Five things we learned from the launch of the International Year of Pulses

The official launch of the International Year of Pulses took place on 10 November at FAO Headquarters in Rome. With over 200 participants and many more viewers worldwide, the event welcomed high level attendance from government ministries, civil society and the private sector. The speakers and special guests highlighted the many benefits of pulses, and also brought to light some of the obstacles facing the global production, supply and trade of the crops.

Here are five key facts we learned about pulses from the featured guests and speakers during the launch:

1. Pulses are an indispensable crop for vulnerable communities in developing countries.

In developing countries, pulses make up 75 percent of the average diet, compared to 25 percent in industrialized countries. They provide an affordable alternative to animal protein: pulses contain 20 to 25 percent protein by weight, whereas wheat has 10 percent and meat has 30 to 40 percent. Pulses are an increasingly important crop for smallholder farmers, particularly female farmers who hold a larger share in the labour force in pulses farming.

2. Lentils, beans and chickpeas have been an essential part of human diets for centuries.

Archaeological remains found in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) show that ancient agricultural production of chickpeas and lentils dates back to 7000 - 8000 B.C. Today, wild relatives of lentils and peas are still seen in the southeast Anatolian region, and samples have been collected and protected in Turkey’s gene banks.

3. Pulses consumption is declining.

Although world pulses production has increased by over 20 percent in the past 10 years, consumption has seen an overall decline in both developed and developing countries since 1960. This may be partially due to an inability for pulses production to keep pace with a growing population, as well as a shift in many countries to more meat-centric diets.

4. Science and technology innovations can help close the yield gap in pulses production.

Crop genetic improvement, selective breeding and sustainable intensive farming have been proven to increase yield potential and climate resilience in pulses. Improved varieties of heat-tolerant faba beans in Sudan helped increase production by 600 kilograms per hectare. In Turkey, the specially developed Gokce variety of chickpea withstood severe drought and produced when most other crops failed.

5. Pulses production is highly water efficient, especially when compared to other protein sources.

Production of daal (lentils) requires 1250 litres of water per kilogram. Conversely, one kilogram of chicken requires 4325 litres of water, one kilogram of mutton requires 5520 litres, and one kilogram of beef requires 13000 litres of water during production. Their small water footprint makes pulses production a smart choice in drier areas and regions prone to drought.

For a full recap of the event, read the press release and check out the Storify below.