International Year of Pulses — It’s about beans, not beats!

Oats, peas, beans and barley grow – still, for 2016 it’s all about peas and beans……

In 2016, the International Year of Pulses (http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en/) the humble dried bean and pea are contrasted with oats and barley, touted as key elements in the challenge to address global poverty. Use of the term “pulses” presents a linguistic shift for some (like me) to redefine the word to cover all varieties of dried beans including “kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans, broad beans, chickpeas, cow peas, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas.” More important, we will learn to appreciate a the role of pulses in regional and national dishes with which we have become familiar – “from falafel to dahl to chili and baked beans.”

The 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is facilitating implementation of the Year in collaboration with national governments, NGO’s and others – it is worth noting that among the facilitators there is no mention of food-related corporations or of the media.

The intent of the UN initiative is to shed light on pulses as a ubiquitous and low-cost food that offers promise in the fight to feed a world ravaged by hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and the pervasive challenges of food distribution and access. Much of the UN focus is understandably on third world countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Thus it remains to this nation – and perhaps this state – to adopt a concerted effort to respect, learn, develop and deploy strategies that harness the power of pulses to combat the crisis of global hunger — and of hunger in our midst.

The FAO offers a definition of terms aimed at mere mortals:

Pulses are annual leguminous crops yielding between one and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, used for both food and feed.  The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely for dry grain, thereby excluding crops harvested green for food, which are classified as vegetable crops, as well as those crops used mainly for oil extraction and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes (based on the definition of “pulses and derived products” of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas are a critical part of the general food basket.  Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals.

In addition, and of particular interest to gardeners and environmentalists, pulses have special nitrogen-fixing properties that can contribute to increasing soil fertility and have a positive impact on the environment.

Speaking about the nutritional value of pulses, the FAO chief said that dried beans and peas (broadly defined) have double the proteins found in wheat and triple the amount found in rice. They are also rich in micronutrients, amino acids and b-vitamins. Because they can yield two to three times higher prices than cereals and their processing provides additional economic opportunities, pulses offer a viable food source with the capacity to lift farmers, especially women farmers, out of rural poverty.

Bottom line, the focus on the simple food source confers overdue recognition and respect on pulses as the indispensable, under-valued nutritional basics that have sustained generations from the beginning of time.

According to optimistic – or, one might hope, prescient – planners at the UN, “the Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.”

Though it remains to be seen how that will play out, in particular because of the unfamiliar use of the term, it’s an intriguing learning opportunity for all of us.

In a state replete with agricultural research institutions, an ag-based economy, a plethora of FFA’s, ardent environmentalists, committed gardeners, scholars probing the history of agriculture, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, combined with a commitment to global and local hunger, we should be able to mount an aggressive Year of Pulses initiative, a chance to wrap our heads around a challenge in our midst and in our world

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One response to “International Year of Pulses — It’s about beans, not beats!

  1. Suzanne Mahmoodi

    And how many do you eat? >

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