Lablab purpureus – A Crop Lost for Africa

In recent years, so-called ‘lost crops’ have been appraised in a number of reviews, among them Lablab purpureus in the context of African vegetable species. This crop cannot truly be considered ‘lost’ because worldwide more than 150 common names are applied to it. Based on a comprehensive literature review, this paper aims to put forward four theses, (i) Lablab is one of the most diverse domesticated legume species and has multiple uses. Although its largest agro-morphological diversity occurs in South Asia, its origin appears to be Africa. (ii) Crop improvement in South Asia is based on limited genetic diversity. (iii) The restricted research and development performed in Africa focuses either on improving forage or soil properties mostly through one popular cultivar, Rongai, while the available diversity of lablab in Africa might be under threat of genetic erosion. (iv) Lablab is better adapted to drought than common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) or cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), both of which have been preferred to lablab in African agricultural production systems. Lablab might offer comparable opportunities for African agriculture in the view of global change. Its wide potential for adaptation throughout eastern and southern Africa is shown with a GIS (geographic information systems) approach.