An employee fills a plastic bag with black-eyed beans at a market in Hyderabad, India. Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In an effort to raise the global profile of pulses — nutritious dried seeds of certain leguminous plants — the 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP 2016). In multicultural Canada, their culinary forms are myriad and appetizing with the likes of chili, hummus, tofu and dal found in restaurants across the country. In developing nations, beans, peas and lentils play a more vital role: they are part of the solution to malnutrition and food insecurity.

A worldwide opportunity

The UN considers IYP 2016 to be “the single largest opportunity to increase awareness of pulses many of us will ever see.” In many countries, the public has little knowledge of pulses, their attributes or their ability to address many of the world’s food-related challenges. The initiative aims not only to expand awareness but also to increase the demand, usage and production of pulses worldwide. In collaboration with governments and other organizations, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is spearheading the campaign.

Reducing hunger

Pulses have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries as an affordable, delicious and healthy alternative to animal-based products. They are high in fibre and vitamins, provide amino acids and are also packed with protein — double the amount found in wheat and three times that in rice. This makes them ideal for improving diets in impoverished parts of the world. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health.”

Sustainable soil fertility

As crops, pulses provide farmers with a means of unmatched sustainability. According to the Global Pulse Confederation, it takes just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses, compared to 216 for soybeans and 368 for peanuts. The United Church of Canada is also supporting its partner, the National Council of Churches in Kenya, to help small-scale farmers increase crop yields by adopting more ecologically friendly farming practices. For example, pulses are planted as part of crop rotations. Their nitrogen-fixing properties can then improve soil fertility and, by eliminating the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

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