Lentils (Lens culinaris) are the fourth most important pulse, with nearly 9 million tonnes produced every year globally. The crop is mainly grown in India, Canada, Turkey, Nepal and Australia. It is an important source of protein, fiber, iron, and vitamins A and B. Lentil straw is used as fodder for small ruminants in the Middle East and North Africa. Lentil is also used as a green manure, thanks to its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen.
The lentil was domesticated in the Near East about 7000 BC, part of a package of early crops that also included chickpea, einkorn, emmer and barley. The expansion of lentils to the west took place around 6000 BC, arriving first in Greece and southern Bulgaria, then moving through Hungary, Czech Republic, and Switzerland to Germany. At the same time, the crop reached Ethiopia to the south. Eastwards, the crop reached Georgia between 5000-4000 BC, then India and Pakistan about 2000 BC.
The global strategy for the ex situ conservation of lentil identified 43,214 lentil accessions worldwide. Genesys displays information for about 70% of these. ICARDA holds the largest Lens collection, with 12,463 accessions.
The CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes is conducting research on lentils, including lentil-rice cropping systems in South Asia, where early (yet productive) lentil varieties are sown on fallow land, leading to more efficient land use, improved livelihoods and better nutrition among farming families.