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They are the dried edible seeds of legumes both cultivated for food and feed. They are pulses, and if you didn’t know already, they have the potential to transform our agri-food systems.
Colorful and flavorful, small yet powerful, pulses include the well-known beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas but there are also the lesser-known kinds like tarwi beans and adzuki beans.
Pulses not only boost our food security and nutrition, but they also nourish our soils and benefit the environment.
On World Pulses Day, on Feb. 10, the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) is highlighting the potential that these small and powerful seeds have to improve everything from soil health to healthy diets.
Here are four ways in which pulses nourish soils and soils nourish us:
1. Pulses make essential nutrients available to soils.
It is widely known that healthy soils contribute to growing healthy and nutritious foods. But did you know that pulses also improve soil health by providing and mobilizing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and micronutrients?
Pulses get over 60 percent of their nitrogen from the air. This nitrogen is then fed into the soil and allows these legumes to share this nitrogen with nearby crops, essentially reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. This unique ability is called biological nitrogen fixation—where they convert atmospheric nitrogen gas into ammonia (a plant-useable form of nitrogen).
Phosphorous is another much needed but often lacking nutrient in soils, crucial for converting the sun’s energy and helping plants grow. However, phosphorous is often only present in small amounts and even then, may be in chemically unavailable forms. As a result, famers add mineral fertilizers to offset this loss. (To becontinued)