2016 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Pulses (IYP), aimed to raise awareness regarding the nutritional, social and environmental benefits of the so-called ‘grain legumes’. Pulses include twelve crops including dry beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas - all which are high in micronutrients, vitamins, fibre, and protein.
Under the slogan ‘Nutritious seeds for a sustainable future’, pulse crops have been declared as one of the most sustainable crops farmers can grow (FAO, 2016). It actually takes 19 litres of water to produce a gram of protein in comparison with the 112 litres required for the same amount of beef protein (DW, 2016). The cattle industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the transport industry itself and a kilogram of beef generates a staggering 27 kilograms of CO2 (DW, 2016).
According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health” (FAO, 2016). Because of their water efficiency, pulses allow plants to enrich and fix the nitrogen in the soil they grow in, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers as well as the huge environmental footprint associated with the food production process.
Indeed, there is massive opportunity to improve the productivity gap between pulse groups in both the developing and developed world. However, there needs to be a focus on improving productivity, varieties offered and implementation of better management techniques.
Pulses are integral food crops in ensuring the food security of a large proportion of populations especially in Africa, Asia and Latin American, where they have long been a part of the traditional diets and grown by most small farmers. Imagine that one serving of chickpeas contains 1.5 times as much iron as a 3 ounce serving of steak and there a fraction of the cost of other sources of proteins (FAO, 2016)!
It’s not only the responsibility of NGOs and global organisations to contribute to the IYP. Here are a few ways we as individuals can play our part in accelerating the movement:
1- To support the Paris Agreement in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can do our bit by simply changing our diet. Pulses are greener sources of protein so it’s definitely time to eat more of them. Try to challenge yourself and eat pulses at least twice a week for three months.
2-Do you have a good recipe which uses one or more pulses? Contribute to a growing global pulses recipe collection by emailing [email protected].
3-Substitute your usual animal protein with pulses and cook with a new variety that you haven’t before. Out of ideas? For great pulse recipes visit: http://pulses.org/recipes
4-Plant pulse seeds in your garden or with a local community school group. Help in spreading the awareness and educating our youth about how pulses can combat chronic health conditions including diabetes and obesity.
5-Engage with your local grocery store about the IYP and ask about their selection of pulses.
6-Educate yourself and your family about the nutritional benefits pulses: http://www.fao.org/resources/infographics/infographics-details/en/c/412361/
7-Share the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) video emphasissing the opportunity for pulses to aid in creating a food secure future: http://www.fao.org/news/audio-video/detail-video/en/?uid=11740