By Hakan Bahceci
As the UN has so aptly stated “The climate is changing, food and agriculture must too”. Today’s challenge is to secure a nutritious, efficient and a sustainable, food supply for the world. We are facing a “double burden of malnutrition” in developing countries. The poorest cannot afford enough food, while the new middle class acquires bad dietary habits.
So perhaps it is not surprising that the changes in diets can have undesired consequences such as chronic health conditions, obesity, and diabetes. One food source which bridges being both healthy for people and the planet are pulses. Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins for people around the globe and help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer but are often underfunded.
Pulse production and consumption have failed to keep pace with the growth in cereals. The Green Revolution brought dramatic increases in key food crops. It has brought an increase in the production of Soybeans by 842%, Maize by 327%, Rice by 233%, and Wheat by 204% in the past 50 years, But, it has brought an increase of ONLY 73% in Pulse production. Pulse production in 1961 was about one-fifth of major cereals, now it’s only one-tenth!
The International Year of Pulses (IYP) creates a unique moment to showcase transformative research investments that would allow pulse crops to deliver on their full potential as a critical player in the global food system. The Global Pulse Confederation has developed a number of exciting research papers for the Year.
A new global survey among leading agricultural research institutions and personnel shows that the current level of research funding into pulses is too low. This may be handicapping efforts to improve food security and agricultural sustainability.
The ‘Global Pulse Productivity & Sustainability Survey’ conducted by the Global Pulse Confederation for the International Year of Pulses suggests that annual investment hovers at only $175m per annum for the 13 crops in the pulse category. Compare this to the billions invested into other crops such as corn.
The bottom line is we need a 10-fold increase in pulse research funding. With over 800 million people suffering from acute or chronic undernourishment, increasing pulse research is vital. We can only meet the world’s protein needs with better varieties of chickpeas, peas, beans, and lentils.
In addition to the research the Global Pulse Confederation has conducted, we have also received numerous other technical reports submitted from Argentina, Australia and France. All are available on iyp2016.org.
This large gap between the potential of pulse crops for meeting global sustainability challenges and the current capacity to seize this potential has inspired a new and innovative project for GPC, 10-Year Pulse Research Strategy. The 10-Year Research Strategy, funded by the IDRC of Canada, will be used to set an agenda for global discussion and mobilize champions to advocate for accelerated pulse research investments. This strategy will aim to:
- Mobilize and establish global and regional networks of leading scientists and industry players to accelerate collaboration toward improved productivity and sustainability of pulses.
- Convene public and private researchers to clarify major knowledge gaps and to establish a shared research agenda across international and national scientific efforts.
- Develop an internationally coordinated pulse crop productivity and sustainability research strategy, which increases the visibility of all pulse research domains, through engagement with governments, researchers, NGOs, associations, and others.
- ‘Expand the pie’ by attracting new types of research investment / investors (e.g. industry funds; public-private partnerships) to achieve adequate funding for both existing research programs and essential but marginalized research issues (eg, orphan crops; integrated approach to productivity, sustainability, nutrition and food security).
The Second International Legume Society Conference in Tróia, Portugal in October provided the perfect venue to work on the new 10-Year Pulse Research Strategy. This scientific conference brought together pulse breeders from all over the world who met to share knowledge and discuss the harsh challenges faced by pulse crops together.
The International Year of Pulses has been a huge success, but there is still a long way to go to increase investments in pulse research globally. The Global Pulse Confederation also calls for pulses to be prioritized in future agronomic research programs and placed at the heart of governments’ nutrition and food security strategies. Let’s work together for Pulses: the Food of the Future.