Opinion & Columnist

Why growing pulses matters for Zim

Many farmers in the country are still unaware of the profitability and other benefits of pulses such as sugar beans.

When Zimbabwe’s largest seed company, Seed Co, hosted a virtual sugar bean production symposium recently to enhance productivity, sustainability and boost the country’s food security position, it raised a significant measure of awareness on the benefits of growing ‘orphan’ crops which many people are ignorant about.

Agricultural experts who spoke at this symposium said farmers in the country must not underestimate the value of pulse production of crops such as sugar beans in improving their income streams and liquidity.

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) broadly recognises 11 types of pulses — dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, bambara beans, vetches and lupins.

Seed Co head of production, Mr Farayi Zvavamwe, expressed concern that many farmers in the country were still unaware of the profitability and other benefits of pulses such as sugar beans.

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“Most farmers need to understand the strategic nature of sugar bean production to their farming operations,” he said. 

“Sugar beans are part of the seed we call orphan crops and we don’t seem to be giving it the glamour we should be giving it.”

World Pulses Day 2021 is today — February 10 and is being marked under the theme: “Nutritious Seeds for a Sustainable Future.”

It is an important day to highlight the health benefits of pulses and spread awareness about the benefits, value and worth of pulses. 

On this particular day, we should not only raise awareness, but share widely the benefits of growing pulses.

When farmers grow pulses — they can help Zimbabwe and most other countries in Africa to eradicate hunger and poverty, as well as supporting other efforts to improve soil conditions and climate action.

Agricultural experts say pulses should become a major food item globally as this could help countries attain UN SDG goals related to goal 3 — “Good Health and Well-being” and the 13th goal of the UN – “Climate Action.” 

Climate change is now a very pressing matter around the globe and growing pulses can help to retain soil nutrients and conserve important soil properties that help boost crop productivity.

Pulses are very critical and replenish urea and minerals in soil — a major component of various climate action plans Zimbabwe has adopted and ratified.

This family of crops is known to have a higher value of nitrogen as opposed to other crops that produce less of it.

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They make the soil more fertile and feasible for farmers to get better and improved crop yields in  successive years.

Zimbabwe spends huge amounts of money on fertiliser imports — particularly nitrates to boost crop yields.

And, promoting the widespread growing of pulses, on the other hand, could help cut the import bill, promote sustainable agricultural practices and open revenue streams for farmers.

Today, the world is grappling with non-communicable diseases that cover obesity, cancer, heart diseases and diabetes among others.

Health experts recommend eating pulses for weight loss and for general wellness.

The fibre, proteins, and other essential nutrients contained in pulses encourage a healthy heart and support other bodily functions such as fat burning. 

As we celebrate World Pulses Day, it is important to make people aware that pulses are good for their wellness, are rich in protein, have a higher rate of fibre and contain a variety of essential nutrients that are necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

Apart from the ravaging novel coronavirus, non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes are now the leading causes of death across the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

They now make up seven of the top 10 causes of death, an increase from four out of 10 in 2000, with heart disease the biggest killer — accounting for 16 percent of all deaths. The seven diseases highlighted in the report accounted for 24,4 million deaths, or 44 percent of all deaths globally, in 2019. 

After heart disease, which killed nearly nine million people in 2019, strokes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were the second and third leading causes of deaths from non-communicable disease.

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We should not overlook pulses because they are a critical weapon in the fight against non-communicable diseases as well as Covid-19 virus.

The whole world has been facing the unprecedented coronavirus health crisis for more than a year now.

More than 107 million coronavirus cases have been reported and over 2,3 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide.

And most of the deaths have been reported in people with underlying conditions. 

Eating pulses could help boost the immune system and support all efforts to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Growing pulses could help Zimbabwe in this journey to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce the burden of care in our health institutions.

Pulses are highly nutritious elements of the human diet and we should promote their consumption in the country.

Zimbabwe needs to undergo a transformative shift in its agricultural activities, away from huge, mono-cultural cereal farms reliant on artificial fertilisers, to a more diverse and sustainable farming culture that should include the cultivation of a variety of pulses.

This could be hugely beneficial — in terms of our soil ecosystem, the environment and public health.

HERALD