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Important source of vegetable protein

The United Nations has declared 2016 as the "International Year of Pulses" with the slogan "Nutritious plants for a sustainable future", in order to put the spotlight on peas, beans, soya, lentils and so on. For people around the globe pulses are a vital source of plant-based protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In short, they are a basic staple food. Above all, in cultures where traditionally little meat is consumed – in Latin America, Africa and Asia – they play a vital role in feeding large parts of the population.

Nutritional value is often underrated

In Europe too, pulses have also gained importance as more and more people are switching to vegetarian diets. Even if you aren't vegetarian or vegan, eating pulses is a good idea as part of a healthy diet. It helps to counteract overweight and to manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disorders. The nutritional value of pulses is often not recognised or underrated, say United Nations experts. Now, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has teamed up with governments, NGOs and other groups and organisations to create more awareness of the benefits of pulses.

Small acreages – large yields

In developing countries, pulses are grown primarily by smallholders. Pulses among the oldest cultivated crops and produce large yields even on small acreages. In addition, these annual leguminous plants have a property that is very important for agriculture: they form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that enrich their roots with nitrogen from the air and in exchange receive nutrients. This increases soil fertility and supports sustainable farming. With their initiative the United Nations aims to promote worldwide production and trade in pulses. One example would be supporting farmers to make better use of crop rotation.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de