How much do you know about your pulses? The World Pulses Day is a global event by the United Nations to appreciate the importance of pulses as a global food. Each year since its declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 20, 2018, the world pulses day is recognized on the 10th February.

At Food Security for Peace and Nutrition Africa (FSPN-Africa), Pulses are one of the key food groups of focus in the journey to building sustainable food systems in Africa.  Pulses are great contributors to soil health, food and nutrition security.

What are Pulses?

Pulses are edible seeds of plants in the legume family that grow in pods and are of different sizes, shapes and color.  Examples of pulses: Dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, cowpeas, pigeon peas, lentils, green grams, Bambara, vetches and lupins.

Why are Pulses important?

Lower carbon trace – Pulses draw nitrogen from the air by utilizing nitrogen fixing soil bacteria hence no expense on nitrogen fertilizer. Agriculture greenhouse gas emission is mostly from the use of nitrogen fertilizers while the nitrogen fixing nature of the pulses makes the have a lower carbon trace compared to other crops.

Water efficient sources of proteins- Pulses require little water for their growth compared to other animal sources. This is accounts for their adaptation to arid and semi-arid environments where water is scarce.  When intercropped with higher plants, pulses such as peas and lentils get water from a shallow depth leaving the water in deep levels for higher plants that grow throughout the year.

 Natural contributors to Soil Health– Soil microbes that contribute to soil health get nutrients from compounds produced by pulses upon harvesting leave behind nitrogen rich residues that add to the soil nutrient profile.

Crop rotation of pulses and other crops allows the soil to support a varied species of soil organisms that ensure and maintain soil fertility as well as breaking disease, weed and insect cycles.

Cheap source of nutrients – Pulses as a food group has a variety of pulse species hence contribute to diversified diet. Pulses are a good source of protein and fiber as well as rich in micronutrients: B vitamins especially Thiamin and Folate and minerals such as iron, zinc magnesium.

Economic growth –Other than being an inexpensive source of nutrients, farmers are able to sell surplus harvest to generate income while processing and value addition on the pulses creates channels for revenue and employment opportunities.

What is the story behind the World Pulses Day?

Following a discussions in 2013 by Food and Agriculture Organization council and the UN Generally Assembly, 2016 was declared The International Year of pulses by FAO.  This was fueled by two key reasons. 1. The need to recognize the role of pulses in sustainable crop production systems particularly in improving soil fertility and agro bio-diversity. 2.  Pulses are good sources of proteins, minerals and vitamins. Their use as part of healthy and diversified diet is evidenced by their use by the World Food Programme and other humanitarian food aid initiatives.

According to FAO, The International Year of Pulses was launched to address the poor recognition and under estimation of the importance of pulses.  Pulses were not a priority in some cases because of the long preparation time for consumption compared to other foods such rice and maize and farmers giving horticultural crops because they fetched more income in the market compared to the pulses. FSPN- Africa is out to support this initiative by FAO and significantly contribute to adoption of pulses by our network of Youth and Women in Agriculture.