The cluster bean plant, Cyamopsis tetragonolobus, is also known as the guar bean. It is a member of the legume family of vegetables, along with all other types of beans and peas. The guar bean is widely grown in Asia, primarily in the northwestern parts of India and Pakistan that have the warm, dry climate it requires. The guar bean has many agricultural and industrial uses, including the production of guar gum.
Cluster Beans as Food
Cluster beans are native to Asia and Africa and are cultivated across many parts of India and Pakistan as a vegetable crop for human consumption, The young pods are cooked and eaten like string beans or podded peas. The beans are also grown as animal food, either as forage--the animals graze the young plants in the field--or made into feed.
Cluster Beans in Industry
Guar gum has been commercially produced in the United States since the 1950s, but today most of the world's production occurs in India and Pakistan. Guar gum is refined for use in food production as a thickener in ice cream and other dairy-based foods such as instant puddings. Guar gum also has a number of other industrial uses, such as in paper and textile manufacturing.
Production Challenges in Pakistan
The main challenges to cluster bean production in Pakistan are environmental: weather, pests and diseases. Though the cluster bean is a hardy vegetable tolerant of drought, too much rain causes crop failures. Flooding and subsequent crop failures have plagued Pakistan in recent years.
Pests and Diseases
Cluster beans are prone to infestation by certain species of moths, which not only damage crops but also make harvested crops unsuitable for exportation. Bio-security restrictions on potentially damaging insect pests require imports to be screened and tested at ports of entry. If cluster beans are found to be infested with insects or eggs, they can be refused entry. This can severely damage the economic viability of bean exports from Pakistan.
Future Organic Options
One way for Pakistan to add value to its exports of cluster beans would be to turn to organic production methods. The demand for organic consumer products is increasing rapidly, and since guar gum is such a common food ingredient, there is a concurrent rising demand for sources of organic guar gum.