Crops   » Groundnut
Groundnut
Photo: ICRISAT
 
 

At the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest, groundnut was widely grown in South America. By the latter part of the 16th century it had spread to West Africa and soon after to South Asia. It is currently grown on about 22 million hectares worldwide, an area roughly equal in size to the United Kingdom. 

38.6 million - Global annual production (tons) of groundnuts

95% – Developing country share of global production

68% – Asia's share


Ignored for nearly half a century in Asia and Africa, new research - much of it involving farmer groups working in isolated rural areas – is prompting a re-examination of the priority accorded to this important food and forage crop.

Rich in protein and edible oil, groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) is central to the financial and nutritional well-being of hundreds of millions of farmers and consumers across the semi-arid tropics. Nutrition experts point out that groundnut provides over 30 essential nutrients and is an excellent source of niacin, fiber and vitamin E.  Rich in anti-oxidants, the crop is naturally free of transfats and contains about 25% protein, a higher proportion than any other true nut.

Increasingly, however, its greatest value is as an income generator. At many locations in West Africa, groundnuts are largely grown by women for the benefit of their families and are used to pay school fees and purchase household essentials. Many of the best improved varieties, some of which are twice as productive as the lines they replaced, were selected by women farmers in Mali and Niger working with national and international plant breeders.

For subsistence farmers who lack the cash to purchase commercial fertilizers, groundnut's nitrogen-fixing capabilities serves as an important soil management tool that contributes both to greater productivity and to the overall resilience of their farming operations.

Origins and general characteristics

Groundnuts first evolved through a chance cross between two wild species. No one knows exactly when or where the cross occurred, but scientists estimate that the two species combined six to eight thousand years ago. Today, there are 79 known wild species, and perhaps a few more undiscovered species still to be collected.

Archeologists have found evidence of groundnut dating back more than 7,000 years.  At the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest, the crop was widely grown in the West Indies and in South America. By the latter part of the 16th Century it had spread to West Africa through the slave trade.

Groundnut is currently grown on about 21.8 million hectares worldwide, an area similar in size to the United Kingdom.  Global production (2011) totaled 38.6 million tons, 95 percent of which occurred in developing countries. Major producers include China, India, Nigeria, USA, and Myanmar. Common names include earthnuts, goober peas, monkey nuts, peanut, pygmy nuts and pig nuts.

Threats to production

Low yields in the semi-arid tropics are attributable mainly to the fact that groundnut is grown in marginal area under rainfed conditions and is subject to periodic drought.

The crop is highly susceptible to contamination by some 20 different mycotoxins, including aflatoxin caused by a fungus Aspergillus flavus.  Aflatoxin is extremely hazardous to human health and is especially harmful to the physical and mental development of young children. Over time, exposure to alflatoxin-infected foods can lead to hepatitis, immune system suppression and liver cancer.

The risks associated with aflatoxin contamination have led industrialized countries to establish rigorous quality standards that often deny developing country farmers the opportunity to export.  In West Africa, where groundnut is largely produced by women, export prohibitions have important implications for family well-being and frequently prevent farmers from purchasing resources that might otherwise be used to increase productivity.

Photo: ICRISAT
Although the resources available for groundnut R&D in the semi-arid tropics are modest compared with funding for the major cereal crops, all available resources have been targeted to achieve key objectives for productivity and safety.

 For example, researchers have developed a simple, inexpensive testing kit to identify the presence of aflatoxin on stored grain. The kits use reagents that are commonly available in developing countries and generate results comparable to the more expensive techniques used in industrialized country laboratories.  They are currently being used in India, Kenya, Malawi, Mali and Mozambique in an effort to improve consumer safety and help farmers re-enter the European market.

The kits also support national plant breeding programs and play a central role in the development of new varieties that are now beginning to displace the older cultivars that have long dominated the Indian market.  One such drought-tolerant variety named after the Hindu goddess Devi (ICGV 91114) ranks among India’s most popular. Economic projections indicate that annual benefits in just one district where the new varieties are grown should surpass $500 million by 2020.  

Groundnut is currently produced on about 22 million hectares worldwide, an area roughly equal in size to the United Kingdom. Production is concentrated principally in Asia (64%) and Africa (28%). Major producers include China, India, USA, Nigeria, and Myanmar.

Source: FAO Stat 2011
Photo: ICRISAT
Groundnut is highly susceptible to contamination by Aspergillus flavus, a fungus that releases the toxic agent aflatoxin. Screening for Aspergillus flavus is crucial since it is extremely hazardous to human health and especially harmful to the physical and mental development of young children. 
Photo: ICRISAT
In West Africa, groundnuts are largely grown by women for the benefit of their families and are used to pay school fees and purchase household essentials. In Mali and Niger, women farmers working with plant breeders selected many of the best varieties, some of which are twice as productive as the lines they replaced.  
page.tp