About 90% of southern China is covered with mountains bare of vegetative cover, resulting in soil erosion and landslides.
In 1997, the first set of newly developed pigeonpea varieties was sent to China, which showed high adaptation in various agroecological zones of southern China: It helped conserve valuable topsoil and rejuvenate infertile marginal lands. It led to greening of 25 million ha of degraded mountain slopes, and is an afforestation crop in major government reconstruction projects, growing on roadsides, hillsides and riverbanks.
Southern China’s shortage of quality fodder was resolved by introducing pigeonpea.
Pulses, which are among the world’s most ancient cultivated plants, have nourished people for millennia.
Lentils were there in the beginning, or rather, In the Beginning—Genesis 25:34, to be exact— as the tempting stew for which Esau relinquished his birthright. They also fortified the builders of the Egyptian pyramids and the Roman legions on their quest for empire.
Traces of pulse production dating back to 3300 B.C. have been discovered around the Ravi River in the Punjab region of modern-day India and Pakistan, the seat of the Indus Valley civilization, one of the earliest human societies. Evidence of pulse consumption has also been found in Swiss villages dating back to the Stone Age.
Despite their place in history, pulses are often described by the research community as one of the most, if not the most, undervalued family of crops.
Well-known legumes include soy, alfalfa, clover, peanuts, mesquite, wisteria, lupines, and fresh peas, but “pulse” refers only to the dried seeds. Lentils, split peas, and dried beans such as pinto and navy are common examples of pulses.
Beans truly are a magical fruit…
Legumes, Pulses, Beans… whatever you call them, they are AMAZING!
Consumed by humans as a source of protein and fiber, used as livestock feed and Green manure, and even used as building material in many of the Emerging Markets, legumes are a versatile plant that can:
Improve global food and nutrition security
Reduce global poverty, and
Enhance the production environment of smallholder farmers and rural populations.
Global food (in)security:
The demand-supply gap of food grain is continuously increasing due to the ever-growing global population which is likely to expand from 7.2 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100.
This burgeoning problem is becoming serious as the current yield increase trends may not be sufficient in dealing with the growing demand.
The speedy depletion of natural resources and climate change have badly affected the ongoing efforts to achieve higher productivity.
In order to ensure hunger-free society with nutritious food, it is a challenge before the policy makers, farming community, and agriculture scientists to ensure nutritional food security by producing 60% higher food grain by 2050.
Pulses to the rescue…
“…diversification of crops with legumes and other practical measures must be scaled up to end hunger while meeting the challenge of climate change.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
A sustainable protein:
It is well known that proteins are essential macronutrient for growth as well as maintenance of human body and a minimum protein intake of 0.8, 1.5, and 1.0 g protein/kg body weight/day is recommended for adults, children, and adolescents, respectively.
The major protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and grains.
For legumes, the highest proportion of protein content is:
- Soybean: 33–45%
- Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): 21–39%
- Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus): 30–37%
- Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata): 21–35%
- Groundnut: 24–34%
- Mung bean (Vigna radiata)
- Pea (Pisum sativum): 21–33%
- Moth bean (Vigna aconitifolia)
- Urd bean (Vigna mungo): 21–31%
- Lentil (Lens culinaris): 20–31%
- Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus): 23–30%
- Chickpea (Cicer arietinum): 15–30%
- Horse gram (Macrotyloma uniflorum)
- Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan): 19–29%
- Rice bean (Vigna umbellata): 18–27%
Among the food grains, the grain legumes are the key sources of protein, minerals, vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
The importance of these legumes is higher where a large section of the society depends on vegetarian food such as in India. The oilseed legume crops such as groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) and soybean (Glycine max) play important role in the production of cooking oil and other confectionaries preparations to the consumers.
Legumes also serve as an excellent source of high quality and nutritious feed to livestock leading to ∼20% increase in animal productivity (Tarawali and Ogunbile, 1995).
Not only that, but the unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen by the legume crops play a crucial role in sustaining the farming system by making available the residual nitrogen to the non-legume crops.
“The Second Green Revolution”
Decreasing land and water resources, combined with climatic fluctuations and an ever increasing global population, will make the global food security crisis much worse before it gets better…
Leading to protein unavailability and further malnourishment in many of the developing nations (Africa and Asia in particular).
As the world’s population continues to grow and the effects of global warming and climate change begin to affect crop yields, new and existing crops must be developed that are resilient to temperature extremes, drought, and salinity, while also being cheap to produce.
In short, we need a food revolution…
Against these challenges, research on grain legumes has been neglected despite the wide genetic resources available that can meet future food, fodder, environmental, and biofuel demands in the face of the global climate challenges.
Legumes are currently underutilized in comparison to cereals (wheat, rice, maize) in spite of the known benefits to agricultural productivity, sustainability and human health. Grain legumes lag behind cereals in terms of area expansion and productivity gains especially in developing countries, in the face of increasing global demand.
More efficient legume production, especially in developing economies, can mean food and nutritional security for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
The health advantages of a legume-rich diet are many faceted. Their role in global health including the reduction of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases is underappreciated. A diverse diet including a range of legumes is required for healthy living.
Sieglinde Snapp, professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, said it’s important to draw attention to pulses, especially now.
“There’s been a slight decline in pulse consumption almost everywhere in the world except South Asia because of the promotion of cereals, which receive the bulk of government attention and research funding,” she said. “We need investment in pulses — they haven’t received the attention they deserve in years.”
Therefore, it is ESSENTIAL we intensify legume genetic enhancement programs.
We need global accelerated development of cultivars possessing high yield, genetic resilience against stresses, and enhanced nutritional quality.
In recent years there have been developments in legume genomics due to advancements in next-generation sequencing (NGS) and high-throughput genotyping technologies:
- The availability of draft genome sequences and re-sequencing of elite genotypes for several important legume crops have made it possible to identify structural variations at large scale.
- Deployment of molecular breeding approaches has resulted in development of improved lines in some legume crops such as chickpea and groundnut.
The recent development of large scale phenotyping, genome sequencing and analysis of gene, protein and metabolite expressions will be of great help in further deciphering plant-pathogen interactions and identifying key resistance components in our little buddy, that Magical Fruit.
But we need more results, and faster…
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, and it’s gonna be a big one!
Innovation leading to disruption and global unrest. We’re already there… so isn’t it finally time we Boy Scout-up and “Be Prepared?”
Thanks for reading!
Join me next time as I continue to explore the amazing Legume!
- BBSRC: BioScience for the Future
- NSAC’S BLOG
- Pest Management in Grain Legumes: Potential and Limitations
- New Phytologist
- Emerging genomic tools for legume breeding: current status and future prospects
- Catch the Pulse
- Global Pulse Confederation
- Dryland cereal and legume priority farming systems worldwide
- Translational Genomics in Agriculture
- Pulses Handbook 2016
- Breeding Annual Grain Legumes for Sustainable Agriculture
- Legumes in Sustainable Agriculture
- Legumes: the Solution to Human Health and Agricultural Sustainability
- Can legumes solve environmental issues?
- Legumes give nitrogen-supplying bacteria special access pass
- Introduction to Legumes (links to all articles by same author)
- These Plants Are the Pulse of Sustainable Farming and Healthy Eating
- Can We Improve the Nutritional Quality of Legume Seeds?
- Legume Innovation Lab
- Use of grain legumes residues as livestock feed in the smallholder mixed crop-livestock production systems in Ethiopia
- Finding niches for legumes in smallholder farming systems
- Innovations in agronomy for food legumes