Preparing a traditional Spanish dish using a variety of pulses.
Photo:FAO/Samuel Aranda
Spanish chef Abraham García at restaurant Viridian, preparing a traditional Spanish dish using a variety of pulses, 2016, Madrid, Spain. Photo: FAO/Samuel Aranda.

 

What are pulses?

Pulses, also known as legumes, are the edible seeds of leguminous plants cultivated for food. Dried beans, lentils and peas are the most commonly known and consumed types of pulses.

Staples dishes and cuisines from across the world feature pulses, from hummus in the Mediterranean (chick peas), to a traditional full English breakfast (baked navy beans) to Indian dal (peas or lentils).

Pulses do not include crops that are harvested green (e.g. green peas, green beans)—these are classified as vegetable crops. Also excluded are those crops used mainly for oil extraction (e.g. soybean and groundnuts) and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes (e.g. seeds of clover and alfalfa).

Why are pulses important crops?

Nutritional value

They are packed with nutrients and have a high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible. Pulses are low in fat and rich in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. Because of these qualities they are recommended by health organizations for the management of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions. Pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity.

Food security

For farmers, pulses are an important crop because they can both sell them and consume them, which helps farmers maintain household food security and creates economic stability.

Environmental benefits

The nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses improve soil fertility, which increases and extends the productivity of the farmland. By using pulses for intercropping and cover crops, farmers can also promote farm biodiversity and soil biodiversity, while keeping harmful pests and diseases at bay.

Furthermore, pulses can contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on the synthetic fertilizers used to introduce nitrogen artificially into the soil. Greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing and application of these fertilizers, and their overuse can be detrimental to the environment. 

Origin

Recognizing their value, on 20 December 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/68/231) proclaiming 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP). The celebration of the year, led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), increased the public awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production.

Building on the success of the International Year of Pulses and recognizing their potential to further achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with particular relevance to Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 13 and 15, Burkina Faso proposed the observance of World Pulses Day.

In 2019, the General Assembly proclaimed 10 February as the World Pulses Day (resolution A/RES/73/251).

 

 

Close-up of hands holding different types of legumes.

In many countries, pulses are part of the cultural heritage and are consumed on a regular or even daily basis. In other parts of the world, they hardly garner a mention except when served in a soup on a cold winter’s day. However, these tiny, multi-coloured seeds have been one of nature’s nutritious foods since time began. Find out why you should include pulses in your diet.

 

Local farmers sorting Cajanus Cajan beans.

World Pulses Day is a great opportunity to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of eating pulses. They contribute to sustainable food systems and a #ZeroHunger world.

In the FAO site you will find more information, reports, comics or recipes from around the world. 

 

Geometric illustration with the Secretariat building at UNHQ, New York.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.