Fact sheet: Pulses and biodiversity

FAO has developed a series of fact sheets covering the key messages of the International Year of Pulses. These documents provide an in-depth look at how pulses can help to improve health, nutrition, biodiversity, food security and climate change adaptation.

Biodiversity refers to the variability among all kinds of living organisms in multiple ecosystems. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Biodiversity is essential for food security and nutrition. Thousands of interconnected species make up a vital web of biodiversity within our ecosystems, providing essential services for global food production.

The genetic diversity of pulses

It is estimated that there are hundreds of varieties of pulses, including many local varieties that are not exported or grown worldwide. The genetic diversity of these crops is an essential component for on-farm soil and pest management, especially for small-scale farmers. Farmers can also choose from numerous varieties of pulses to select those that are more resilient to drought, floods or other effects of climate change.

Soil health and biodiversity

Good soil health is the foundation of food security and pulses help to increase soil microbial biomass and activity, thus improving soil biodiversity. An important attribute of pulses is their ability to biologically fix nitrogen. These plants, in symbiosis with certain types of bacteria, namely Rhizobium and Bradyrhizobium, are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds that can be used by plants, while also improving soil fertility.

On-farm biodiversity

Pulses are a crucial component of multiple cropping systems, namely intercropping, crop rotation and agroforestry. These cropping systems have a higher species diversity than monocrop systems. Increasing species diversity of cropping systems could translate into not only a more efficient use of resources, namely light, water and nutrients, but also into higher outputs as yields are increased, and a lower risk of overall crop failure.


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