Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board and Committee Services
The United Nations declares a focus each year on an issue of importance in global agriculture. Last year was the International Year of Soils, the year before was the International Year of Family Farming. 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses. Unlike soils or family farms, the term “pulses” is not as familiar to most people. Fitness fanatics probably think of their heart rate more than something to eat.
So just what are pulses anyway? They are dried beans and peas which come in many different varieties. The term “pulses” does not refer to green peas or beans when eaten fresh (which are considered vegetables), or to other related plants like clover and alfalfa, although they share some of the same benefits that are being touted for pulses.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is promoting the benefits of pulses as a good source of protein, as beneficial in crop rotations, especially with cereals, and as an excellent storage crop, thus reducing spoilage losses and increasing food security. Over the course of this year, the FAO hopes to promote pulses in several ways. “The Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.” http://www.fao.org/pulses-
Pulses are not as popular a crop in Ontario as in other regions of Canada, and North Americans are not heavily reliant on pulses as a source of protein in our diets. So, what does this Year of the Pulses have to interest your average Ontarian farmer?
Canada is the largest exporter of pulses globally, according to the FAO. Pulses are found in cuisines from around the world, and with our diverse population in Ontario, locally grown pulses are likely to find a market, either here or abroad.
This focus on pulses is also a reminder that crop rotations are important, and that alternating cereals and pulses, or legumes, benefits both soil and yields. Although the year of the soils is officially over, this new focus on pulses continues that conversation.
Pulses are not among the dozen key plant species that currently provide about ¾ of the world’s food supply, as this article from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) reveals. Still, pulses are among other important global staples. The IDRC article points out that “groundnuts, pigeon peas, lentils, cowpeas, yams, bananas, and plantains are food staples for millions of the world’s poorest people. Yet most of these receive little attention from agricultural researchers.”
Perhaps this International Year of Pulses will encourage us here in Canada to pay more attention to these under appreciated crops in terms of growing, researching and eating. It is an opportunity to explore the potential they hold in our local and global food systems going forward.