When it comes to eating sustainably, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and other pulses are hard to beat.
A staple of many traditional diets around the globe, high-protein, low-fat, high-fiber pulse grains have been shown to fight disease and malnutrition. In farming systems, pulses ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen, adding it to the soil. Many pulse varieties tolerate drought and break pest cycles that afflict cereal crops.
In recognition of the tremendous advantages to be gained by the world growing and eating more pulses, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP). With leadership from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and an array of activities organized through the Global Pulse Confederation, IYP is already increasing the visibility and appeal of pulses among consumers.
Pulses: fundamental to global food security and agricultural sustainability
Pulse crops are produced on approximately 80 million hectares globally. Two-thirds of all pulses are grown in Asia and Africa, where populations depend on them heavily for dietary protein. India, with over 22 million pulse farmers, accounts for about 25% of global production. Pulse producers range from smallholder farmers with weak market access to large commercial operations that are well-connected to global commodity markets. Average pulse crop yields vary significantly between developed and developing countries.
As a subset of the legume family, pulse plants add nitrogen to farm systems, which reduces the need for farmers to add fertilizers and lowers net greenhouse gas emissions. Adding pulses to cereal monocultures often gives a boost to soil microbes, inhibiting plant pathogens. Pulses have a low water footprint compared to most other protein sources and can increase overall water use efficiency in crop rotations.
Farmers can choose from many pulse varieties to match plant traits to growing conditions. But with increasingly volatile weather affecting agriculture, pulse yields are under threat and scientific advances will be needed. In addition to improving pulse productivity and resilience, researchers and producers will need to anticipate climate change effects at scales that are relevant for production decisions. They will also need to find ways to better integrate pulse crops into agricultural landscapes through optimized rotations, pest control strategies and improved seed supply.
A worldwide campaign to highlight and support pulse production
Throughout this year, researchers, producers, companies, international agencies and other entities will tackle the knowledge frontiers for sustainable pulse crop production at meetings all over the world. Later this month in Livingstone, Zambia, the Pan-African Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference will showcase best practices for production and harvesting, as well as innovative seed systems and inclusive value chains. Meanwhile, the conference will addressing barriers to sustainably improving production in the face of climate change and other challenges.
Hear directly from farmers on how growing pulses has benefited them in these 2-minute videos and follow @LovePulses on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up-to-date on information and activities.
How can YOU broaden the impact of pulses to human health, nutrition, and to the sustainability of agricultural systems? Here are 10 great things you can do and here are pulse recipes from around the world to try.