Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Pulses: Innovations from the field to the cooking pot

To promote the important role of pulses, the International Year of Pulses (IYP2016) has carried out activities on a national, regional and global scale to help raise awareness on the benefits of pulses for food security, nutrition, soils and sustainable agriculture, and their contribution to climate change mitigation.

FAO has recently published a series of fact sheets providing an overview of the positive features of pulses from a global perspective, which can be accessed on the International Year of Pulses website (available at

Although many benefits of pulses have been identified in different fields of research related to agriculture, health, nutrition, and environmental sciences, their full potential still remains untapped among producers and consumers.

Participants in the earlier online discussion ( pointed out the decreasing consumption trends in some areas where pulses are part of traditional meals but carry a stigma of being a “poor person’s  food”, and are then replaced by meat once people can afford it. In this context, innovation in both preparation methods (including cooking time) and in recipes and the way pulses are presented can play a role in reversing this trend.

On the production side, the earlier online discussion brought up the following issues: competition with cereals, which have traditionally received the most policy attention; low yields; low market value; lack of knowledge on the part of farmers on how to improve productivity; and limited access to quality inputs. Further, it was highlighted that often the production of pulses in developing countries is done in marginal areas and by marginalized groups.

With the conclusion of IPY2016 approaching, and building on the earlier FSN Forum discussion, we would like to invite you to look ahead and explore innovations that may help address some of the challenges still facing these important crops.

  1. What can be done concretely to increase the consumption of pulses? How can we introduce them into the diets of countries where they aren’t traditionally consumed, and also encourage their continued consumption in those countries where pulses are already part of the diet?
  1. Cultivating pulses in multiple cropping systems enriches agrobiodiversity, increases resilience to climate change, and improves ecosystem services. Do modern varieties of legumes provide smallholder farmers with an attractive alternative to other crops? What are the roles that legumes can play in sustainable intensification of agriculture in Africa?
  1. What is needed to strengthen pulse value chains, from input supply to consumption? What is the situation in your country?
  1. Do you know any examples of countries mainstreaming pulses into national and regional food security policies? Do you think that a policy approach could be beneficial to increasing the role of this crop?

We also invite you to keep sharing your recipes of pulse dishes – we published a few in our summary – and to check out other recipes on the International Year of Pulses website.

The outcomes of this consultation are important for the legacy of the International Year of Pulses; they will help to gain a better understanding on how to move forward and identify possible next steps to take once IYP2016 is over.

We thank you very much for your time and look forward to your comments.

Sieg Snapp  and Karen Cichy

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

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Jorge Alatorre Cobos


English translation below

Las legumbres deben ser parte dispensables de las dietas en cualquier gastronomía, ya que son fuentes vegetales saludables porque aportan Fibras, Grasas, Hidratos de Carbono, Minerales, Proteínas, Vitaminas.

Algunas instituciones recomiendan que las legumbres deban consumirse de dos o tres veces por semana. Muchas veces no se tiene el hábito de consumirlas en guisos, pero se pueden ingerir en ensaladas, en guarniciones o como aderezos la salsa de soja o leche (Glycine max) – carne de soja, germinados, harinas, aceites, o dulces y bebidas como el tamarindo, cremas (crema de cacahuate). Es una de las maneras de radicar el hambre, de balancear la dieta que se ingiere, y buscar o mitigar los problemas de obesidad en muchos países con el sumo rápido de las dieta basura.

En muchos países, su dieta es particular ya que solo se basan en los alimentos muy regionales, ya que no pueden comprar o importar otras fuentes de alimentos, y la basan solo en la carne o en las grasas. Es importante ofrecer alternativas para mitigar la escasez de algún alimento. En este pequeño ensayo desde mi humilde aportación hablare sobre algunas leguminosas que son alternativas para muchos pueblos de México con algunos pinceles desde el enfoque etnobotánico,

La cultura mexicana es muy rica en la gastronomía, ya que ha sido privilegiada por la naturaleza ya que en el país azteca hábitat mas de 38 000 especies vegetales, y es el centro de origen de muchas especies cultivadas como el Maíz, Cacao, el chile, el tomate, etc. La familia de las legumbres que son las leguminosas o fabaceae, en México es muy abundante como la gran diversidad de especies de frijoles. Sus cultivos se han adaptados a diferentes climas, suelos, orografía, altitudes. Desde el mismo modo que la diversidad de las leguminosas es majestuosa, así es sus biotipos que se pueden presentar en árboles, arbustos, herbáceas, lianas o bejucos. O por su longevidad de vidas anuales, bianuales y perennes.

Las especies que tiene gran potencial comestible en México son:

  • Pachyrhizus erosus (jimama) es un tubérculo que consume fresco o para ensaladas, su semilla es empleada para uso de control biológico y herbicida natural;
  • Laeucaena leucocephala (el guaje) es un árbol que sus semillas son comestibles en fresco o para en salas o en el guacamole tradicional, es una especie forrajera para el ganado mayor y menos (piscicultura) – entomoforestería (apicultura), fijadora de nitrógeno, leña etc ;
  • Eritrina folkersii sus flores son apreciadas son usadas para el consumo humano;
  • Prosopis laevigata (mezquite) sus vainas son empleadas para el consumo humano y para el forraje del ganado (Entomoforestaría);
  • Pithecellobium dulce (el arilo de sus semillas se consume en fresco);
  • Dialium guisanse el fruto se consume en fresco, y para preparar bebidas en Tabasco – Chiapas;
  • Inga jinicuil - Inga vera su arilo de estas semillas se consume en fresco;
  • Lupinus sp ( sereporta como comestible revisar la especie);
  • Calliandra grandiflora (uso medicinal, y forrajera – fijadora de nitrógeno);
  • Enterolobium cyclocarpum (sus semillas son para consumo humano, en harinas o como sustituto del café);
  • Tamarindos indica especie naturalizada en México su arilo de la semilla es consumido en diferentes maneras para hacer dulces, bebidas etc;
  • Haematoxylum campechianum (para la obtención de tintes);
  • Acacia farnesiana- Ebanopsis ebano (producción de leña y carbón);
  • Mucuna pruriens (medicinal y fijadora de nitrógeno);
  • Gliricidía sepium (medicinal y leña, en África hay muchos ensayos con esta especie porque tiene gran potencial en la AGROFORESTERÍA.

Las especies mencionadas no solo tienen este uso o servicio medio ambiental, si no múltiples. Al introducir una especie exótica hay que tomar medidas de manejo como Acacia cornigera (Introducida en Asia India – Pakistán), ya que pueden repercutir efectos negativos para la flora oriunda de una región o país.

Pulses must be an essential part of any diet, as they are healthy vegetable sources providing fibres, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, proteins and vitamins

Some institutions recommend eating pulses two or three times per week. Many people do not use pulses for cooking, but they can be included in salads, garnishes or dressings, in the form of soy sauce/milk (Glycine max), soy meat, sprouts, flours, oils, sweets, drinks like tamarind, or creams like peanut butter. It is one a way of eradicating hunger, balancing our diets, and contributing to the mitigation of obesity problems in many countries affected by the fast consumption of junk food. 

In many countries that cannot buy or import certain food products, diets are special: they are based on specific regional products, sometimes only meat or fats. Offering alternatives to alleviate food shortage is important. In this modest contribution, I will list some legumes that are an alternative for many Mexicans and I will include some ethnobotanical references.

Mexican gastronomy is very rich, as it has been privileged by nature with more than 38 000 plant species, and is the original source of many cultivated species like maize, cocoa, chili, tomato, etc. There are many different legumes in Mexico, as well as a wide variety of beans. Their crops have been adapted to different climates, soils, orographic characteristics and altitudes. Just as the diversity of legumes is magnificent, their biotypes are also extremely varied and can be found in trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and lianas. They are also characterized by their longevity: they can last up to one or two years or even be perennial.

The following species found in Mexico have a great nutritional potential:

  • Pachyrhizus erosus (yam bean): A tuber which is eaten fresh or in salads. The seed is used for biological monitoring and as a natural herbicide;
  • Laeucaena leucocephala (guaje): The seeds of this tree can be eaten fresh, in salads or in the traditional guacamole. A forage species for livestock but also for fish culture and forest entomology (beekeeping). It fixes nitrogen and can be used as firewood; 
  • Erythrina folkersii: Its flowers are highly valued and used for human consumption; 
  • Prosopis laevigata (mesquite): Its pods are used for human consumption and livestock forage (forest entomology);
  • Pithecellobium dulce: The aril of its seeds is eaten fresh; 
  • Dialium guisanse: Its fruit is eaten fresh, and is used to prepare drinks in Tabasco and Chiapas;
  • Inga jinicuil and Inga vera: The aril of this seeds is eaten fresh; 
  • Lupinus spp (lupine): Edible; 
  • Calliandra grandiflora: Medicinal and forage use, nitrogen fixation; 
  • Enterolobium cyclocarpum: Its seeds are used for human consumption, in flours or as a substitute for coffee;
  • Tamarind: Naturalized in Mexico, the aril of this seed is used to prepare cakes and pastries, drinks, etc.;
  • Haematoxylum campechianum: Used to produce dyes;
  • Acacia farnesiana and Ebenopsis ebano: Used to produce firewood and cool;
  • Mucuna pruriens: Medicinal use and nitrogen fixation;
  • Gliricidia sepium: Medicinal use and firewood production. In Africa, many tests are being conducted with this species due to its great potential in AGROFORESTRY.

The above-mentioned species can be used in many other fields aside from the environmental. When introducing an exotic species, management measures must be adopted as it may adversely affect the specific flora of a region/country. This has been the case of the Acacia cornigera, introduced in Asia (India and Pakistan). 

Please find below two recipes using pulses.

Vegan Beany Brownies

Brownies, who does not know what they are? They are originally from the USA, however, this recipe is a variation from the usual brownie recipe to offer a healthier sweet dessert. This delicious combination of beans with chocolate is low fat, loaded with fiber, and with some other rich nutritents that allows you to eat them with no guilt! Everything you know about brownies will change after trying this recipe!

  • Ingredients:

- 2 cups of beans (red kidney beans or black beans - Can or freshly cooked) 

- 2 tbsp Flaxseeds 

- 4 tbsp water, boiled 

- 1/2 cup peanut butter 

- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 

- 1/2 cup quick oats (flakes or pulverized, either work great) 

- 2/3 cup coconut sugar  

- 1/4 cup coconut oil 

- 1 tsp vanilla extract 

- 1 tsp baking powder 

- Dash of salt 

* If the dough is too dry add 1/4 cup of bean water

*Optional for Frosting:  

- 1/3 cup unsweetened chocolate, chopped 

- 1/4 cup almond milk  

- 1/2 tsp Margarine 

- 1 tbsp powder sugar 

  • Method/directions
  1. Preheat oven at 350° C and let the magic begin. 
  2. Mix together the flaxseeds and water. Set aside. 
  3. For this step, using a food processor is optional but highly recomended since it helps the dough become creamier. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor: beans, peanut butter, cocoa powder, quick oats, coconut sugar, coconut oil, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Pulse until smooth and creamy (if your food processor is too small, make sure you divide the ingredientes to mix them up equally). 
  4. Add into the dough, the flaxseed mixture. Pulse the food processor again until everything is well mixed. 
  5. Grease a 8-inch cake pan and pour in the beany dough.   
  6. Bake for about 15-20 min until set. 

* Optional directions for Frosting:  

1. Mix together all the ingredients: chocolate, almond milk, margarine, powder sugar.  

2. Microwave for 40 seconds. Stop every 10 seconds to stir the mixture until you complete the 40 seconds (If prefered, you may melt the chocolate and butter over a hot-water bath; and then add the rest of ingredients)  

3. Cover your beany brownies with the chocolate frosting.

  • Total cook time: 30 minutes
  • Servings: Serves 6 or 8 
  • Type of dish: dessert 
  • Tools and equipment: Food processor 



Cevichochos is a typical dish prepared in the Ecuadorian Andean highlands. This dish can be found either in parks or restaurants, and it is consumed by locals as a snack or main dish during lunch time. The name of this dish (cevichochos) stands for 'cevi' from ceviche and 'chocho' for its main ingredient: the andean lupine, known as Chocho in the region.

To complete the dish it is combined with lemon juice, together with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Once it is prepared, people can decide to acompany it with chifles (fried plantains), toastado or chulpi (fried maize), avocado and/or ají (spicy sauce).


  • Ingredients 

- 1 ½ cup chochos* (with seed-hull: all the important minerals are here) 

-2 Medium tomatoes: 1 chopped in squares; 1 to make juice 

-6-8 lemons, juice 

-1 medium red onion, chopped thin slices 

-1/3 cup cilantro, chopped 

-1 Teaspoon Olive oil 

-1 cup water, boiled 

-1 Tablespoon Salt 

-Salt and pepper to taste

  • Method/directions
  1. Wash chochos throughtly and set aside. 
  1. Combine onions, boiled water and salt; set aside for at least 10 min. This process will remove the strong flavour of onion. 
  1. In a blender, add one tomatoe with the juice of 3 lemons. Blend until a juice consistency. 
  1. Strain onions and wash them throughly. 
  1. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining lemon juice, tomatoe juice, chopped tomatoes, strained onions, olive oil, cilantro and chochos. 
  1. Add salt and peper to taste. Set aside for 15 min either in the fridge or a fresh area. 
  1. You may serve this dish with chulpi, tostado, chifles, avocado and/or ají.                                                   
  •  Total cook time: 30 minutes
  • Servings: Serves 4  
  • Type of dish: Starter or Soup 
  • Tools and equipment: Blender, Strainer

Dr. Dhanya Praveen

Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, Hyderabad

I would like to add a few points to my contribution

Cultivating pulses requires a mission mode initiatives not only on Climate Smart Crops  but Climate Smart Soils which is more sustainable and is the need for increases resilience to climate change, and improves ecosystem services.

McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE) ( introduced Pulse Innovation Platform (  as an open invitation forum where members network and connect to identify bottlenecks hindering innovation, and develop solutions beyond what individual members can achieve alone. PIP takes a convergent innovation approach for a game-changing multistakeholder partnerships (MSPs) model, targets the behavioral change and ecosystem transformation required in both the industrialized world and emerging economies and targets a sweet spot, considering agriculture, health, and wealth outcomes together and leveraging them in a holistic manner to better harness the power of business and jointly target economic growth and human development. This PIP model has the potentiality to develop policy approaches that could be beneficial to increasing the role of this crop in different regions.

Dear all,

I reiterate Sieg's thanks for everyone's participation and comments.  It was a very interesting discussion that hit upon many research needs and extension/outreach opportunities with pulse crops. 

Thank you


Sieg Snapp

Michigan State University
United States of America

Dear FSN Forum members,

The perspectives from many parts of the world shared during this discussion has been very informative.

I found deeply inspiring the experiences from sustained efforts to support pulse value chains, such as from Australia, and the case studies from several sites around the world of nutritional and recipe education, including, among others, from Tanzania, South Africa, Turkey, and Georgia.

I sincerely hope these efforts continue and that we find ways to continue to learn from each other.

I believe that interdisciplinary initiatives particularly in the area of agriculture and nutrition education working together are particularly important for a more sustainable future.

Sieg Snapp

Pulses: innovations from the field to the cooking pot

Tanzanian production and exports of pulses have both increased rapidly in the last decade. However, the country faces serious challenges in this sector. The lack of innovative recipes, seeds, poor agricultural practices, and the presence of pests and diseases, poor marketing strictures, all end up affecting yields, quality and consumptions.

Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most serious significant public health problems among children of 6 to 59 months and women of child bearing age (15 to 49 years) in Tanzania. According to available data, the national prevalence of anemia is at 59% for children under five years of age and 41% for women of reproductive age (TDHS, 2016).  There have been various remarkable nutrition interventions in the country since 1999 aimed at decreasing the prevalence of (Iron deficiency anemia) IDA; however the problem in the country has persisted and remaining as a public health problem. Iron deficiency anemia impairs the growth and learning ability of children, lowers resistance to infectious diseases and reduces the physical work capacity and productivity of adults. Severe anemia during pregnancy increases the risk of maternal death and of having a low birth weight infant.

 The average per capital consumption in 2007 was only 6.8 gm/day/household while the recommended intake is at least 30 gm/day/household (TNBS, 2010).  Moreover, the consumption trend has been declining over time.  Statistics show that between 2000 and 2009 per capita consumption decreased by 1.4% and the decrease was almost two folds (3.5%) after two years (FAOSTAT, 2014). This trend reflects changes in consumer preferences and failures by suppliers to align pulses attributes to consumer preferences.

Global demand is growing for pulses as a heart-healthy food, however in many cultures, pulses are considered as ‘protein for the poor’. There are a number of reasons why they are underestimated. The most common ones are: they can cause bloating, flatulence, and; unless they are soaked for hours, pulses take a long time to cook.

Despite its nutritional importance, pulse consumption trends in Tanzania has been decreasing from time to time and the factors underlying these could be the household characteristics such as food habits, household size and access to resources among other factors, which can potentially lead to their low consumption. For this reasons above we need to promote interventions to increase intake of pulse rich foods to reduce micronutrient malnutrition and NCDs.

What can be done concretely to increase the consumption of pulses?

Pulses contain some anti-nutrients, which are substances that reduce the body’s ability to absorb the various minerals that pulses contain. Fortunately, many of these issues (bloating, flatulence, anti-nutrients and length of cooking time) can be overcome using traditional cooking techniques, such as soaking, germination (sprouting), fermentation and pounding. Traditional methods can also help to reduce the content of the anti-nutrients. When other foods are combined with pulses, the nutritional value of pulses is further enhanced, as other foods help to ensure that the body is able to better absorb all the nutrients found in pulses; for examples, when beans are eaten with other foods such as grains, the nutritional value of pulses is even greater as the body is better able to absorb iron and other minerals found in pulses.

  • Increase knowledge on pulses utilization for example combine pulses with vitamin C rich foods (a good example is to sprinkle some lemon juice on lentil curry) to increase absorb iron 
  • Design cooking techniques to reduce time of cooking
  • Promote foods which when eaten with pulses can complements in nutrients
  • Promote skills building along the value chain development sector
  • Develop a network of institutions to improve sector coordination
  • Strengthen market development capacities of the sector
  • Capacity-building of key institutions in the “pulses network” to provide support services  and
  • Promote pulses as a viable and growing agricultural sector also improve products quality
  • Develop a network of institutions to improve sector coordination
  • Strengthen market development capacities of the sector
  •  Involve PPP from production processing, finance, technology transfer, farmer support services, trade and seed development.
  • Unleash the power of pulses by publishing  recipes based on pulses and innovative complementary food recipes for children of underfive years old (Greens, Soyee milk, seeds)
  • Develop an efficient storage, warehousing and logistics system as a trading platforms
  • Develop an efficient input distribution network for higher-yielding varieties
  • Improve access to finance along the value chain

  • How can we make pulses an attractive option for farmers?

Consider different models of production along the pulses value chain such as smallholder subsistence agriculture and commercial agriculture. Each of these models have their specificities. Smallholder famers normally are less efficient and relies on intercropping based on lower-yielding seed varieties, produce only for household consumption, rely on rainfall for production, and faces volume consistency challenges. In addition to that, they face a lot of challenges in productivity, postharvest losses, inadequate access to finance, and difficulties in commercialization. Nevertheless, it is an important means of food security in numerous rural regions where almost half of the production is used for household consumption and nutrition security (protein). For, medium-to-large-scale producers generate larger volume of pulses due to more efficient production techniques and easier access to inputs and finance. Large-scale producers focus on the export market. These two models are currently both essential and actually complementary for the development of the pulses sector in the United Republic of Tanzania.

  • What is needed to strengthen pulses value chains?
  • The future value chain need to be characterized by improved input distribution, improved overall coordination and governance, enhanced forward planning and trading capacities, and increased market development and investment attraction
  • Improved seed quality and availability by improve provision of quality seeds, ensure the availability of seeds for increased production, stimulate PPPs and investment in higher-yielding seed development; promote research, develop a number of demonstration plots; and ensure a more accessible knowledge base for pulse cultivation. Moreover, provide a concessional loan scheme for farmers to procure high quality inputs.
  • Improved input distribution network– linked with access to finance, ensure that farmers and farmers’ associations have easy access to relevant inputs to maximize production. Increasing local distribution and production of seeds
  • Development of large-scale agribusiness and contract farming –enable and stimulate the development of agribusiness services to support smallholder farmers to increase their production area, volumes and quality. This is a priority area for investment attraction in the pulses value chain. This will need to be achieved by providing agribusiness services with the status of a strategic investment area. The development of partnerships with agribusiness services in the pulses sector will be essential to ensure easier access to mobile units, mechanization, hermetic cocoons, silos and threshers. Examples such as Quality Food Products for farm mechanization services will contribute to growing the agricultural sector in sophistication.
  • Development of storage, warehouses and logistics-A key success factor of the future value chain is to ensure adequate storage to handle the increasing production of pulses. These storage units of different sizes, most probably connected to structured trading platforms, will act as reserve stocks for supplying large orders or as collateral with the commodity exchange. The development of these storage units will be achieved by proposing the refurbishment of local and regional warehouses through the establishment of rehabilitate, operate and transfer; or rehabilitate, own and operate PPPs
  • An effective pulses network to plan the sector development-The primary objective of the network will be to develop partnerships with other key associations such as the Indian Pulses and Grain Association, Pulse Growers. The network is also foreseen to act as an easy entry point for traders and investors interested in the pulses sector.
  • What successful policies do we know about?

United Republic of Tanzania is the result of the union between the Republic of Tanganyika and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar, every part has its own policies on area agricultural, food security and nutrition, for that reason, there are  many designed  policies in a country, which  when in counted  by poor coordination and multi-sector strategies and interventions,  confusing  implementation process.

The development policies policy framework which are related to agricultural priorities are;-

  1. The Tanzania Development Vision (TDV) 2025
  2. National Strategy for Growth and Reduction (MKUKUTA & MKUZA 1&2)
  3. Five Year Development Plan 2016-2020
  4. Zanzibar Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (ZSGRP)
  6. Sector Plan
  • The Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) contribute to medium-term and long term objectives as outlined in Vision 2025.
  • Private Investment Framework; Agriculture Sector Development Strategy Kilimo Kwanza (Transforming Agriculture) 2009 National Irrigation Development Plan TAFSIP National Agriculture Policy


  • District Agriculture Sector Investment Project (DASIP)
  • Agriculture Market System Development Program (AMSDP)
  • Rural Financial Service Programme (RFSP)
  • Marine and Costal Environment Management Project (MACEMP)
  • Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)
  • Tanzania Agriculture Food Security Investment Plan TAFSIP 2011/12-2020/21

Nutrition policies and strategies

  • National Multisectoral Nutrition Action Plan (2016-21)
  • National Food and Nutrition Policy
  • Zanzibar Food Security and Nutrition policy
  • The Zanzibar Food Security and Nutrition Situational Analysis (ZFSNSA)
  • Zanzibar Agricultural Transformation for Sustainable Development (2010-2020)
  • Tanzania’s National Food Fortification Programme.


“Innovations from the field to the cooking pot”  What does the second FSN forum on pulses tell us about consumer education for better diets?

From the field to the cooking pot …  The forum title was right.  The shaping questions in this second FNS Forum discussion on pulses ( did indeed have an eye on consumers and consumption as well as on production.  They brought the two ends of the food system together and closed the circle. This is joy to food educators.[1] We know from both research and experience that consumers’ practices and attitudes, the influences on their food choices, and the interaction between their environments and their outlooks are generally crucial in impacting diet.  But we are also very aware that until recently the international focus has been far more on supply and access than on consumer behaviour, expectations and attitudes: they have concentrated on field and market and not on the path to the cooking pot.[2]

The Year of Pulses is a unique phenomenon in many ways, perhaps unprecedented.  It integrates nutrition and agriculture;   it takes a step towards sustainable diets;  it confronts a problem common to many societies, yet different in all of them; it has the single (though complex) task of promoting just one food group with a rich nutrition profile;  it brings together a diverse body of professionals (economists, agronomists, nutritionists, extension workers, policy-makers, not educators unfortunately), and it aims to improve food consumption in the general public, not only in one needy segment.  For food educators, a special feature is that it has the explicit purpose of improving consumption as well as access

The forum opened up the question of how this is done. With its consumption-oriented questions and its call for responses grounded in experience, it opened a window on dietary promotion where contributors involved in the program across the sectors were drawn to analyse the situation on the ground empirically and call on their working experience to propose strategies which they saw as necessary and appropriate.  The resulting picture was complex but coherent.

What influences people’s consumption of pulses?

Several posts discussed this basic question. Influences were seen as culture and habit, knowledge and understanding, time and convenience, but above all food status and taste.  Existing food cultures determine what people are ready to accept – for example red “silk” beans are popular in El Salvador, while in Nigeria the only pulses seen as normal food are cowpeas.  Hence simple lack of familiarity with the foods available may be a barrier, as may “inadequate information on the advantages of pulses”, i.e. ignorance of nutritional value or value for money.  More frequently mentioned, however, was the move away from consuming traditional pulses, sometimes because of time-consuming preparation, but more often because of their perceived status as  “the protein of the poor” or “desperation food”.  Lupines in rural areas of Ecuador, for example, were seen as the food of rural poverty.  City dwellers or the educated middle class would not “stoop so low” as to eat dishes made with pulses.  If incomes rose, or food choices widened as people moved to cities, these traditional foods tended to be abandoned in favour of more prestigious foreign foods, meats, or highly processed fast foods.  Poverty, it seems, also has a taste. Traditional pulse dishes were often unvarying and unvaried.  “Being a poor man’s food, there are only a few traditional recipes, which have not evolved over time.”

What strategies are needed?

Ideas for tackling these barriers grew out of these observations.  They converged on two strategies:  one was to make pulses attractive (delicious, convenient, healthy, modern/trendy, valued); the other was to get a lot of people into the act.  A top priority was to update recipes, widen the range, add vegetables and flavourings and develop new products, give value to “heritage foods”, “create excitement around traditional recipes” and promote them on the media.  Contributors proposed ways to make preparation easier and quicker, for example by introducing low-cost pulse processing machines in villages and developing “easy-to-cook high-quality branded products” and ready-to-eat meals.  Information would be available on packaging and labeling, and through government campaigns, backed by the media (testimonials from soccer champions and video rap music, to be evaluated for impact).  A new image was felt to be essential “to make the humble legumes modern or desirable”:  “social media together with gastronomical innovation” could help pulses become “the next quinoa”.

Society, it seemed, had to be taken by storm – but slowly.  Many groups would interact with or influence consumers:  chefs, restaurants, food services in public institutions; producers, markets and the food industry;  policy-makers in agriculture, trade, health and education; and “influencers who are reaching consumers to help change their dietary behavior”, such as nutritionists, dieticians, health professionals, health workers and food industry representatives, who would “make sure that pulses are accepted as a normal household food”.

What does this say about consumer food education?

The ideas about the process of dietary change are not new, but neither are they widespread in food security discussions.  What is interesting is that

  • they all accept that consumers are main actors in the process
  • their coherence springs from confronting the same question in many different contexts and cultures
  • they come from several sectors which do not generally meet to discuss consumer capacity in food. 

They therefore carry a certain conviction born of direct observation and experience. Underlying them there is also some consensus on a cluster of guiding principles in food education.  They recognize for example that:

  • responses to dietary needs should be shaped by analysing what matters to consumers;
  • attitudes and established habit (as well as poverty and ignorance) are forces to be reckoned with;
  • convenience, appetite and social food status are strong incentives;
  • change often has to contend with competing values (e.g. red meat or junk food);
  • how-to (where to buy, what to cook) is as important as why (good low-cost nutrition);
  • shared food cultures mean that change also has to be socially shared, and at many levels; 
  • policy and regulation, quality food supply and consumer behaviour must interact;   
  • health and nutrition professionals are key and also need educating;
  • (implicitly) this is a long-term process.

Many of these principles are not recognized in “nutrition-sensitive” initiatives which rely only on improving supply or regulation and do not see the need for consumer capacity to respond to the supply.  The Year of Pulses seems to be in a position to blaze the trail to the pot. It  should trumpet its conclusions.

[1] In “nutrition education” we include SBCC, health promotion for good diets, nutrition counseling, social marketing and behavioural economics aiming at healthy eating.

[2] Most major International papers on nutrition and food security have focused on the supply side – examples are (see second blog).  The latest of these was the GLOPAN brief on food systems and nutrition (link), an exemplary paper except for the total neglect of consumer behaviour.  After the launch Lawrence Haddad commented in his blog: "Perhaps the most glaring omission in the report is the treatment of consumers as shapers of food systems. It is true that we don’t spend much time in the report on nutrition education and behaviour change of consumers. This is definitely an important area and one where we need more answers."



Kadambot Siddique

UN FAO Special Ambassador, International Year of the Pulses, The University of Western Australia

Pulses are usually grown as secondary components of cereal-dominated cropping systems. Consequently, but understandably, pulses receive less research attention than the cereals they share land with. This is despite pulses generally being exposed to a plethora of biotic and abiotic stresses. Further, their cultivation must adjust to the primary requirements of the cereal crop, as well as other components of the farming system (e.g. animal husbandry), often displacing pulses from their optimum growing environment. Nevertheless, there is a considerable bank of component knowledge on how to maximize pulse productivity, but not enough of this knowledge is translated to farmers, especially resource-poor ones.

Improvement in pulse production necessarily requires a holistic approach, not only to tackle the multiple stresses directly affecting the crop but also to integrate external factors ultimately affecting production, like competition with other crops, input availability and market opportunities. These factors can interact in ways ranging from synergism to antagonism. For example, application of a limiting nutrient may induce better root growth that would enhance soil water extraction, but the resultant improved vegetative growth may attract pests and diseases. Thus an integrated crop management (ICM) approach is required, which the National Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, UK, usefully defines as “a system of crop production which conserves and enhances natural resources while producing food on an economically viable and sustainable foundation”. This necessitates “a good understanding of the interactions between biology, environment and land management systems” and “is particularly appropriate for small farmers because it aims to minimize dependence on expensive inputs and to make the fullest possible use of indigenous technical knowledge and land use practices”.

Human population growth—and the subsequent increased demand for food and declining area of agricultural land which is often degrading in soil health—puts even more pressure on pulses.  There is ever-growing pressure to increase the production of staple cereal crops thereby further threatening the area that can be allocated to pulses. Another factor of growing importance is climate change, which modifies local plant growth conditions, disrupts traditional cropping patterns and increases the riskiness of cropping. This presents further constraints but also some opportunities for pulses.

A top-down approach to disseminating the potential solutions for increasing pulse cultivation and yields has had limited success, especially for resource-poor farmers in rainfed environments. Therefore, a more enhanced farmer-participatory approach than has so far been implemented is advocated. An understanding of yield gaps, the difference between the yields realized by farmers and the potential yield under “ideal” cultural conditions, is necessary to assess the scope for improving on-farm yields. The potential yield of rainfed crops is usually limited by sub-optimal soil moisture, mostly deficit but sometimes excess, at some time during the growing period. Therefore, knowledge of soil water content through the growing season is crucial as this sets the yield ceiling for that season. It is therefore evident that potential rainfed yield is a year-to-year moving target, depending on pre-season and growing season rainfall. An important aspect of the on-farm approach to agronomic improvement is to focus on feasible solutions within the resource limitations of the farmer. This requires the inclusion of farmers throughout the experimental process. The testing of identified solutions requires comparison with controls on multiple farmers’ fields, under farmer management but with researcher guidance in layout and data collection. There are existing and evolving ways of statistically analysing these types of multi-location trials, to provide more information about the usefulness of an improved technology than could be obtained from traditional, multi-replicate randomized block trials at a few locations. The involvement of farmers in all stages of the process creates a sense of their ownership of any improvements identified and therefore increases the likelihood of widespread adoption.

Much more needs to be done in moving from an on-station to an on-farm focus for pulse production technology research. This could be best achieved under the framework of Farmer Research Networks. These would be, essentially, groupings of farmers and researchers using emerging developments in ICT to scale up on-farm participatory practices that have so far evolved. This would facilitate more widespread collection of data at the farm level, including that from iterative on-farm trials, its more rigorous analysis and interpretation, and effective communication of outcomes back to farmers. It would permit more rigorous analysis of ‘option x context’ interactions, which ultimately determine whether or not a new technology is adopted. ‘Option’ refers to features such as technological innovation and resource requirements and ‘context’ to biophysical conditions, farming system and social, policy and market aspects.

Implementation of the above approach proposed by would require a massive reorientation of current agricultural R, D & E focus for resource-poor agriculture. This is now still biased towards replication of simple, comprehensive recommendations rather than confronting the realities of local adaptation in diverse environments and investigating this complexity. Roles of agricultural researchers and agronomists in particular would need to change, from being assessed primarily according to their academic publication record to their contribution to effective outcomes for farmer groups. Funding amounts and project lengths would need to be increased to permit adequate baseline characterization, multi-location and multi-year on-farm trials and built-in outcome and impact analysis. More enduring partnerships need to be established between national and international research bodies, non-government organizations, community-based organizations and commercial entities interacting with farmers. Only then can we expect that smallholder farmers will practically implement the extensive knowledge we have so far to increase the production of pulses.

Themba Phiri


The role of pulses cannot be underestimated across the globe, with climate change effects threatening the world food security it is time for development workers/experts and farmers to work together hand in a glove and come up with the best drought resistant cultivars of pigeon peas, cow peas, dolichos lab lab, as these take a very short period to mature.

A case in point was witnessed in Mozambique, where an International organization Joint Aid Management in 2010-2014 introduced cow pea leaves and beans in children's diet in schools and the innovation was adopted by farmers in the vicinity of the schools. I was one of the pioneers by that time who witnessed school children growing cow peas and consuming them with other grains.

The benefit was immense both in protein and calorific intake. In a nutshell that's my comment.


Themba Phiri

Livelihoods Advisor