Bets in Northern Malawi: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3.

ICRISAT’s research on grain legumes

Legume Research Network Project Newsletters on Legume Best Bets in Kenya

Extended Bibliography and Works Cited:

Dakora, F.D. and S.O. Keya. 1997. Contribution of legume nitrogen fixation to sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 29: 809-817.

Gilbert RA. 2004. Best-bet legumes for smallholder maize-based cropping systems of Malawi. In: Eilitta M, Mureithi J, Derpsch R, (eds). Green Manure/Cover Crop Systems of Smallholder Farmers: Experiences from Tropical and Sub-Tropical Regions. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer; pp. 153–174.

Mureithi, J.G., C.K.K. Gachene, and J. Ojiem. 2003. The role of green manures in smallholder farming systems in Kenya: the Legume Research Network Project. Tropical and Subtropical Agroecosystems 1: 57-70. 

Challenges Addressed: Poverty and Food Insecurity, Soil Quality and Low Productivity, Poor Access to Inorganic and Organic Inputs, Climate Change.

Tags: Agricultural Economics, Agrobiodiversity, Agronomy, Extension, Nutrition, Sociology, Soil Science.