“Climate change also contributes to shifting the production areas of food and non-food crops around the world. Unless urgent and sustainable measures are established, climate change will continue to put pressure on agricultural ecosystems, particularly in regions and for populations that are particularly vulnerable.”
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Food production, food security and climate change are intrinsically linked. Whether in the form of droughts, floods, hurricanes or soil acidification; climate change impacts every level of food production as well as ultimately, the price instability of food1 and the food security of affected farming communities.
While its impact varies across crops and regions, climate change puts global food security even more at risk and heightens the dangers of undernutrition in poor regions2. Climate change also contributes to shifting the production areas of food and non-food crops around the world. Unless urgent and sustainable measures are established, climate change will continue to put pressure on agricultural ecosystems, particularly in regions and for populations that are particularly vulnerable.
Introducing pulses into farm production can be key to increasing resilience to climate change. Agroforestry systems that include pulses such as pigeon peas grown at the same time as other crops help sustain the food security of farmers, by helping them to diversify their sources of income. Agroforestry systems are more able to withstand climate extremes as pulses are hardier than most crops and help to nourish the soil. Farmers see an increase in crop productivity that extends to subsequent crop yields. In addition to adaptation, it is important to note that trees, and thus agroforestry systems, also sequester more carbon than field crops alone3. Pulses are climate smart as they simultaneously adapt to climate change and contribute towards mitigating its effects.
Pulses have a broad genetic diversity from which improved varieties can be selected and bred. This diversity is a particularly important attribute because more climate-resilient strains can be developed. For example, scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture are currently working on developing a strain of pulses that can grow at temperatures above the crop’s normal ‘comfort zone’. Since climate experts suggested that heat stress will be the biggest threat to bean production in the coming decades, these improved pulse varieties will be of critical importance, especially for low-input agricultural production systems4.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GENEBANKS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
Genetic material of pulse crops and wild relatives conserved in the gene banks of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research centers and national and international gene banks represents a good investment in adapting to climate change. The genetic resources stored in these gene banks are held in trust under the auspices of FAO through an agreement with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. These resources are freely available for research, breeding and training in food and agriculture. In other words, the traits needed for adapting to future climate scenarios can be sourced from the gene reservoir that are preserved at the gene banks network.
Agricultural practices that are more efficient can considerably reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn will reduce the need for fertilizers, and pulses play an important role in this context. Along with the better management of fertilizers, including integrated nutrient management, better timing of fertilization and precision farming; pulses have a very important role to play in climate change mitigation. The inclusion of pulses in crop rotations exploits symbiotic microbes to fix nitrogen, which is partly transferred to subsequent crops, increasing their yields. In forage pulses/grass mixtures, nitrogen is transferred from pulse to grass, increasing pasture production. When included in livestock feed, pulses’ high protein content contributes to increase the food conversion ratio while decreasing methane emissions from ruminants, thus at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
POLICIES FOR MORE SUSTAINABLE AGRO-ECOSYSTEMS
The conundrum facing policymakers and agricultural experts today is how to produce sufficient food for a growing population without further degrading the natural resources and contributing to climate change. Agricultural policies cannot be developed in isolation but need to be developed together with social and economic policies. Farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and consumers should be at the center of these policies, in order to eradicate hunger and improve livelihoods.
•It is estimated that globally, some 190 million hectares of pulses contribute to five to seven million tons of nitrogen in soils. As pulses can fix their own nitrogen in the soil, they need less fertilizer, organic and synthetic, and in this way, they play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
• Including pulses in crop rotations reduces the risks of soil erosion and depletion
• Multiple cropping systems, such as intercropping or crop rotations with pulses, have a higher soil carbon sequestration potential than monocrop systems.
• Global pulse production has fallen from approximately five million hectares in 1968 to 3.9 million in 2007.