Planning is underway to promote an international observance of pulses through the UN. Agricultural consultant Robynne Anderson shares the details of the project and how you can contribute.

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Since the inaugural World Refugee Year in 1959, the United Nations has designated dozens of International Years to observe issues of global interest or concern. Notable examples include International Year for Human Rights (1968), International Women’s Year (1975), International Year of Peace (1986), International Literacy Year (1990) and International Year of Microcredit (2005).

In 2004, the International Year of Rice was observed, becoming the first food and agriculture-related UN year. Later we saw the International Year of the Potato (2008) and International Year of Quinoa (2013). Now it seems it is time for beans, lentils, chickpeas and other pulse crops to take center stage. Could 2016 be the first International Year of Pulses?

Robynne Anderson thinks so. Founder of the agricultural consulting firm Emerging Ag Inc., Anderson has been working closely with CICILS-IPTIC President Hakan Bahceci and CEO Gavin Gibson to lay the foundation for the International Year of Pulses project. Her presentation at this year’s annual CICILS conference in Singapore served as a formal introduction to the project for many industry members and identified the important socio-economic benefits of pulses.

“An International Year is a tremendous opportunity to galvanize activity and attention on a topic,” said Anderson

Recently Anderson sat down with IFT to discuss the details of the project, including its origins, main supporters, planning process and goals.

IFT: When and how did the idea for International Year of the Pulses come about? What organizations and individuals have shown interest in the project?

Robynne Anderson: Hakan Bahceci, President of CICILS, is the visionary who began the campaign for the International Year. Under his direction the CICILS office, Board and membership have shown tremendous interest in the project. It was also through his efforts that the Governments of Turkey and Pakistan became engaged and made the motion for the International Year, which kick-started a wave of support that resulted in unanimous approval of the year at the FAO Council.

IFT: What does it take to get a “Year of” designation? What steps are involved in the nomination process?

Robynne Anderson: The United Nations declares International Years and, for agricultural matters, that process begins at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. In December 2012, a motion was made to add a discussion of International Year of Pulses to the agenda for the April FAO Council meeting. The FAO Council is a 49 member committee that operates similarly to a board of directors. During the April meeting, there was a unanimous vote in favor of an international year. From there, that recommendation moved on to the FAO Conference in June, which is a meeting of all the member states of the FAO. If approved at Conference, the motion is then sent to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which holds the final power of approval.

IFT: What are the other “Year ofs” under consideration for the 2016 designation? How does Year of Pulses hold up against the competition?

Robynne Anderson: The FAO was eager to have an International Year of Soils declared and an agreement has been reached to have soils be in 2015 and pulses in 2016. Following this, a new policy will be implemented that International Years will be at two-year intervals. The new policy at FAO of increasing the length of time between years and creating higher standards for their conduct was developed while the campaign for the Pulse Year was underway and created some considerable procedural challenges. However, the countries have proposed the compromise that phases in the implementation of the policy to accommodate both pulses and soils. There has been a proposal for an International Year of Rye, but it has not moved through the FAO Council to date.

IFT: What are the costs associated with promoting a new “Year of” and how are the funds raised and managed? How is the industry involved?

Robynne Anderson: An International Year is a tremendous opportunity to galvanize activity and attention on a topic. It is typically run through a committee housed at the FAO (for agricultural related years). One of the reasons for the early support for the Pulse Year among countries like the U.S., Canada and Australia was the engagement of the pulse sector. They would like to encourage “years” that more fully involve the UN system, national governments, farmers, private sector, civil society, scientists and other actors. For this reason, it will be very important to see how the International Year of Pulses committee is formed and that it can work to include and mobilize many different groups. For instance, ICARDA was an early supporter of the Pulse Year and is keen to be helpful in driving science related activities. Similarly, CICILS has already formed its own internal committee to work on the International Year and will want to make the most of the opportunity the Year presents.

In terms of funding, the International Year will require approximately US$ 2 million. However, the sky is the limit in terms of what could be done to fully promote the role of pulses in a healthy diet, so the opportunity is there to raise additional funds and do more.

IFT: What might a 2016 Year of the Pulses look like? What would be some of the central messages to convey during the Year of the Pulses and how would it benefit the industry?

Robynne Anderson: Key themes for the year are likely to be food security, including health and nutrition, plus sustainability, market access and production. Activities will be arranged by a series of national committees that will be set up in each country once the year is approved by the General Assembly. Readers are encouraged to work with their national governments to get involved at a country level. In addition, the international committee will plan a series of events. Early proposals include a global conference on plant research and activities in the context of the World Health Organization efforts on non-communicable diseases. Regional issues like the needs of pulse production in Africa are likely to be high on the agenda, particularly with the World Food Program being an early supporter of the Year.

One of the key areas of focus will be communications, including messaging on the benefits of pulses across a wide array of countries and sectors. This work could exponentially increase the power of the Year by reaching out at a consumer-level, as well as to food processors, dieticians and farmers.

IFT: What kinds of lessons can be learned from past “Year of” successes and failures?

Robynne Anderson: As a set of crops with some of the biggest impacts on human wellbeing, pulses truly have the opportunity to hold one of the most impactful International Years. Based on lessons learned from other international years, approaches that include the broadest number of actors, mobilize more capacity for message sharing, and start early on the efforts for resourcing are crucial to success.

Another interesting aspect of this is the involvement of CICILS early in the process. Many international years have had a limited focus on outcomes. With a strong sectorial engagement, there will be a clearer set of mandates and programming better aimed at resolving technical issues, spurring research, and furthering the use of pulses. These will be a priority for outcomes with a long term effect and will be the legacy of the International Year of Pulses.

IFT: How can members of the pulse industry get involved and contribute to the project? Whom should they contact about donating to the effort?

Robynne Anderson: Volunteers are totally welcome and can contact the CICILS office at info@cicilsiptic.org. It will be a few months until the year is approved and work really begins. CICILS has already set up a special fund for the International Year and is taking donations at  www.IYOP.net. Of course, a major fundraising campaign will be initiated that will involve large sponsorships and other unique opportunities once the Year is fully approved at the UN.

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Learn more about CICILS IPTIC and how to volunteer for the 2016 International Year of Pulses. Click the logo and read more.