Keep Your Finger on the "Pulse" of Development
Did you know that 2016 is the United Nations’ International Year of the Pulse? Throughout the year, Agrilinks will explore all the fabulous functions pulses play in increasing farmer incomes, combating malnutrition as part of a healthy diet, and improving soil fertility in farmers’ fields. Read on to learn why and how pulses are an important part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative's, Feed the Future, approach to sustainably reducing global poverty and malnutrition.
What is a Pulse?
Pulses are the dry seeds of leguminous plants and include popular food crops like kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils. As a broader category, legumes are plants that produce seeds in pods and fix nitrogen in their roots through a symbiotic relationship with soil microorganisms. While official International Year of the Pulse celebrations will focus on pulses, on Agrilinks, we will expand our scope to include oilseed legumes such as soy and peanuts (groundnuts), which are also very important to smallholders participating in Feed the Future programs.
Why are Pulses Important?
Pulses, and legumes more broadly, contribute significantly to three important areas of Feed the Future—poverty reduction, nutrition and environmental sustainability. As pulses can fetch a good price in the market, Feed the Future seeks to help farmers, especially women, capture this opportunity and reap the rewards of pulse production. Pulses are also a rich source of nutrients, and researchers believe they may even contribute further to nutrition by improving gut health—a critical issue for child nutrition in the developing world. Finally, pulses contribute to soil health and sustainability through their ability to fix nitrogen, which enables farmers to reduce their use of expensive fertilizers.
How Does Feed the Future Integrate Pulses into Its Strategy?
To realize these opportunities, Feed the Future’s comprehensive agriculture programs include many efforts involving pulses and oilseeds. You can find a breakdown of which Feed the Future country strategies prioritize pulse and oilseed value chains in these charts.
But what is Feed the Future actually doing, you ask? We have a robust portfolio of efforts to bring out the best of these spectacular species—from research in the lab and experiments in the field to country-level programs with farmers. This fact sheet describes our research programs in this area, which range from common bean breeding collaborations spanning from Central America and Haiti to East and Southern Africa, to nutrition research examining the effects of legume consumption on gut health in children (more on that in a future blog post). Feed the Future country-level programs work with farmers and in-country partner organizations on activities such as scaling new technologies and facilitating market opportunities. These programs include facilitating access to improved peanut and common bean varieties and improving on-farm production techniques.
Intrigued? Over the coming months, we’ll dive more deeply into the various Feed the Future programs that bring the benefits of pulses to diets and fields around the world, all in celebration of the International Year of the Pulse.
About the author: J. Vern Long is the Program Area Lead for the Feed the Future Program for Research on Legume Productivity. This program area includes research investments in cowpea, soy, peanuts, common bean and chickpea through collaborations among the U.S. university community, university and government researchers in Feed the Future countries, and international agriculture research centers.