What are pulses?

Pulses are the dried edible seeds of the legume family. Hundreds of different varieties of pulses are grown all over the world in pods and in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses (pulses.org): Dry beans; Dry broad beans; Dry peas; Chickpeas; Cow peas; Pigeon peas; Lentils; Bambara beans; Vetches; Lupins; and Pulses nes (not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).

Popular pulses include kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans and broad beans; chick peas, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas and all the varieties of lentils. Currently, about 200 countries grow and import pulses.

The 68th General Assembly of the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to raise public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production towards food security. Since its official launch in 2015, pulses have become very popular worldwide, generating interest in economic sectors as agriculture, trade, health and nutrition.

Pulses as important crops in Nigeria

Nigeria is the largest cowpea/pulses producer in All Africa, and the 4th largest producer in the world (http://www.fao.org). If you are thinking of how to play in the agribusiness value chain, please find below some reasons why you should consider cultivating pulses:

Enhance Nutrition:

Pulses are very nutritious. They are high in protein, folate, potassium, iron, amino acids and other vitamins; rich in soluble fibre and low in fat. Vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters will enjoy pulses. They are an ideal source of protein especially in areas where meat and dairy products are not easily available. Their low-fat properties help to lower cholesterol and control of blood sugar and so, recommended by health organizations for the management of diseases like diabetes and heart conditions and to help combat obesity. Pulses are good for children suffering from stunted growth; are underweight and malnourished because of inadequate nutrients in their diet.

Promote Sustainable farming:

Pulses are one of the most sustainable crops that farmers can grow. They are sold and consumed by millions of people and their families; used as feed for animals, particularly for pigs and poultry, as a steady source of their nutrition. Pulses use up less water during cultivation. This is good news for farmers who spend a lot on power and energy for irrigation. You need just about 12L of water to produce 0.45kg of pulses, compared with 56L for soybeans and 96L for groundnuts. Pulses also help to improve soil quality by preserving nitrogen in the soil and increasing the productivity of the farmland. When pulses are used for intercropping and as cover crops, they help to promote farm biodiversity and soil biodiversity, keeping away harmful pests and diseases. With improved varieties and better management techniques, pulse crops are an excellent choice for farmers in the developing world.

With a population of about 200 million people, smallholder farmers and family farmers should be encouraged to grow pulses to accelerate food production, promote healthy nutrition and improve the nation’s food security. With its relative low-cost cultivation and possible high yield, pulses can improve the farmer’s soil fertility and productivity, enhance their income and consequently, boost their socio-economic status.

Ameliorate climate change

The effects of climate change are already being felt worldwide. Nigeria can utilize the distinctive properties of pulses to contribute to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Pulses naturally produce their own nitrogen. They take nitrogen from the air into the soil and get the bacteria living in their roots to trap the nitrogen so that it stays in the soil and is available for plants to use. Since nitrogen is a primary component of fertilizer, this means that pulses produce their own fertilizer. Their roots, left in the ground after the crop has been harvested, leave nitrogen behind so that the next crop doesn’t need as much fertilizer. With the cultivation of pulses, the farmers will use less synthetic fertilizer and save more carbon.

Nigeria can spread the beautiful message of pulses in the media, the schools, the business community, etc.