SEATTLE, Washington — Three years ago, the United Nations declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses (IYP) with the intent of promoting pulses as a viable and sustainable food source for all nations. As the year is wrapping up, it is clear that the IYP has succeeded in drawing widespread attention and securing new research on the subject.
Pulses are a subset of legumes that have pods yielding multiple nutritious seeds. These seeds are said to be an excellent source of protein, amino acids, fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They also contain limited fat, sugar and cholesterol. With so many nutrients, the U.N. expects that pulses can be used to combat diseases like diabetes, obesity, coronary conditions and even cancer. Examples of pulses include beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas; they do not include vegetables or seeds that can be used for oil extraction.
Given the immense dietary value of pulses, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sponsored the IYP, maintaining that the crop will be a promising component for the future of food security.
Throughout the year, the FAO has worked with national governments to boost production and shift research opportunities toward further pulse development. It has made a publicly-accessible database of pulse information, and published a variety of recipes showcasing pulses in popular world cuisines as well as introducing new flavorful dishes.
Pulses also have exceptional agricultural and environmental benefits. They are relatively easy to grow, requiring almost no soil maintenance. Moreover, according to the FAO, pulses can bring up nitrogen concentrations in the soil, improving fertility and encouraging sustainable crop rotation methods. The FAO believes that these advantages can help reduce the need for fertilizers, improve disease management, preserve biodiversity, slow land degradation and, all in all, combat climate change.
For farmers in developing nations, pulses will likely be a new source of revenue at higher profit margins. Even their animals can be expected to perform better if fed nutritious pulse-based diets. However, a major challenge will be making sure supply and demand shifts do not render pulses too expensive to be accessible to the poorest populations in the world.
In terms of specific events, pulses have also been showcased in countless ways throughout 2016. To name a few, Australian farmers were trained on reliable and profitable pulse production in February. World leaders hosted a pulse-improvement summit conference in Zambia in July. Argentina elected to highlight pulses on a November stamp collection. Lastly, food contests and exhibitions featuring pulse-based recipes have been held from Japan to Chile to Turkey.
The International Year of Pulses may be ending in a few weeks, but leaders attending the closing celebrations at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome are already devising a 10-year plan for the future of pulses in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. According to Reuters, malnutrition may affect half of the world’s population by 2035, and pulses could be an important crop to mitigate this crisis. For now, the next Global Pulse Day will be on January 18, 2017.
– Zachary Machuga