Lentil (Lens culinaris Medikus subsp. culinaris) was among the first crops domesticated and has become an important food legume crop in the farming and food systems of many countries globally. Its seed is a rich source of protein, minerals, and vitamins for human nutrition, and the straw is a valued animal feed. Its ability in nitrogen and carbon sequestration improves soil nutrient status, which in turn provides sustainability in production systems. In the current paper, research progress achieved in lentil improvement at national and international levels is reviewed.
Since the late 1970s there have been significant national and international lentil improvement programmes, with the main objectives being to develop phenologically adapted, stress resistant and high-yielding cultivars with improved production packages.
Systematic research on lentil started recently, compared to other early-domesticated crops. During the last two and a half decades, research progress has been made in various aspects of the crop. Large numbers of germplasm have been collected, evaluated and preserved at national and international levels, with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) holding the largest collection of cultivated and wild germplasm accessions. A major effort has been made to study the genetic variation in the world germplasm collection, in order to understand local adaptation and to develop specific research programmes. Genotypes with resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses, particularly resistance to vascular wilt, rust and Ascochyta blight have been identified, and directly exploited or used in breeding programmes. New genotypes have been bred with good standing ability, suitable for mechanical harvest for West Asia and North Africa. Through introduction and hybridization, the genetic base of lentil has been broadened, most particularly in South Asia, by breaking an ancient genetic bottleneck.
Agronomic practices, including seeding time, seed rate, tillage requirements, soil type, and weed control, are optimized locally and improved production packages have been developed to realize higher yield. To date, a total of 91 improved cultivars have been released globally, emanating from genetic material supplied by ICARDA. Due to adoption of improved varieties combined with production technologies, the average global productivity has increased from 611 kg/ha to 966 kg/ha, and total production from 1·3 million tonnes to 3·8 million tonnes in the last three decades. Research at the molecular level, including construction of a lentil genetic linkage map, identification of molecular markers, and genetic transformation, has progressed considerably.