It’s official! The United Nations kicks off the International Year of Pulses with a special ceremony in Rome.

By Dario Bard

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officially launched the International Year of Pulses (IYP) this past November 10th with a special ceremony held at its headquarters in Rome. The worldwide campaign will promote the production and consumption of pulses, namely edible beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils.

“Nutritious seeds for a sustainable future” is the campaign’s official UN slogan. As a food, pulses are highly nutritious and can help address the problems of hunger and malnutrition currently facing the global community. As a crop, they are a source of food security, especially for smallholder farmers, and, because of their smaller water footprint relative to other crops and their soil-enriching properties, they contribute to sustainable farming and are adaptable to changing climate conditions. Lastly, as an internationally traded commodity, pulses represent a US$ 7 billion value.

Yet the health benefits and agronomic advantages of pulses are not widely known. What’s more, overall world pulse consumption is in decline. IYP aims to change all that with awareness-raising activities planned throughout 2016.

At the kick off ceremony, FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva said, “[IYP] is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits of pulses in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that were just approved. Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition and environmental challenges.”

Director-General Graziano da Silva also recognized the important roles played by Permanent Representative of the Republic of Turkey to the FAO H.E. Aydin Adnan Sezgin, Permanent Representative designate of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to FAO H.E. Nadeem Riyaz, and Director-General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas Mahmoud Solh in making IYP possible.

Among the other presenters at the event was the FAO’s Director of the Office for Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Marcela Villarreal, who discussed the IYP 2016 Action Plan.

“Two thousand and sixteen is a really important year,” said Villarreal. “It is the first year of implementation for the new SDG agenda, agenda 2030. I believe pulses will be making an important contribution in many of the areas of that agenda; of course, in nutrition, ending hunger, soil conservation, biodiversity, health, and in many other areas where the increase in pulse consumption is going to have an important effect and impact on that agenda.”

Villarreal also spoke about the diversity of IYP’s international steering committee, which includes representatives from national governments, farmers’ groups, scientific institutions, academia, the private sector and civil society organizations, and the importance of creating synergies across constituents to lay the foundation for long-term projects, development strategies and policies. In her remarks, she singled out the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) for giving the steering committee a solid head start in populating IYP’s calendar of activities.

The highlight of the event came when FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva had the singular honor of officially launching the campaign by planting faba beans in a special IYP planter that was later relocated to a raised garden at the back of FAO headquarters where they may be seen by visitors as they grow over the course of IYP.

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Photo: FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva planting faba beans in a special IYP planter
(Credit: UN’s FAO International Year of Pulses official photostream on Flickr)

The global pulse industry was well represented at the event. Hakan Bahceci, Chair of GPC’s IYP Committee, GPC representative to the UN International IYP Steering Committee and CEO of Hakan Foods was present and was among the audience members who had the opportunity to speak before the gathering. In many ways, IYP is Bahceci’s brainchild; it was through his leadership that the UN designated 2016 the International Year of Pulses back in January of this year.

“Four years ago, I first entered this august building dreaming of the opportunity to draw attention to the unique role that pulses could play in addressing society’s needs, and the things that can be done to unleash this potential.  It could not be more thrilling to stand before you, grateful for the tireless work of Turkey and Pakistan, to see a year now dedicated to pulses,” stated Bahceci. “Pulses are a nutrient powerhouse for the developed and developing world. This is why we are grateful to the UN and the FAO for declaring 2016 as the International Year of the Pulses. We hope this year will help put pulses at the heart of the discussions around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the UN in New York and put pulses at the centre of people’s diets.”

“Pulses have great potential to help eradicate hunger, plus tackle many chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes,” GPC President Huseyin Arslan was quoted as saying in a GPC press release announcing the IYP launch. “We congratulate the UN on its focus on pulses and their importance to global food security and nutrition.”

“Pulses also offer broader societal benefits,” added Pravin Dongre, GPC’s Executive Vice President and Chairman of the Indian Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA). India is the world’s top pulse producer, consumer and importer. “In developing markets, pulses are often grown by smallholders, in particular women. Pulses provide these farmers with an additional source of food and income. Boosting global pulse consumption would have the potential benefit of increasing incomes among these families.”

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Photo: (left to right) Mr. Andrew Jacobs (President of the Sustainable Agriculture Fund), Ms. Katia Sambin (Assistant Chief Executive Officer of ACOS), Mr. Ahmad Farooq (Alternate Permanent Representative of Pakistan to FAO), Mr. Sefa Ozturk (Alternate Permanent Representative of Turkey to FAO), Ms. Robynne Anderson (Founder of Emerging Ag; Secretariat for the Global Pulse Confederation’s IYP Activities), and Mr. Gordon Bacon (CEO of Pulse Canada).

GPC Executive Committee member and Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon was also on hand for the kick off ceremony. Canada is a major pulse origin and the world’s top pulse exporter, accounting for just over one third of the world’s total trade in pulses.

“Canadians can be proud of the contribution we’re making to global food security as a major supplier to countries around the world,” said Bacon.

As part of Pulse Canada’s and the industry’s efforts to raise awareness of pulses, a global Pulse Brand is being launched that will live well beyond 2016. The Pulse Brand is a joint initiative of the GPC, the American Pulse Association, the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and Pulse Canada.

The kick off ceremony was followed by a luncheon sponsored by the FAO Permanent Representations of Turkey and Pakistan and featuring a menu of pulse-based dishes.

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Photo: Pulse Brand, visit pulses.org

In the afternoon, a side event titled “Pulses at the crossroads of health, nutrition and sustainable development” was held, with the participation of experts from Bioversity International, the FAO and the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Momentum Continues to Build

The UN FAO’s official IYP launch ceremony was the first in a series of IYP rollout events planned for the month of November. The momentum for IYP 2016 continues to build with the following lineup:

 

November 18: North American IYP Launch

The GPC will host a luncheon for special guests, including ambassadors and other dignitaries, at the UN headquarters in New York to mark the North American launch of IYP.

Later that evening, the U.S. Dry Pea & Lentil Council is sponsoring a very special dinner for leading food journalists and bloggers at Michelin-star restaurant Public in Lower Manhattan. The dinner will feature pulse-based dishes prepared by renowned chefs Alex Guarnaschelli of the Food Network, Michael Solomonov of Zahav, Seamus Mullen of Tertulia and Sam Mason of OddFellows Ice Cream. Public’s very own chef Brad Farmerie will prepare pulse-based hors d’oeuvres to be offered to guests as appetizers.

November 19: Little Beans, Big Opportunities: Realizing the Potential of Pulses to Meet Today’s Global Health Challenges

This international scientific/policy conference is the first of eleven UN-sanctioned IYP signature events prepared by the GPC and its partners. The conference will take place at the New York Academy of Sciences Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science and focus on pulses and human nutrition. Registration is open to all.

November 20th: Little Beans, Big Opportunities: Side Meeting

Following the Little Beans, Big Opportunities conference, a handful of the participants will meet once again at the New York Academy of Sciences for this side event, at which they will discuss the lessons that can be drawn from the previous day’s conference and how they can be implemented to promote pulse production and consumption.

All members of the pulse trade are encouraged to spread the word and become involved in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through the following platforms:

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist