UN FAO World Pulses Day webinar coverage

February 10, 2022 marked the 4th annual World Pulses Day and the UN FAO held a 2-hour webinar in which both key industry players from worldwide organizations and young influencers bringing about positive change at a global level were invited to speak.

Lara Gilmour

By Lara Gilmour - Editor Website

UN FAO World Pulses Day webinar coverage

World Pulses Day marks the pulse industry’s most important annual event and, since its designation by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2019, has been celebrated by UN member countries across the globe. The theme for World Pulses Day 2022 was ‘Pulses to empower youth in achieving sustainable agrifood systems’. Each speaker approached the theme from the unique perspective of their organization and background, referencing the incredible nutritional, environmental and economical benefits of pulses and how to leverage their power to achieve the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

GPC Pulse Pod Editor Lara Gilmour covered the event, a brief summary of which is provided below. Members can also find a video of the full webinar on the UN FAO website, by clicking here.

The online event was divided into two sections: the first, moderated by Dr. Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at the UN FAO, included the opening remarks and addresses by the four keynote speakers, and the second, moderated by Dr. Jingyuan Xia:  Director, FAO Plant Production and Protection Division zoomed in on the youth aspect of the day. Before the opening remarks, Dr. Villarreal played a video called “Pulses are not just for adults”, which showed children in countries across the world shared their love for pulses and described which was their favorite. Inspired by this, many of the speakers at the webinar also shared their favorite pulse type.


Section A: Opening remarks and keynote speakers

Opening remarks: QU Dongyu - Director-General, FAO

In his opening remarks, Mr. Dongyu commented on the choice of theme, stating that there are currently 1.8 billion people in the world aged between 10 and 24 and it is this group who has the creativity and energy to renew perspectives and opportunities in food systems and agriculture. He highlighted the creation of the first ever Food Systems Summit last year, during which the significant role of pulses in the future of food was strongly emphasized. Mr. Dongyu also stressed that there are only 8 planting seasons left before 2030, underlining the urgent need to work together with all relevant partners and stakeholders in order to achieve the SDGs. 


Keynote Address: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala - Director-General, World Trade Organization

Although Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was unable to join the event, she sent in a recorded speech, in which she underlined the importance of trade and better functioning in international markets when it comes to increasing and optimizing global pulse production and consumption. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that global pulse imports have grown by 2% per year in value terms over the last decade. She also highlighted the importance of the pulse trade in developing countries, which enables their populations to access this nutritious and varied category of food products as well as generate export revenue and raise farmer incomes. She stressed the significant role of India in the global market, which is the largest consumer, producer and importer of pulses, with a 25% share of global production and also pointed out the important producing regions in Africa, which make up another 25% of production and contribute 7% of worldwide exports. Least developed countries, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala pointed out, count for 22% of global production and 15% of exports and there is much work to be done to make pulse trading more predictable, resilient and rule-based in order to provide them with more stability. She finished by highlighting the crucial role the World Trade Organization plays in negotiations in agriculture, holding regular meetings to keep trade across the world flowing smoothly and aiming to make the global market more fair and thus more resilient to future shocks. 

Keynote Address: Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage / Healthier Populations, World Health Organization

Dr. Yamamoto gave an address focused on the incredible nutritional benefits of pulses, highlighting the vast and varied list of ways they contribute to healthier lifestyles: from reducing cholesterol and blood pressure to preventing diabetes, heart diseases and cancers. Dr. Yamamoto chose to zoom in on the role pulses can play in fighting the obesity epidemic, indicating that obesity levels have tripled worldwide since 1975. She also chose to highlight the high levels of iron and zinc present in pulses, a power that makes them primordial in combating anemia in women and children, which currently affects 42% of children below the age of 5 and 40% of pregnant women worldwide. Dr. Yamamoto stressed the importance of incorporating pulses in the WHO’s strategy to improve the diets of populations worldwide, in particular when it comes to vulnerable children dealing with malnutrition and severe hunger. Finally, she commented on the climate crisis and expressed her optimism that the youth’s dedication to mitigating it will aid not just in saving our planet, but also in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and the creation of sustainable agricultural systems. 


Keynote Address: Dr. Nevzat Biri?ik - Director-General of Agricultural Research and Policies, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of the Republic of Turkey

In his address, Dr. Biri?ik spoke about research in agrifood. He started by giving a brief history of pulses, pointing out that they were the first crops cultivated in the Middle East and were first used to increase soil fertility before being consumed as a food source as populations began to recognise their significant nutritional capacity. Dr. Biri?ik also commented on how increasing fertilizer prices mean pulses’ nitrogen-fixing qualities are becoming increasingly relevant. He went on to discuss the role of pulses in Turkey, which is, he stated, the gene center for lentils, chickpeas, peas and faba beans, which were first cultivated in the country. Now, he went on, their breeding program has developed 131 new varieties of these pulses, that have been modified to be more resilient. Pulses, Dr. Biri?ik continued, are important in Turkey not only due to their health benefits but also their contribution to employment creation, their export potential,  crop rotation possibilities and contribution to the reduction of fallow areas. Pulses are grown in almost every region of Turkey, are able to meet the protein needs of the population, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, and could eventually completely replace animal products as the main protein source in the country. 

Keynote address: Cindy Brown - President, Global Pulse Confederation (GPC)

In her address, Ms. Brown stressed the importance of the UN FAO’s chosen theme for this World Pulses Day, zooming in on the challenges and opportunities in the pulses market and the ways in which the youth can be a key factor in helping the UN achieve the 2030 SDGs. Ms. Brown also discussed smallholder farmers and the gap between their significant role in pulse production and their vulnerability to economic and climactic instability. Pulses, she stressed, are more than capable of providing the stability needed to create sustainable food systems and, if aided by the youth’s considerable access to technology and new, creative perspectives, can build the foundation from which to move forward into a future with food security for all.   


Section B: Presentations on Pulses and the role of youth and conclusion

Young professionals in the business of pulses: Tala Mobayen - Director, Victoria Pulse Trading Corporation 

Ms. Mobayen, who is the GPC Young Professionals representative, talked about the program’s upcoming projects, particularly an exchange program planned for summer 2022 aimed at educating and sharing knowledge about the unique properties of each pulse growing region and the challenges and opportunities of nourishing the world. She also highlighted that young professionals have been leveraging social media in promoting pulses, thanks to the communication challenges presented by the pandemic, pointing out, in particular, virtual conventions that have been keeping the industry informed. She ended her presentation by encouraging all young professionals to join the GPC in order to spread the world about the power of pulses.

Pulses in school feeding programmes: Carmen Burbano - Director of School Feeding, World Food Programme (WFP) 

Ms. Burbano began her presentation with a video focusing on Immaculée, a smallholder farmer in Rwanda who had directly benefited as a result of the WFP’s School Meals program. In her presentation, she stressed the direct impact providing schoolchildren with meals in which pulses play a central role has on farming communities, helping to empower women and smallholder farmers while directly combating hunger and malnutrition. She gave some examples of the success of the program, drawing on a Cost Benefit Analysis that showed that for every dollar invested in the school meal program in Rwanda, there is an economic return of $5 because of the knock-on effects of job creation and improved population health. In Ethiopia, the ROI is even higher: for every dollar, there was a return of $7 in terms of productivity and economic returns to the community. The program, Burbano pointed out, also supports gender equality and the promotion of the role of women in producing crops, giving them better business knowledge and access to markets, which allows them to grow their incomes. She gave other examples, highlighting Brazil in particular, where the program is working very well as, by law, 30% of food purchased for the school meals program must come from smallholders and pulses are an important part of that. 

Burbano emphasized the importance of the program as a safety net, particularly during the pandemic, which caused many governments to come together this year through the UN’s Food Systems Summit and create the School Meals Coalition, which, 4 months after launching, has grown exponentially and now includes 59 countries and more than 60 partners who are committed to supporting governments to restore national programs that were impacted by school closures during the pandemic. Burbano indicated that 370 million children lost access to meals last year because of school closures and 73 million children are living in extreme poverty. Beyond the pandemic, she went on, the School Meals Coalition aims to give countries around the world the opportunity to design healthy programs that are more connected to the farming sectory and can contribute to the livelihoods of many, especially women and smallholder farmers, making sure they are connected to the world at large and benefiting from the innovation happening across the globe. Burbano concluded by saying that the WFP has seen firsthand how pulses can be incorporated into these programs and bring about amazing benefits. 

Pulses, biodiversity and youth: Rodrigo Pacheco - Chef and FAO Goodwill Ambassador 

Mr. Pacheco sent in a video message live from his garden, where he was standing next to a bean plant and discussed the power of pulses in creating healthy diets, spreading beneficial vitamins into the soil, and contributing to local biodiversity. In the video, Mr. Pacheco may well have coined a new phrase for the industry, referring to pulses as “caviar from the earth”, due to their beauty as well as their deliciousness. With this, Mr. Pacheco stressed how pulses deserve to be seen as just as fancy as caviar and be featured in the most important dishes both in restaurants and homes across the world. He finished by urging people to cultivate pulses at home in their own gardens, mentioning how easy they are to grow and how resilient they are, as well as creating amazing biodiversity.

Pulses and indigenous people: Mariah Gladstone - World Food Forum Champion, Indigikitchen 

In her presentation, Ms. Gladstone talked about the revitalization of traditional indigenous American foods. She spoke about the “three sisters”: corn, bean and squash, who are named after a legend that tells of three sisters who were very different but who helped each other to grow in the right way. She mentioned that pulses have been treated as pest species in some places, for example mesquite trees, which have now been cut down in many places even though they are an important food source in dry desert regions. Gladstone stressed that pulse crops are part of our responsibility to the earth and to nourish the soil, just as it provides the nutrients for foods that nourish us. Reciprocity, she said, is central to indigenous food systems and is a key element to remember as we forge healthy, sustainable food systems. She finished by encouraging us to recognise indigenous wisdom and the importance of pulse crops. 


Promoting pulses in school: Delia di Scipio - Youth representative, Rome International School

In her presentation, Ms. di Scipio, a student from Rome and a Globeducate youth representative, highlighted the importance of the UN’s SDGs and showed how the Globeducate eco-schools are actively promoting sustainability to help break the vicious cycles of the past and create virtuous ones for the future. She outlined the Globeducate goals and how they link with the SGDs, such as reducing plastic use in schools, creating gardens for children and organizing activities to clean public spaces. 


Youth initiatives in pulses: María Virginia Solís - Co-founder, The Farm of Francesco

In her presentation, Ms. Solis shared three invitations: co-create initiatives with youth, learn from pulses to collaborate together, and take action 

The Farm of Francesco, she explained, aims to develop a global network of demo farms that apply regenerative agriculture and deliver a holistic educational program based on three pillars: environmental, economic and social. She expanded on the invitation to learn from pulses, commenting on their natural wisdom in creating bridges and collaborating with nature. She ended by urging everyone to take her up on the invitation to take action. After everything we have learned about pulses and sustainable agriculture, she stressed, we need to take action. She suggested we start by changing ourselves and recommended a holistic perspective based on the 3 pillars. Our actions, she concluded, are what make us extraordinary - particularly the youth.



In the Q&A section, each speaker was asked one question from the audience. Ms. Mobayen commented on the low consumption of pulses in Canada and outlined the initiatives being taken to incorporate pulses into the diets of children so that domestic consumption will increase with the next generation. Ms. Burbano expanded on the impact of the School Meals program, highlighting in particular that it has led to increased attendance and better performance in schools around the world. She also mentioned the importance of teaching children how to eat better so that they can stay healthy as they grow older as well as creating a safety net and facilitating the transference of resources within communities, which is particularly important when a crisis hits. Burbano was also questioned about the challenges concerning storage and transport and she responded that it’s true that smallholders have less capacity for this, which is why the WFP and FAO support them through training and through providing better storage mechanisms. She mentioned that food safety is also an ongoing issue they are working to resolve. Ms. Gladstone expressed how inspiring it has been to get young people interested in traditional indigenous foods and pointed out the importance of educating people about cooking, mentioning that even cookbooks can be inaccessible to some. Ms. Solis explained the plans to upscale the Farm of Francesco in several different countries, working from the ground up. 


Closing remarks: H.E Carlos Cherniak, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Argentina to the Rome-based UN Agencies and Chairperson of the World Pulses Day Steering Committee

In his conclusion, Mr. Cherniak explained that the UN FAO had received a clear message from the youth about what they want: sustainable food systems, to overcome social inequalities and fight climate change and stated clearly that the UN FAO has no excuses not to deliver. He went on to indicate that pulses are a powerful but underutilized instrument to help overcome food insecurity, highlighting that average consumption is still low and we have not yet unleashed their full potential. Mr. Cherniak mentioned pulses’ ability to improve soil health and biodiversity as well as their positive impact on. Since they can be cultivated in diverse conditions and from small farms to large industrial operations, he went on, they are accessible for everyone and are therefore an invaluable tool for economic growth and poverty reduction. Mr. Cherniak reiterated how essential it is to involve the youth in the path towards achieveing the SDGs by 2030, indicating that words alone are useless if they do not lead to action. Now is the time for action, he concluded, and if we want to achieve sustainability we must work together, learning from and working with the youth. 

Dr. Xia, closing the webinar, pointed out that the WPD webinar 2022 had three goals: increase awareness about the importance of pulses in achieveing the SDGs, share knowledge, and promote collaboration and action. He concluded by affirming that, in his opinion - and indubitably that of everyone involved -, these goals were achieved.


UN FAO World Pulses Day webinar coverage
UN FAO World Pulses Day webinar coverage
UN FAO World Pulses Day webinar coverage

UN FAO / World Pulses Day / Cindy Brown / Tala Mobayen / QU Dongyu / Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala / Naoko Yamamoto / Nevzat Biri?ik / Carmen Burbano / Rodrigo Pacheco / Mariah Gladstone / Delia di Scipio / María Virginia Solís / Carlos Cherniak

Disclaimer: The opinions or views expressed in this publication are those of the authors or quoted persons. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Global Pulse Confederation or its members.