“Towards International Year of Pulses 2016” featured talks on market trends and opportunities, challenges associated with climate change, and value-added pulse applications.

By Roman Kutnowski

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In June, officials with the Pulses Office at Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture anticipated the launch of a series of initiatives in support of the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP). These initiatives aim to increase domestic consumption, which currently stands at 2.5 kilos per capita per year, according to a 2013 survey.

The first step in raising awareness about pulses in Peru was the conference “ Towards International Year of Pulses 2016 Hacia el Año Internacional de las Legumbres 2016), which focused on market trends and opportunities, challenges arising from shifting climate patterns, and value-added applications, among other topics.

“Towards International Year of Pulses 2016” was organized by the state-run rural development and exporting company Sierra Exportadora, which has set a very ambitious goal: doubling pulse consumption in Peru by late 2016.

The seminar featured talks by: Gavin Gibson, Executive Director of the Global Pulse Confederation; Dr. Steve Beebe, leader of the Bean Program at the International Centre of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia; Dr. Pedro Prieto-Hontoria, Director of Research and Publications at SEK-Chile University; Dr. Shree Singh, Research Professor, Plant Breeding and Genetics at University of Idaho; and Randy Duckworth, International Coordinator of the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

IYP 2016 and the Global Pulse Confederation’s Role

Gavin Gibson offered a brief review of the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC), which represents the common good of all sectors of the global pulse industry value chain. Gibson discussed GPC’s goal: increasing worldwide production and consumption by 10% in the next five years. He also expanded over the four proposed IYP theme areas: food security, nutrition and innovation, awareness, market access, and sustainable crop production.

The Nutritional Benefits of Pulses

The Director of the Research and Publications Department at SEK-Chile University, Dr. Pedro Prieto-Hontoria, focused on the nutritional value of pulses and their key role in food security. He also shared the Quinoa case study; in just a few years, quinoa exports surged in Peru by 500%, in part thanks to the UN’s 2013 International Year of Quinoa.

IFT: What lesson can we learn from the International Year of Quinoa 2013?

Prieto-Hontoria: Quinoa was an unknown food product. The launch of an awareness campaign helped create a consumer trend, and led to stronger demand. Conversely, pulses are a well-known product, so the impact of IYP 2016 will likely be less in terms of sales. However, we could work to help spread the word about the health benefits of pulses, such as their potential to help control weight and blood sugar. At the same time, the FAO’s support adds credibility and authority to the effort.

IFT: Your presentation also covered the potential of pulses within the value-added food sector. Do you think processed food products using pulses could gain market access in Latin America?

Prieto-Hontoria: There is a growing demand for healthier food choices and innovative products all over the world, and pulses are an excellent option given their nutritional value. The way I see it, creative recipes made with pulses—humus with rocoto pepper, lentil and dry bean snacks, pastas containing pulse flour, among others—have the best opportunities in terms of market access.

Challenges Associated to Climate Change

Dr. Steve Beebe, Bean Program Leader at the International Centre of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, and Dr. Shree Singh, Professor, Breeder and Geneticist at the University of Idaho, expanded on the importance of improved and certified pulse seeds.

Dr. Singh told IFT he has carried out common bean breeding and genetics research in South America since 1977, mostly for Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

“In all these countries, both small beans of Central American and Mexican origins (e.g., small black, carioca) as well as large-seeded types such as white kidney, alubia, cranberry, dark and light red kidney, and bayo or canario of Andean origins, are popular. Major diseases include bean common mosaic virus, bean golden mosaic virus, anthracnose, angular leaf spot, common bacterial blight, halo blight, bean rust, and root rot”, he said.

According to Singh, the use of improved and certified seed for planting should be encouraged in each and every crop production region independent of climate change. “Climate change is not new; it has been gradually happening since the creation of the universe,” he explained.

IFT: Dry weather has been a major issue in Peru’s main bean-growing regions during the last few years. This has affected production and exports of black-eye beans, the country’s star pulse product for many years. Can improved seeds help boost black-eye production under dry weather conditions?

Singh: Black-eye bean (popularly known as cowpea in Africa and Asia) itself has high levels of tolerance to moderate heat and drought stress. However, as in most crops, there is considerable genetic variability within the species to increase the levels of heat and drought tolerance beyond the levels available in current varieties through judicious long-term breeding efforts.

Dr. Steve Beebe is the Bean Program Leader at the International Centre of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), one of the foremost tropical agricultural research agencies in the world. CIAT’s goal is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture.

IFT: CIAT’s website shows dry weather conditions currently affect 60% of the world’s dry bean growing areas. What percentage is currently threatened in Latin America?

Beebe: The percentage of area under threat of drought in Latin America is even higher than 60%. Brazil and Mexico are the largest producers, and most of Mexico’s production is under threat, especially in a precarious production zone in the dry central plateau, while much of the south is also drought-prone. In Brazil, more than a million hectares in the northeast are drought-prone. Likewise, most of Central America and the Caribbean are subject to drought.

IFT: CIAT’s blog says 30 “elite” lines show tolerance to temperatures four degrees above the crop’s normal “comfort zone.” Which dry bean types have been used for this research?

Beebe: While there are common bean lines that are relatively better for high temperatures, the highest level of tolerance is found in a sister species called tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) which is native to the southwest U.S. and Mexico. Tepary can be crossed with the common bean with some difficulty by extracting tiny hybrid embryos from pods and culturing them in the laboratory to create full-fledged interspecific plants. This is the procedure that was used to obtain the original interspecific lines, that were subsequently used to create the heat tolerant materials.

Market Trends

Randy Duckworth, International Coordinator of the U.S. Dry Bean Council, offered an outlook on the U.S. and worldwide dry bean industry, its main challenges, and opportunities.

U.S. Dry Bean Production and Outlook

Duckworth pegged 2015 U.S. dry bean production at 1,328,440 MT compared to 1,324,760 MT last year. The class breakdown is expected to come in as follows: pinto beans (33%), black beans (18%), navy beans (13%), chickpeas (12%), great northerns (6%), dark red kidney beans (5%), light red kidney beans (4%), small reds (3%), black-eyes (2%), and pinks (1%). Cranberry beans, large limas, and baby limas would account for less than 1% of the total output.

According to Duckworth, the main challenge for U.S. dry bean exports in 2015 is to remain competitive in the face of a strong U.S. dollar. As of October 6, the dollar increased by about 4% against the Chinese yuan and 14% against the Euro on a yearly basis.

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Figure 1: U.S. Dry Bean Imports – Top 10 (September 2005 – October 2014)

Future Challenges and Opportunities

Despite declining per capita consumption, world population growth is expected to lead to greater dry bean demand. In fact, Duckworth noted farmers will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to meet growing middle class demand. At the same time, this could create opportunities in markets with growing household incomes, such as India (reference slide).

Duckworth coincided with Dr. Prieto-Hontoria that there is a growing demand for healthier food choices and innovative products all over the world, and noted that the launch of pulse-based products has been increasing in most markets over the past few years.

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Roman Kutnowski, IFT Journalist