Global Agriculture

Pulses are key to food security, healthy diets and sustainable agri-food systems, says FAO

12 February 2021, Rome: The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) QU Dongyu today highlighted pulses’ crucial role in achieving food security, healthy diets and sustainable agri-food systems.

Speaking at the opening of FAO’s virtual event to mark World Pulses Day, Qu highlighted pulses’ incredible potential for making FAO’s aspirations of Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and a Better Life a reality, and, thus, contributing towards transforming agri-food systems – making them more inclusive, resilient and sustainable.  

“World Pulses Day is a valuable opportunity to pay tribute to this diverse and versatile commodity,” said the FAO Director-General.

Pulses are the edible seeds of legume plants, such as lentils, chickpeas and Bambara beans.

Qu highlighted that pulses required less water than other protein sources, and could be planted on small plots of land; were an affordable source of safe and nutritious food, high in protein, fibre, vitamins and micronutrients; and could fix atmospheric nitrogen, release high-quality organic matter in the soil and facilitate soil nutrients’ circulation and water retention.

“Less fertilizers, a smaller water footprint and reduced use of energy, means lower greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The Director-General also pointed out that pulses had a higher cost-benefit ratio than other staples, which helped diversify and improve the income of rural people, often women and youth, and located in vulnerable regions.

“Pulses have a long shelf life. Shifting consumption patterns to more pulses could, therefore, contribute to reducing food waste,” he said, noting that this characteristic has proved useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people without access to fresh food could still consume pulses.

Qu also reiterated FAO’s commitment to supporting its Members to increase the production and consumption of pulses, noting the importance of consumption as the true engine of transformation.

In support of pulses

Pope Francis – in a message delivered by the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO, Monseigneur Fernando Chica Arellano – said that pulses were a noble food, with a huge potential to bolster food security globally. Pulses are a simple and nutritious food that overcome geographical barriers and go beyond social classes and cultures, he noted.

Pope Francis also deplored the fact that many people, including children, didn’t have healthy or sufficient food, and stressed that the consumption of healthy diets should be a universal right, with states having to play a key role in making this a reality.

Argentina’s Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Luis Eugenio Basterra, extolled the many virtues of pulses, including their being an excellent crop in dry environments where food production was difficult due to the scarcity of water, and especially for vulnerable populations with little or no access to technology, for whom access to food represented a true challenge.

China is the world’s fourth largest producer of pulses. China’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Renjian Tang – in his message delivered by NIU Dun, China’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to FAO – put forward solutions to promoting the sustainable development of the world’s pulses industry by: bolstering efforts to increase pulses’ consumption; increasing the supply of pulses through production expansion, scientific and technological innovation; and establishing a global common market for pulses.

Narendra Singh Tomar, India’s Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, said that pulses were especially important in a country such as India where the population was mostly vegetarian and considered pulses a major food item. He noted that his country had achieved near self-sufficiency in pulses production, and was the world’s largest producer and consumer of pulses, producing nearly a quarter of the world’s pulses.

France is the largest producer of pulses in the European Union. France’s Minister for Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, said that protein crops, especially pulses, were the crops of the future. He noted that France’s objective was to increase areas planted with pulses by 40 percent over the next three years, and to boost the consumption of pulses, including through the school meals programme.

Burkina Faso played a leading role in the designation of World Pulses Day. The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso to FAO, Joséphine Ouedraogo, highlighted the key role of women in the production, processing and distribution of pulses in local markets. The Ambassador and Permanent Representative ofArgentina to FAO, Carlos Bernardo Cherniak, agreed, noting that pulse production initiatives contributed to the empowerment of rural and indigenous women.

The President of Cuatro Pinos – a cooperative of indigenous women in Guatemala – Sandra Xiquin emphasized that pulses such as beans were important to the people of her country; however, the tradition of cooking and consuming pulses was no longer as strong as it used to be and it was important for this tradition to be restored. 

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The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Special Envoy, Agnes Kalibata, said that pulses provided a potential answer to several questions regarding how to “recover better” after COVID-19. Kalibata also encouraged everyone at the event to get their ideas on the table, including elevating the role of pulses in food systems, and to participate in the food systems dialogues.

The President of the Global Pulse Confederation 2021, Cindy Brown, noted that, globally, there had been an increase of about nine percent in the consumption of pulses over this past year of the pandemic – more than double the increase in consumption that was estimated to result from the successful 2016 International Year of Pulses.  

The World Trade Organization Counsellor, Diwakar Dixit, pointed out that the global production of pulses had grown by over 50 percent in the last 20 years, with developing countries playing an important role. Global pulses trade has grown two times faster than growth in production with some of the poorest countries on the planet being amongst the top exporters of pulses, he said.

The FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol closed the event, reiterating pulses’ essential role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The event was moderated by Alex Jones, FAO’s Director of Resource Mobilization and Private Sector Partnerships Division.