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Grass pea

An insurance crop that could hold the secrets to drought and flood tolerant harvests

The sustainable development need

Climate-resilient agricultural systems which provide nutritional security and have a small carbon footprint.

Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) is a hardy legume grown for food, feed, and fodder. It is an ancient crop which has been cultivated for more than 8000 years because of its tolerance of drought, flooding, salinity, and poor soils, its ability to fix nitrogen, and its seeds with high levels of protein.

These traits make it an outstanding crop for ensuring nutritional security for resource-poor farmers, especially in the face of impending changes in climate. However, the presence of a neurotoxin (β-ODAP) has limited its breeding and modern-day cultivation. β-ODAP causes neurolathyrism – a paralysis of the lower limbs. If the threat from β-ODAP could be removed, grass pea has great potential.

Our transdisciplinary response

Realising the full potential of grass pea will demand a food systems approach that includes the role of scientists, farmers, consumers, markets and regulators in improving and rehabilitating this orphan crop.

NISD has adopted a cohesive approach that combines biological science to remove the physiological threat of β-ODAP from grass pea, agricultural science to develop and trial new varieties of safe grass pea, behavioural economics to understand farmer and consumer preferences and market analysis to facilitate future deployment of the rehabilitated grass pea crop.

Partners and progress

The NISD team

The NISD team brings together partners from across the Norwich Research Park with collaborators in Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco and Australia.

Cathie Martin

John Innes Centre

Chris Darby

John Innes Centre

Sita Ghimire


Zewdie Bishaw

International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas – Ethiopia

Abhimanyu Sarkar

John Innes Centre

Isaac Njaci


Shiv Kumar Agrawal

International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas

Nigusie Girma

Debre Zeit Research Center – Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research

Peter Emmrich


Sagadevan Mundree

Queensland University of Technology

Anne Edwards

John Innes Centre

Matt Heaton

UEA International Development

Progress, outputs and outcomes

Considerable progress has been made in breeding safe grass pea varieties. These varieties are now being field-trialled in Ethiopia and Kenya.


  • UKRI-BBSRC GCRF Sustainable Agriculture for Sub-Saharan Africa (SASSA) grant.
  • John Templeton Foundation
  • UKRI-BBSRC GCRF Agri-Tech Catalyst Seeding Fund Award

Project contact

If you are interested in this project and would like to know more, please contact:

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