Fact sheet: Pulses contribute to food security

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.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity is a major issue for many people and households in poor and developing countries—it is estimated that 795 million people are undernourished. Pulses can help contribute to food security in a number of ways.

A valuable source of protein

Pulses are an inexpensive source of protein—a crucial component of any healthy diet, but especially in poorer areas where meat, dairy and fish are economically inaccessible. The protein obtained from pulses is significantly less expensive compared to animal foods. Pulses can also serve as a source of income, as smallholder farmers who grow pulses can sell them at markets, or process them to create added-value products.

Shelf-stable with a low food wastage footprint

If properly stored, pulses remain edible for several years, making them a smart option for households without refrigeration. Since pulses are shelf stable, the proportion of food waste at the consumption stage due to spoilage is very low, which also helps to ensure household food security. Additionally, many pulses seeds are still able to germinate after being stored for a long period, allowing farmers, in some cases, to plant them in subsequent cropping seasons.

Cultivation in marginal areas

There are many drought-resistant pulses, such as pigeon peas, bambara beans and lentils. These pulses can be cultivated in arid climates that have limited, and often erratic, rainfall of 300-450 mm/year. These are lands where other crops can fail or produce low yields.