Tag Archives: Food and Agriculture Organization

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

Pope Francis Speaks Out on the Right to Food Access

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to focus on the seminal issue of the human right to access to food, an issue so complex, political and gnarled that I’ve given up the quest to plumb the depths – until Pope Francis brought it up.   Truth to tell, the Pontiff didn’t conjure it up out of the rarified atmosphere of the Vatican – the challenge to unravel the issue has fostered countless efforts, stymied many and challenged human rights activists for a couple of centuries.

The Pope embraced the challenge of hunger last week in a very public declaration at the Second International Conference on Nutrition meeting in his adopted hometown. Representatives of some 170 nations were gathered in Rome under the aegis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, just one of numerous agencies struggling with the issue of the right to food on a global level.

One of the strongest political statements of the right to food appears in Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right to food as part of the right to an adequate standard of living:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Since that declaration the right to access to food has been the primary or sole focus of countless global and national studies, conferences, agreements, strategic plans, collaborative efforts and think tanks. The extensive Wikipedia entry on Right to Food offers a useful summary of the history of efforts to define and deal with the complexities of the challenge. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_food

Still, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that some 800 million people are hungry and 2 billion are affected by “micronutrient deficiencies” (e.g. not enough vitamins or minerals). Add in obesity, and some form of malnutrition affects half of the world population.

In this challenging environment the Pope faced the issue head-on: “Efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition are facing obstruction due to the priority of the markets, or preeminence of profits that have reduced food to a commodity subject to speculation, including financial speculation.”

Giving voice to what is common opinion among those for whom the right to access to food has been a priority for decades, Pope Francis spoke of sustainable food systems, improving food distribution and aggressive trade policies on food. The right to food, he averred, can be guaranteed only if we collaborate to focus priorities and policy on “helping the hungry.” “Interest in the production and availability of foodstuffs, climate change, and agricultural trade must certainly inspire rules and technical means, but the primary inspiration must the self-same person, those who do not have adequate access to food.”

Francis made explicit the distinction between availability and accessibility (a distinction long familiar to librarians and information providers….) Just because it’s out there somewhere doesn’t mean it’s accessible! Given that 1) food production is adequate, and 2) people have a right to food, the questions remain: Why is hunger a global, national, local crisis? Why is food available but not accessible?

On the topic of the misinformation, the Pope opined that, in the case of food access, “there are very few themes that are as susceptible to being manipulated by data, by statistics, by the requirements of national security, by corruption, or by the plaintive complaints of economic crisis.”

Clearly the Pope thinks and speaks in a global context. Still his words have local application. Most important, he sets a high standard for systemic thinking about a politically charged, complicated issue. Out of charity we tend to deal with the short-range reality that our neighbors are hungry, that children, the elderly, homebound, jobless and under-employed people need immediate assistance. Still, the challenge remains to tackle hunger with the vigor demanded by a complex issue rife with political, economic, technological and social perspectives that lend themselves to obfuscation, individual and institutional avarice.

In his much-heralded words to conference attendees Pope Francis echoes those of his host, Jacques Diof, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization:  “Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.”