Legumes are a very diverse source of food for humans and animals. Generally pulse legumes are used as human foodstuffs while pasture, shrub and tree legumes are more suitable and frequently used as a supplement to low quality feedstuffs for ruminant animals. The importance and potential of forage legumes is due to their diversity, compositional, agronomic and nutritional attributes.
In many of the ruminant production systems of the developing world, native or naturalised grass pastures make up the bulk of the feed. The low quality and seasonal nature of the forage supply, together with the low intake by animals and the poor digestibility of the forage are major factors which contribute to low productivity of ruminant animals. There is thus substantial scope for the utilisation of the large array of forage legumes as a supplement for ruminant diets, especially in the arid and semi-arid tropics. Although the potential of forage legumes is high there is relatively little information on the vast array of materials available. There is some evidence, however, that some forage legumes have low digestibilities and contain a considerable variety of antinutrients and toxins which influence their nutritive value (Mueller-Harvey and Reed, 1992; D’Mello & Acamovic, 1989, Acamovic et al, 1992; Baintner et al, 1992; Jones et al, 1992; Topps, 1992).