It is hoped the 2016 ‘International Year of Pulses’ initiative will combat the 'under-appreciation' of pulses, ingredients that can be an affordable alternative to animal-based protein for communities around the world, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
It also aims to boost their production and trade and encourage new uses.
Pulses yield prices two to three times higher than cereals, which means they offer greater potential to lift farmers out of rural poverty. Processing provides additional economic opportunities, especially for women.
Pulses, which include beans, peas and lentils, are particularly important food crops in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where they are often part of traditional diets, FAO said. Protein sourced from milk can be five times more expensive than that derived from pulses.
Health benefits include high levels of protein, micronutrients, amino acids and B-vitamins, while they are also useful for managing cholesterol and digestive health, FAO said.
In addition, they improve soil health and promote biodiversity and crop by-products from pulses can be used as animal fodder to increase nitrogen concentration in the diet, which improves animal health.
“They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries, yet their nutritional value is not generally recognised,” said FAO’s director general José Graziano da Silva.
Maintaining a strong pulse
Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of dry peas and lentils, shipping to more than 150 countries each year. Pulse exports from the country account for more than one-third of global pulse trade.
"Canadian pulses can make a significant contribution toward helping the UN implement its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to eliminate global poverty and malnourishment," said Lee Moats, a lentil grower and chair of Pulse Canada.
"The International Year of Pulses highlights the role of pulses in addressing issues related to over- and under-nutrition in both developed and developing countries."