A Crop Whose Time has Come

This article was originally posted in the IPGA Pulse India magazine. Download the magazine here.

Pulses have never been so relevant. Celebrated in the EAT-Lancet report and the newly declared World Pulses Day – peas, lentils, chickpeas and other pulses are riding a wave of growing attention.  For India, pulses are a timeless part of the diet, but in many other countries, pulses are part of a growing trend to focus on plant-based proteins. 

What we eat sends a signal to the supply chain and the signal is about pulses as a sustainable part of the food basket.  While the discussion of meat lately has not fairly reflected the disparity in developed and developing countries, certainly pulses are part of a more sustainable and healthier future. 

The IPGA and the Global Pulse Confederation can be proud of the part they played in creating this growing trend.  The International Year of Pulses campaign saw amazing results all around the world, including in the digital realm. In 2016, the consumption of pulses experienced a 10% increase worldwide.  In India, which has always been a great champion in the pulse industry, it was record-breaking, with 23% year over year increase in pulse production (2016-17 v 2015 -16)!

And now, thanks to the leadership of Burkina Faso, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) agreed to declare February 10 as World Pulses Day. The establishment of this day will be a lasting legacy of the enormously successful 2016 International Year of Pulses. 

World Pulses Day is a new opportunity to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of eating pulses and reaffirms the contribution of pulses for sustainable agriculture and achieving the 2030 Agenda. It will also provide a recurring opportunity to highlight the numerous and exceptional nutritional virtues of pulses and stimulate investment in research on pulses and in their production and marketing.

Unleashing the Potential of Protein Crops

A growing global population, which is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050, has opened a window for the next global-growth cycle in high-value products. An increasingly affluent middle-class (approximately 3 billion people worldwide in 2015) is seeking higher quality and more plant-based protein. It is essential to be proactive in creating, growing and promoting high-quality protein and healthier diets. 

Where I am from, in Canada, an alliance of 120 companies and organizations focused on developing plant-based proteins won a spot in the Canadian federal government's $950 million supercluster program, promising to bring new research and momentum to the pulse and other grain sectors. Protein Industries Canada (PIC) is an industry-led supercluster comprising leading Canadian food and food ingredient manufacturers, agriculture and food service companies, agriculture technology corporations, economic development agencies, and highly experienced academic and financial institutions. This supercluster capitalizes on Canada’s world-class strengths in agricultural and food technology to advance economic growth through innovation in the area of plant-based proteins and co-products.

The growing world demand for plant-based protein and derived ingredients presents a unique opportunity for western Canada. Canada has a long history of pioneering achievements in crop development. The Canadian canola seed industry has developed a deep, local capability in plant breeding and trait development. 

The key to the success and growth of any cluster is innovation, the commercialization of novel ideas to generate new and valuable technologies, products and intellectual property. Research and development activities are a fundamental measure of innovation capacity. It is only by building the ecosystem that a cluster can be sustained, where small companies grow, with new ones forming behind them.

As a member of the interim board, I am proud to highlight that PIC has identified 4 strategic pillars to further develop the Canadian agri-food ecosystem to address the demand for plant proteins and novel plant-based food and feed ingredients. Technology created throughout each innovation pillar will be directly used by the industry as well as by partners. This will ensure that the workforce obtains the foundational and technical skills to contribute to the evolving agriculture and food production industries. These pillars include:

  1. Creation of High-Quality Protein Germplasm: Development of a sustainable plant protein economy begins with the seed. . Utilizing modern plant breeding technologies to optimize seed protein for value-added end-use is critical.
  2. Sustainable Production: Improve productivity by supporting farm production data collection, analysis and producer decision making and knowledge management. The use of smart production technologies can lead to increases in protein quantity Unleashing the Potential of Canadian Crops 7 8 Unleashing the Potential of Canadian Crops and quality per unit of land while simultaneously reducing the ecological footprint, and enhanced biodiversity.
  3. Novel Process Technology and Product Development: Many plant proteins have limitations for use in food products. Projects within this pillar will result in novel, scalable, economically viable technologies for extracting, fractionating, purifying and formulating plant-based proteins into food products
  4. Company Support, Marketing and Commercialization: Provide the services and investment required by companies as they grow and advance to introduce products into the marketplace. 

The $13 billion global plant-protein market is expected to grow by as much as 98% by 2050. This kind of leadership in Canada and with the Indian government’s commitment to new research is the path to sustaining that growth.

Emerging Consumer products

With innovation at our fingertips, we are starting to see new high-quality plant-protein consumer products reach the market. The food innovation sector was also highly influenced by the 2016 International Year of Pulses campaign: there was a 10% increase in global product launches containing pulses and pulse ingredients. Based on a report by Mintel, 4,121 new pulse products were released globally in 2016. Plant-based protein is in fashion, and new delicious snacks are on the table:

  • The Good Bean: a snack food company founded in 2010, and based in California, USA. The Good Bean specializes in chickpea based snacks.
  • Beyond Meat: Offers a plant protein that looks, feels, tastes, and acts like meat. Beyond Meat was produced in collaboration with the University of Missouri, The University of Maryland, and Savage River Farms. 
  • Wink: An ice cream dessert made with Pea Protein and sweetened with Stevia and Monk Fruit. 
  • HungryRoot: Uses plant-based ingredients to make healthy, easy-to-prepare, and guilt-free versions of craveable foods, such as cookie dough, fried rice and more.
  • Banza: Creates high-protein pasta made from chickpeas.

The Potential for Pulse Nutrition

New research is demonstrating further the nutritional benefits of pulses. The Legume Innovation Lab at Michigan State University sponsored a clinical study in Malawi conducted by Drs. Mark Manary, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, and Ken Maleta, University of Malawi School of Medicine, involving the complementary feeding of pulse (cowpea and bean) flours to young children. The most noteworthy findings from this study were that:

  • Cowpea flour supplements fed to infants between 6 and 12 months resulted in increased linear growth.
  • Common bean flour supplements fed to young children during their second year improved gut health, as evidenced by reduced biomarkers for gut inflammation.

These important findings further add the impact of pulses on child growth and gut health. Those complement some of the other nutritional and health benefits known to pulses: 

  • They are one of the most important sources of plant-based protein for people around the globe. 
  • They can have a positive impact on the management of non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Pulses are a nutrient powerhouse packed with protein, nutrients and amino acid that benefit both the health of the consumer and the health of the planet. There is tremendous opportunity for producers and food processors to further explore research on the impact of pulses on sustainable production and develop new food products. The time is now to make the future of food our reality!

 

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