Seed Industry

Grasspea Innovation Shines in Ghent

28 June 2024, Ghent: In June, the picturesque city of Ghent, Belgium, gathered grasspea fans and experts at the inaugural International Lathyrus Day.

Organized by the Fernand Lambein Fund and sponsored by the Crop Trust, this event honored the legacy of the late Fernand Lambein, a pioneering Belgian researcher dedicated himself to the grasspea, which goes by the scientific name of Lathyrus sativus.

Held within the historic walls of Thagaste, an old Augustinian monastery, the event brought together over 60 researchers, academics, students, and breeders with a shared interest in this legume. The one-day conference was packed with talks, discussion sessions, and networking opportunities, making it a milestone in the world of grasspea research.

What is Grasspea?

Grasspea is a hardy legume known for its resilience in harsh conditions, particularly drought and poor soils. It is a crucial crop in regions prone to food insecurity due to its ability to thrive where most other crops fail. Although recognized for its nutritional benefits, including high protein content, grasspea has also been associated with neurolathyrism—a neurological disorder caused by toxins present in the seeds. However, modern research—including the Crop Trust’s BOLD project—focuses on breeding low-toxin varieties, putting grasspea back on the menu as a promising crop for sustainable agriculture.

Diverse Sessions and Engaging Discussions

Participants were treated to a series of insightful sessions focused on various aspects of grasspea improvement:

  • Breeding for Grasspea Improvement: Experts discussed advanced breeding techniques aimed at enhancing the crop’s resilience and yield.
  • Harnessing Plant Genetic Resources for Grasspea Improvement: This session highlighted the importance of genetic diversity and how it can be leveraged for crop improvement.
  • Innovative Tools, Technologies, and Data Management for Grasspea Improvement: Cutting-edge technologies and data management practices were showcased to speed up grasspea research and development.
  • Panel Discussion: Current Status and Future Prospects of Grasspea Improvement in Different Countries: A panel of international experts provided a global perspective on grasspea cultivation and its future potential.

During the breaks, attendees had the opportunity to explore poster presentations that showcased ongoing research and innovative projects, fostering further discussion and collaboration.

A Taste of Ghent and Grasspea

As the day concluded, participants were invited to explore the picturesque city of Ghent. A highlight of the event was the grasspea dish tasting, where attendees could savor the culinary potential of this versatile legume. This unique experience underscored the cultural and nutritional significance of grasspea, reinforcing its value.

The Crop Trust’s BOLD Grasspea Project 

The Crop Trust played a significant role in the event, presenting its BOLD project. This aims to enhance the grasspea diversity available to breeders, researchers, and farmers, with a focus on boosting the crop’s nutritional value and agronomic traits. By developing new varieties based on elite lines derived from crop wild relatives, the project aspires to improve food and nutrition security for small-scale, resource-poor farmers.

Adding a creative touch to the proceedings, the Crop Trust also offered a sneak peek of its “Crop Chronicles” animated video about grasspea. This engaging preview captivated the audience and highlighted the broader mission of the BOLD project.

Honoring Fernand Lambein’s Legacy

The event’s date held special significance as it coincided with the birthday of Fernand Lambein, who passed away in early 2020. Lambein’s mission to eradicate neurolathyrism and promote Lathyrus sativus as a nourishing food source is carried forward through the efforts of the Lambein Fund. This aims to promote knowledge and technology transfer related to grasspea to developing countries, foster research collaboration, and champion open science.

Lambein recognized the immense value of collaboration across disciplines and countries to drive societal change. The first International Lathyrus Day succeeded in embodying his vision by creating a platform for shared knowledge, fostering global connections, and inspiring future research in the field of grasspea improvement.

Looking Ahead

The success of the first International Lathyrus Day sets a promising precedent for future gatherings. The second edition is already scheduled to take place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on June 7, 2026. As researchers and practitioners continue to innovate and collaborate, the potential to improve grasspea and enhance food security worldwide grows ever stronger. The Fernand Lambein Fund, along with the Crop Trust, remain committed to supporting these efforts, ensuring that grasspea can flourish as a sustainable and nutritious crop for generations to come.

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