What are pulses? And why did the global community dedicate a whole year to them?
Pulses are commonly confused with legumes — and for good reason. Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Common pulses include dried peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Pulses have been cultivated for hundreds of years and will play a fundamental role in nourishing a growing population sustainably in the centuries ahead. Here are three reasons why they are so central to global food security that the UN made 2016 the International Year for Pulses.
Pulses are a powerful superfood
Pulses are highly nutritious and provide important health benefits. They are a low-fat, high-fibre protein source that is rich in minerals such as iron and zinc, as well as vitamins and other nutrients. Low on the glycemic index, they are also recommended for preventing obesity and chronic diseases, and were the focus of much discussion during World Health Day last week, with its theme of beating diabetes.
Pulses are a good choice for farmers
Pulses have many benefits for the farmers who choose to grow them. They can be stored for months without losing their high nutritional value, giving farmers more control over how much they choose to sell and when, and better overall food security between harvests. Some pulses, such as pigeon peas and Bambara beans, can be grown in even very poor soil with little water. Farmers can also harvest the residue from their pulse crops for livestock feed.
Pulses are good for the planet
Pulses are highly water efficient, which is especially important in many of Africa’s growing regions. They are also climate-smart. Their production has a low footprint where greenhouse gases are concerned and they have a broad genetic diversity from which climate-resilient varieties can be selected. The nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses can improve soil fertility and extend the productivity of farmland. Intercropping with pulses also increases farm biodiversity and creates a more diverse landscape for animals and insects.
The International Year of Pulses
In 2016, organizations and individuals around the world are working extra hard to:
1. Promote the value and utilization of pulses throughout the food system;
2. Raise awareness about the benefits of pulses, including sustainable agriculture and nutrition;
3. Encourage connections to further global production;
4. Foster enhanced research;
5. Advocate for better utilization of pulses in crop rotations; and
6. Address the challenges in the trade of pulses.
Doing our part
At Farm Radio International, we’re doing our part to promote pulses — this year and in the years ahead. Click on the links below to learn how we’re using radio and supporting technologies to help small-scale African farmers successfully grow, cultivate, and sell pulses.