Getting Oat Innovation on the Agenda

Oats – they are a grain that evokes comfort, home, and a hearty healthiness. Whether oatmeal cookies, oatmeal, or an amazing addition to savoury dishes, there is something about oats that evokes fond memories for me. Plus it is a reminder of Canada’s productive farming capacity. Canada produces the most oats and is responsible for half the world’s exports of oats.

I’ve just wrapped up a visit to Ottawa with the Prairie Oat Growers Association, where visits to all three political parties provided an opportunity to share the story of oats. Over the past two decades, oat farming has become increasingly productive. Canadian oats have high levels of beta-glucan that make them heart-healthy and excellent quality in terms of weight and colour. These competitive advantages cannot be taken for granted.

Oat milling in Canada has declined in favour of American processing. With that has come the need to export, so when grain transportation arose two years ago and oats were not able to move, the impact was grave. Millers couldn’t get what they needed without exports from other countries as far away as Sweden. American millers have encouraged a return to American production resulting in market losses to Canadians.


This situation reminds us all of some fundamental needs. It is essential to ensure the reliability of oat exports – already the industry has implemented 100 car unit trains, increased trucking, and railway fleet options. The ongoing regulatory environment must monitor and sustain solutions in all corridors. Movement South to the US and Mexico needs just as much attention as movement to port position.

There is also a need to support domestic consumption and processing. After years of reductions, it is time to think about our domestic capacity for processing and the ways to excite Canadians production of oats.


This requires innovation. Part of that innovation is to help consumers think of oats as more than just a breakfast food. Oats make a great addition to all meals and are a wonderful snack food. Use of oats as an ingredient needs more exploration, including traits like beta-glucan to make other foods more heart-healthy.

Oats also need new markets – domestic and foreign – plus better ways to serve the American processors like Cheerios and Quaker Oats that have been such great supporters of Canadian oats. They need high beta-glucan levels, strong evidence on the natural sustainability claims of a low-water use crop like oats.

Innovation is the pathway to lift the Canadian oat market and we hope more leaders are seeing the role for this vital crop.

A Decade for Nutrition: What is the global starting point?

On April 1st, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025. This document aims to support the battle against hunger and all forms of malnutrition in the Agenda 2030. This time the goals intend to leave no one behind, unlike their predecessors Millennium Development Goals that aimed to halve the percentage of people living with hunger. A target which was met.

According to the WHO, nearly 800 million people remain chronically undernourished and 159 million children under 5 years of age are stunted. Approximately 50 million children under 5 years are wasted, over two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. If you would like to understand the different types of undernutrition read more here. Furthermore, 1.9 billion people are affected by overweight, and over 600 million are obese. This, unfortunately, is increasing.

Also on April 1st, the British medical journal The Lancet published the results of the latest global nutrition panorama. Over the past 40 years, according to the study, the rate of obesity has increased 2.6-fold, from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Nearly 13 per cent of the global population is now obese, compared to 9 per cent who are underweight, the study found.

The study suggests that if post-2000 trends continue, the probability of meeting global obesity targets is virtually zero. Rather, if these trends continue, by 2025, global obesity prevalence will reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women. Unfortunately it was not an April fool’s joke. Is time to start taking obesity and overweight, and most importantly health, seriously.

World Health Day: Beat Diabetes!

Every year, the World Health Organization selects a priority area of global public health concern as the theme for World Health Day, which falls on 7 April, the birthday of the Organization. This year’s theme is diabetes, a noncommunicable disease (NCD) directly impacting millions of people of worldwide, generally in low- and middle-income countries.

Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose which may over time lead to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. According to the World Health Organization, in 2014 the global prevalence of diabetes was estimated to be 9% among adults over the age of 18. In 2012, it was estimated that 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and more than 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

The prevalence of diabetes has been steadily increasing in the past few decades, in particular in low- and middle-income countries. Knowledge exists to reverse this trend through targeted prevention and appropriate care. A key to preventing type 2 diabetes is a healthy diet and this is where pulses can play an integral role. However, they are often overlooked in our diets. As nutrient-dense foods, pulses offer a wide range of health benefits. These benefits include:

  • High in dietary fibre, with approximately 15 grams of dietary fibre per cup and a low Glycemic Index (GI), meaning that our bodies convert them to blood sugar more slowly and evenly;

  • A low-fat high protein source, comprised of 23% protein and only 1% fat with only about 250 calories per cup;

  • Packed with essential micronutrients, such as iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins including folate, thiamin and niacin.

  • Pulses complement cereals to provide together full daily protein requirements.

With the developing world bearing the brunt of the impact of diabetes, pulses are an affordable and accessible source of nutrient dense food which can help manage diabetes. On April 1st, 2016 we will be launching the World’s Greatest Pulses dishes in conjunction with our new and improved site. We encourage you to find a recipe you love and cook it on April 7th to help combat diabetes! Share this on social media with the #pulserecipes and #diabetes.

For more information on the International Year of Pulses, visit

SEED Awards

Small enterprises support food production and agriculture around the world, so it is a great opportunity to apply for SEED awards this year that recognise entrepreneurship in developing countries with a strong interest in sustainable development. SEED highlights the deadline for applications below:

Start-up enterprises that solve pressing local issues by integrating social and environmental benefits into their business models can apply for the 2016 SEED Awards, whose closure is nearing – interested applicants have only one week left!

This year SEED will make available up to:

  • 15 SAG-SEED Awards to enterprises in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda supported by the SWITCH-Africa Green (SAG) project, which is implemented by UNEP with the assistance of the European Union;

  • 4 SEED Africa Awards to enterprises in Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia supported by the Government of Flanders;

  • 1 SEED Gender Equality Award to enterprises in Kenya that are run or owned by women and prioritise women‘s empowerment.

Candidates can apply until 21 March 2016, 23:59 CET.

Selected by an independent jury of international experts, winners will receive their awards at the International Awards Ceremony during the SEED Africa Symposium to be held on 28 29 September 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Winning enterprises will receive a tailor-made business support package. Over a period of 6 months, they will be offered expert advice on further developing their business plans, individual workshops targeted at their needs, high level profiling of their enterprises and access to an international network of businesses, governments and development institutions.

Seeing Agriculture as a Whole

Agricultural priorities have long included productivity and leading minds are focusing on the ways it can contribute to furthering human health, supporting ecosystems, and addressing climate change. The Farming First team have put together a great interview with Dr. Monkombu Swaminathan who, together with Dr. Norman Borlaug, helped found the spearhead the Green Revolution. His observations explain that agricultural research can never stand still. The first Green Revolution helped feed billions, and the continued progress of this research needs to include additional dimensions to continuously improve agriculture.

Farming First met Dr. Swaminathan at the Borlaug Dialogue in Iowa and asked him how research priorities have changed in the 29 years since he won the Prize.

“When Dr. Borlaug and I started our work, we had a single goal: productivity improvement,” he comments. Yet Dr. Swaminathan explained that agriculture nowadays not just about producing food – it is also a stabilizer of ecological services. It is also very important now to address the role agriculture can play in producing more nutritious food. “If I were to start my work today I would concentrate on the nutritive properties and (combatting) hidden hunger”, he commented.

Watch more interviews on Farming First’s YouTube channel.

Pulses Set Racing at Victoria Falls

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post

20160301_144129_resized_2Normally, Livingstone is home to 150,000 Zambians and international tourists seeking out the unique beauty of the Victoria Falls.

This week, Livingstone has also been host to the Pan African Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference, the first conference dedicated to boosting pulse productivity, nutrition and processing in Africa. It could be a potential milestone in the fight against global hunger.

The four hundred academics, NGOs and scientists are here to do something really important: turn around the lack of investment in agricultural research and development, which is handicapping the ability of poor, small holder African farmers to fight climate change, boost productivity and feed their families.

It's not that money isn't invested into agricultural productivity. It is. But many crops don't' attract their 'fair share' of investment. For example, pulses. The shame is these crops, often known as 'orphan crops' because they get ignored by funders, are potentially vital in the fight to deliver the UN's Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) because of their nutrition-density, affordability and positive impact on soil, which is why the UN FAO has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

This lack of investment was underlined prior to the Pan African Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference, when a new global survey, showed agricultural researchers are concerned the current level of research funding into pulses is so low it may be handicapping efforts to improve food security and agricultural sustainability.

Called the 'Global Pulse Productivity & Sustainability Survey', the survey suggests annual investment in pulses hovers at $175m, whereas billions are invested into other crops such as corn.

There are some major contributors to global funding for pulse crop productivity and sustainability research such as CGIAR, USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Most countries in North America and Europe maintain an international funding agency. Others have national funding programs. But is it enough?

"No. Bottom line: we need a 10-fold increase in pulse research funding," according to Huseyin Arslan, President of the Global Pulse Confederation, which commissioned the survey. "With over 800 million people suffering from acute or chronic undernourishment, increasing pulse research is vital. We can only meet the world's protein needs with better varieties of chickpeas, peas, beans, and lentils."

Which brings us back to Livingstone.

#Legumes4Africa is the theme for the Pan African Grain Legume and Cowpea Conference. It's focused on grain legumes because of their potential to play a significant role in delivering against the UN's new SDGs - especially Zero Hunger, Good Health & Wellbeing and Life on land. Or, as Given Lubinda, Zambian Minister of Agriculture, so eloquently put it: 'The quality of life of a rapidly growing world population will be dependent on pulses.'

"Investments in pulses research have the potential for significant agricultural impact. The high nutritional value and climate resilience traits of pulses are well established to fight the global challenge of hidden hunger, poverty and environmental degradation, especially for the vulnerable populations of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia," says Shoba Sivasankar, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

India the largest consumer and a major producer of pulses has recently introduced subsidies for pulse production in a move which some see as a pointer for other Governments. Director General of ICARDA Dr. Mahmoud Solh, a leader in international agricultural research said: "India should be commended for being the first country giving subsidies now to pulses also which is expected to change the picture".

The Indian Government and others have also recently teamed up to launch a Global Pulse Research platform. "The platform will not only invest in the necessary research for new pulses technologies but also build the capacity of local scientists, extension workers and farmers, " according to Dr. Solh who calls pulses "climate smart crops" because they contribute positively to soil health. "The establishment of the Global Pulses Research Platform is a step in the right direction," Dr. Solh concluded.

The Global Pulse Productivity & Sustainability Survey and #Legumes4Africa both highlight a broad consensus among experts about the need and focus for research in a key 'orphan crop'.

"With investment in crop improvement and agronomy research, pulses can be made resilient to climate change as well as diversify income sources for farmers. Focused research efforts creating expanded value-added marketplace for pulses will generate new market opportunities for farmers to make farmers prosperous as well as modernize our food system to become more sustainable, equitable and nutritious," says David Bergvinson, Director General, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

This consensus is a 'Big Step' forward. But much still needs to be done.
'Pulse production is about half what it could be and storage problems still remain,' according to Ylva Hilbur, from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture.

''Smallholder farm yields are about 2-3 times lower than they are on research stations so we need to focus on sustainable intensification of cropping systems,' says Jeffrey Ehlers of the Gates Foundation, whose single biggest investment in pulses is the Tropical Legumes III project. His point is backed by many other experts.

By bringing together so many key people for the first time, #Legumes4Africa has already achieved much. It could become a significant milestone on a journey to place pulses at the top of the political agenda for food security and nutrition.

If Given Lubinda is right, we need it to be.

FANRPAN Voted Top Think Tank

Agriculture is always in need of great minds, and it is the consensus of everyone that the FANRPAN team, including CEO Lindiwe Sibanda, are some of the most innovative thinkers in the world.  Developing new ideas and building social innovations to advance agriculture and nutrition has made them leaders in Africa – and the world - as a recent index said.

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has been ranked 13 out of 92 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 55 out of 175 globally in the 2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (TTI), led by the University of Pennsylvania through its Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP).

In the Best Transdisciplinary Research Think Tanks category, FANRPAN was rated 15 out of 80, thanks to the recently launched flagship programme called — Agriculture to Nutrition (ATONU): Improving Nutrition Outcomes Through Optimized Agricultural Investments. The programme is a regional initiative and answers the question “What can agriculture programs do to achieve positive nutrition outcomes?” FANRPAN has assembled a leading global consortium of African and international organizations to design, pilot, rigorously evaluate and promote a range of nutrition sensitive agriculture interventions that will improve the nutrition outcomes of agricultural programs.

BioEnterprise in BC

There is great news from BioEnterprise that they are launching their office in BC. It is an honour to sit on the board and to help foster agricultural innovation and entrepreneurship.

Bioenterprise has established a strategic partnership with the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), and joins the BC Acceleration Network (BCAN) to support the commercialization of agricultural technologies and innovations in BC.

Bioenterprise BC, along with the other accelerators in BCAN, will help entrepreneurs grow their business ventures.

"British Columbia is the home to many great entrepreneurs within the agriculture, agri- food sectors and has created innovation leaders in agri-technology, with companies like BW Global, Terramera, and Tabletree," explains Dave Smardon, President & CEO of Bioenterprise Corporation. "With such an innovative culture in BC, it is only fitting that Bioenterprise establish a BC office to work in partnership with the BC Accelerator Network and to help foster these companies to become commercialization successes."

Learn more here.

The LovePulses Product Showcase is Underway!

The Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) and its partners are hosting this year the LovePulses Product Showcase. This global competition aims to encourage the development of innovative food products containing pulses as core ingredients. So far Ethiopia, India and Canada have named their great champion that will represent their countries at the Global Showcase at IFT in Chicago July 16-19, 2016 with the winners of the national and virtual competitions.

The participants to this global competition showed a large range of innovative approaches to put Pulses in the spotlight. The winner of Ethiopia’s competition, Mrs. Greiling, showcased six new nutritious and delicious pulse-based products as ‘special menu’ of the day, starting with breakfast, lunch, snack, right up to dinner. Different types of pulses were used, among them faba bean, field pea, chickpea, mung bean, and cowpea.

Canada just finished their Mission ImPULSEible competition at The Canadian Institute of Food Science & Technology (CIFST) on February 22 in Vancouver during CIFST’s annual conference under the theme: Pulse Innovation in Traditional Food Products. Six teams from each province competed in Vancouver with Canadian celebrity chef Vikram Vij who served as one of the judges for the Mission : ImPULSEible National Championship.

IMG_0416The theme of the Indian competition was to create a snack food or convenience food product (ready to eat, ready to heat) made with pulses that focus on technology, innovation or recipe development. The competition was launched on October 1st, 2015. 2 teams from each of the North, South, East, West and Central zones travelled to Jaipur for the national competition and 34 submissions were received! The national winners competed and were selected at the Pulses Conclave in Jaipur on February 18th. The winning team, students from the Institute of Hotel Management in Bangalore used adzuki beans, red split lentils, black gram and other ingredients to create “Adzuki Coins”, a wonderful new snack.

In March, China and the US will hold their National competition, followed by Australia and Japan. All of them will encourage the creation and innovation of food products to help present pulses to the world and build awareness around the IYP2016.

Pulse Partnerships in India

DSC_2877 (003)The Pulses Conclave held in Jaipur February 17- 19 was one of 11 signature events in 2016 to mark the United Nations International Year of Pulses.  I had the honour of speaking during the opening session, and highlighted the many activities taking place across the Global Pulse Confederation to celebrate the International Year.  In just one day on January 6th, #PulseFeast was able to reach 21 million people on the importance of pulses through social media and 141 events in 36 countries.  It was a great launch and there are now hundreds of recipes and resources available at  All the delegates were encouraged to celebrate more #PulseFeast opportunities in April using some of the national dishes featured on the site and to include their tweets, pictures and stories with IYP.

The Conclave highlighted that pulse trade has been of increased importance to India as two years of poor harvests have reduced domestic production. India produced 17 million tonnes of pulses in past 2 years - a drop of 2 million tonnes from normal, due to poor harvests. The challenges in pulse production have been an ongoing issue as pulse crops have received less support and engagement.  To increase pulse production, pulses will need 10 times more research funding, said Huseyin Arslan, Chairman of GPC. India plans to move from 18.25 million tonnes of pulse production to 21 million tonnes in 2017-18 and 24 million tonnes in 2020-21, said Dr. J.S. Sandhu of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.  The government’s goal is to achieve nutritional security, not just food security.

According to Dr. D. Bergvinson, head of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) other changes also need to be made to reach this goal. He stated that there is a “strong need to bring rice-fallow land into pulses production, add 4 million acres to Indian production.” He also noted pulse storage needs to be closer to farmers and pulse processing should be improved to reduce losses. Taking up these calls to action, the Indian Pulse and Grain Association signed an agreement with ICRISAT to further pulse productivity in India.

The laudable plans to increase production will still require significant trade in the foreseeable future. At this time, it is important to keep the trade rules predictable.  Trade has not been able to keep pace with the production drops according to Mr. G. Chandrashekhar of the Hindi Business Line.  In this context, having over 1000 participants at the Pulses Conclave was a strong statement about the importance of the trade and its commitment to furthering the pulse sector.

This Conclave also brought many positive partnerships, such as when the Mynamar Overseas Trade Association and IPGA signed an understanding to work jointly to promote trade between the two countries. The IPGA also agreed to work with ITC to promote small business in developing countries and had a strong delegation of small businesses from Africa interested in meeting Indian supply needs.

IMG_0416The week capped off with the exciting #LovePulses Product Showcase.  A team of students from the Institute of Hotel Management in Bangalore won an Indian-wide food competition for developing innovative dishes using pulses.  Alok Prasad, Aseem Kumar, Harsh Bansal, and Saurabh Agarwal used adzuki beans, red split lentils, black gram and other ingredients to create “Adzuki Coins” - a wonderful new snack.  “The depth of the innovation and creativity was striking,” said Pravin Dongre, Chairman of the IPGA.  “It was an honour to recognise the team from Bangalore among the 36 entries initially received. This is one step on the nutrition side of food security and IPGA will also be working to increase productivity in pulses in India – a vital issue to national and international food security.”  It was an honour to be there.