Wider consumption of grain legumes is the answer to improving human health and meeting the increasing global demand for food, according to research published in Nature Plants today by The University of Western Australia researchers and collaborators.
Also known as pulses, grain legumes have a significant role because of their health, sustainability, and environmental benefits, such as reducing the carbon footprint and the need for nitrogen fertiliser application.
The research was compiled by a multi-disciplinary team from the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) and led by The UWA Institute of Agriculture’s Food Quality and Human Health research theme, including eight researchers across UWA’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
Research Theme Co-Leader Dr Michael Considine from UWA’s School of Plant Biology and Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia said that although the health benefits of a grain legume rich diet are copious, they form only a minor part of current diets especially in developed countries.
“Australians eat on average less than one third of a serve (<25 g) of grain legumes a week, and only 35% of people eat grain legumes regularly,” Dr Considine said.
“Consuming 20 to 40 g of grain legumes per day contributes to reduced risk of mortality because of their benefits against major non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and gut health.”
Dr Considine proposed that increased public perception of the health and wellbeing advantages of a grain legume-rich diet may be an important driver of culture change in considering grain legumes as key to food and nutritional security.
Co-author Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique from The UWA Institute of Agriculture, who was recently named Special Ambassador for Pulses 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO), said the International Year of Pulses 2016 provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the status of global grain legume production, consumption and potential opportunities for future expansion.
“Grain legumes provide an unparalleled solution to food and nutritional security because of their inherent capacity for symbiotic atmospheric nitrogen fixation, which provides economically sustainable advantages for farming,” Professor Siddique said.
“However, grain legume crops will only achieve a competitive advantage if their profitability to the farmer is similar or exceeds that of the dominant cereal crops. To date, grain legumes have received limited attention from policy-makers and governments despite their multiple benefits.”
The current level of research and development funding for grain legumes is low and unstable. A recent global survey shows an investment of US$175 million per annum for the 13 grain legume crops, a trifling amount compared to the billions of dollars invested into three major cereal crops each year.
Professor Siddique said there are still tremendous opportunities to accelerate grain legume production and productivity.
“The use and application of innovative technologies such as, improved germplasm, conservation agriculture, integrated crop management, crop-livestock systems, rice-fallow replacement, seed and marketing systems, and value addition would help close the major yield gaps between on-farm yields and potential yields remarkably,” Professor Siddique said.
“Research and development must target particular grain legume crops grown across a range of farming systems, from subsistence agriculture to sophisticated commercial production and various agro-ecologies.”
“To hasten the adoption of grain legume production technology by resource-poor farmers in developing countries, the researchers proposed that on-farm, farmer-participatory adaptive research and developmental approaches were required to a much greater extent than is currently being implemented”
The paper Neglecting legumes has compromised human health and sustainable food production was published in Nature Plants and funded by WUN. For more information about the International Year of Pulses 2016, visit iyp2016.org
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (+61 4) 11 155 396
Dr Michael Considine (+61 8) 6488 1783
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 3756 / (+61 4) 04 152 262