Pulse sector hopes to capitalize on year in spotlight

Pulse crops will soon be placed under the global spotlight.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has voted to declare 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the global pulse industry,” Pulse Canada chief executive officer Gordon Bacon said in a release.

“Having a UN dedicated year will raise the level of awareness of pulses and the important role they can play in health and nutrition, food security and environmental sustainability.”

Hakan Bahceci, president of the International Pulse Trade and Industries Confederation, agreed.

“This is the greatest opportunity in a century to give pulses the attention they deserve,” he said.

“Pulses can help to increase food security for those with shortages and to tackle the increase of diseases linked to lifestyles such as obesity and diabetes. Plus, they improve cropping systems and are good for farmers.”

Bahceci, who came up with the idea, received support from Turkey and Pakistan in lobbying the UN, which has in the past granted similar designations to co-operatives, family farms and soil.

“The International Year of Pulses will give pulses additional research attention and nutritional programming, which will lead to dietary uptake,” said Bahceci.

Bacon said in an interview that the publicity will be nice, but it’s more important that the pulse industry uses the international attention to make progress on tangible projects.

One example will be to use the international spotlight to push forward much-needed reforms at the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a UN body that sets maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides in countries that can’t afford to develop their own guidelines.

Codex is grossly underfunded, swamped with applications and bogged down by lengthy reviews. It results in outdated MRLs and the potential for trade disruptions in key pulse markets such as India, Pakistan, Brazil and Colombia.

The International Pulse Trade and Industries Confederation has budgeted $1.1 million to fund activities in 2016. Bacon said the UN may contribute additional funding through donations from governments around the world.

The pulse industry will meet with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to determine the initiative’s total budget and what activities to focus on.

Bacon said pulse crops can further many of the UN’s priorities, such as food security, nutrition, sustainabil-ity and reducing non-communicable diseases.

He doesn’t expect an immediate increase in pulse demand in 2016, but the year in the limelight should elevate the awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses, one of the world’s cheapest sources of protein.

That should have a lasting impact on long-term demand for crops such as peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans.

“It’s a trend line, and what we want to do is change the slope of the trend line,” said Bacon.“Our goal is that 2016 accelerates the interest in pulses and that we see that trend line in all markets moving in a positive direction.”