As industry leaders gather for the 2014 World CICILS/IPTIC Convention, IFT reports on the latest news surrounding the International Year of Pulses (IYOP)

By Dario Bard

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Things are moving fast on the International Year of Pulses 2016 (IYOP). CICILS first announced its plans for it at the previous CICILS-IPTIC Convention in Singapore. Then, following a General Assembly vote in New York last December, the United Nations made it official. Since then, the planning and coordination of this momentous event has been in the very capable hands of the CICILS IYOP Oversight committee. Executive committee vice president and Chippewa Valley Bean CEO Cindy Brown leads the CICILS IYOP national council committee, charged with overseeing IYOP activities all over the world.

Brown is a well-known figure in the pulse industry, having made a name for herself in the male-dominated agriculture sector. She was the first woman to ascend to the presidency of the U.S. Dry Bean Council and is currently the only woman to serve on the CICILS executive committee. She was also appointed by the Governor of Wisconsin and confirmed by the State Legislature to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, she held that position for eight years and recalls it as a great opportunity to learn more about her state and the inner workings of government.

Last year, Cindy Brown received a Leadership Award from Wisconsin Women in Government who recognized her as one of their Women of the Year.

Brown got her start on her family’s farm in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and lives in the same house she grew up in. “I didn’t get very far in life … mileage-wise,” she jests.

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Photo: 2013 Woman of the Year

Just before she departed for Cape Town, where 1,000 pulse industry leaders from 55 countries are converging for the 2014 World Pulses Convention, IFT had a chance to interview Brown about her distinguished career and the latest IYOP developments.

IFT: How did you get your start in the pulse industry?

Cindy Brown: We’ve had a farm in our family since the mid-1800s. So I grew up in the business. My father started growing kidney beans when I was in junior high and business went so well that he started Chippewa Valley Bean as the marketing arm for the beans he grew.  Currently my sister, brother, an outside partner and I own Chippewa Valley Bean and our family farm, Doane, Ltd. We grow between 3,000 to 3,500 acres of kidney beans annually and balance the rest of our acreage out in corn.  We trade land with a potato farmer to extend our bean rotation.  So, depending on the year, we farm between 4,000 and 4,300 acres. Chippewa Valley Bean also processes and markets beans for other kidney bean farmers throughout the mid-western U.S.

In the ’80s, I started marketing beans and working internationally. We have been very fortunate to have made a lot of great friends throughout the world and to have established such a good reputation internationally. Chippewa Valley Bean is the world’s premier supplier of kidney beans

IFT: What were the early years of your professional career like?

Cindy Brown: Women in agriculture are somewhat of a rarity. Often times, I’ve been the only woman in the room. But I got involved because I was interested in agriculture. I went to college for a general business degree. Originally, I didn’t really have a desire to work in the family business, but after working outside for a few years, I came back and had the opportunity to start in the office.  I worked my way up, doing anything that needed to be done in a small business.

IFT: What have been your biggest challenges? Did you face special challenges as a woman?

Cindy Brown: I don’t know if it was any more challenging for me than it would have been for one of my male colleagues, to be honest. I think it was a matter of determination, drive and motivation. Perhaps it was more about having my father as a leader, giving me the opportunity to do what I did. It may be a more traditionally male field, but I was in a position, as the eldest child in the family, to fit in.

Also, sometimes you are lucky enough to find someone to mentor you. There was one individual in the U.S. that I always felt was a great mentor to me, Sam Dajani. He introduced me to people and opened doors for me, and that was one of the best things that happened to my career.

It’s interesting because within our company we now have a woman plant manager, Tricia Kwak, and she is far more qualified than any male that we ever had in the position. It is very non-traditional for her to do what she does, but she is a major asset for us. And then there’s my sister, Ruth Hofland as VP of quality, so at Chippewa Valley Bean, we have quite a few women in upper management. We just do what we have to.

And outside of the company, I’ve always been treated with respect in the agriculture sector. Now we are seeing more women involved in this field. You can see it especially when you look around the table at CICILS. I’m very happy to see the number of young, professional businesswomen that are involved in pulse trading and serving on the CICILS young professionals group.

For me, the biggest challenges have come as part of the leadership in the different trade associations, trying to move ideas forward and accomplishing things for the benefit of the entire industry. For instance, at the end of my tenure as president at the U.S. Dry Bean Council, Tim McGreevy of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council approached me about joining forces to pursue pulse research funding. So we did and the American Pulse Association was formed, and you see the result of that partnership in the new farm bill, which includes language that includes US$ 125 million for pulse health research and US$ 10 million for a school food pilot program over five years. That’s huge, because for years, there wasn’t much federal funding for dry bean research … nor was there for pea and lentil research. Partnering with like-minded people and having both sides of the pulse world come together has made a major difference.

IFT: I understand you were also intimately involved with efforts to promote the health benefits of pulses.

Cindy Brown: That was actually my first involvement with CICILS. The US dry bean industry had successfully approached USAID for funding and started the Beans for Health Alliance. That allowed us to have five major health studies conducted, and that’s when we first started talking about bean health and nutrition. I wasn’t the Council president at the time; I was chairing the food aid committee. Anyway, I approached CICILS and spoke about the importance of this research and of having an international clearinghouse, say, or an international focus on health and nutrition.  The hope was that CICILS could look at public research coming from all over the world and have a hand in guiding it and using the association as a venue to openly share nutrition and pulse health research. So after my appeal to CICILS, the Science and Nutrition Committee was established, and in fact, that is now part of the thematic areas under IYOP.

The thing is, no matter where you are in the world, most countries have similar health issues. So if we share information about the value that pulses bring on the health side all over the world, people are better off for it … and so is the pulse industry.

IFT: I understand you are working on IYOP presently. What’s the latest there?

Cindy Brown: One of the things about IYOP that many people may not realize is that the FAO is in charge. We have to follow their lead. That’s what we’ve been doing so far as we’ve been trying to get more countries, more pulse leaders interested in taking the lead and creating awareness of our wonderful product in their countries.

Through the CICILS membership, our executive committee members and the country trade associations that belong to CICILS, we have identified leaders in many different countries and we’ve reached out to them and started holding committee meetings as early as December 2013 where we share information about the opportunities that IYOP offers.

Andrew Jacobs in the United Kingdom has been a very important asset to our committee. He started an IYOP committee in the United Kingdom way back last summer and put together a model for conducting outreach to various sectors in each country. It starts out organizing individual pulse leaders from the areas of production, marketing, food processing and government. For IYOP, we want to make sure we have all those sectors involved. So the UK created a model that we’ve been sharing with other countries so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel. They can use it as a template to develop their own system in their own country.

(Click here to see the template developed by the national committee established by Andrew Jacobs.)

So far, we are seeing involvement from a number of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, India, China, Australia, Argentina and Brazil, to name a few.

So we’ve been openly sharing as national committees. We’ve been hosting conference calls and having committee meetings basically every other month. We have two calls a month to accommodate all the countries involved. Our consultant, Robynne Anderson, is helping us organize for IYOP. We’ve developed five theme areas for IYOP: food security; creating awareness; health, nutrition and food innovation, market access and stability; and productivity and environmental sustainability.

(Click here for a short document that describes each of the IYOP’s five thematic areas in greater detail.)

At Cape Town, on the second day of plenary sessions, we are having a major IYOP meeting. We have a full morning devoted to sharing information about IYOP and generating interest among CICILS members so that people get really excited about taking this information back home with them and adding to the activities we have so far.

At that meeting we will be hosting a six-member panel that will be looking for audience participation to come up with Ten Great Ideas for IYOP. That panel consists of representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia.

IFT: Is it too early to talk about some of the interesting ideas that are being discussed?

Cindy Brown: We are looking at several things, like a school information program to create awareness about pulses among children, teachers and parents. We are also looking at teaming up with food manufacturers on the use of pulses as ingredients to create healthier products that provide customers with better diets. Then there is the idea of finding a celebrity chef to serve as the global spokesperson for IYOP. There will be a very large nutrition conference on pulse research. We will work on the agronomic side of things, working with developing countries and small stakeholder farmers on their pulse production, emphasizing environmental sustainability. There are numerous conferences planned around IYOP. And we are also looking at market and trade issues; for example, the need to establish harmonization in MRLs.

IYOP is the opportunity of a lifetime for everyone within the pulse industry. It is a vehicle that allows us to create awareness of our products throughout the world. We have UN support and an official international declaration, and now it is up to all of us to organize in our respective countries and make the most of this gift we have been given.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist

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