* By Bidyadhar Maharana
Pulses(mung, biri, horsegram, arhar, gram, pea,rajmash, lentil) are jewel crops due to following reasons.
1.Pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
They are a low fat source of protein, with a high fibre content and low glycemic index.
Pulses contain digestible protein ranging from 20-28% which is on par with animal pritein. Due to availability at a cheaper price it is called poor man’s meat.
Pulses are very high in fibre, containing both soluble and insoluble fibres. Soluble fibre helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, and insoluble fibre helps with digestion and regularity.
Pulses provide important amounts of vitamins and mineral.
Some of the key minerals in pulses include: iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
Pulses are also particularly abundant in B vitamins; including folate, thiamin and niacin.
They typically contain about twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals like wheat, oats, barley and rice, and in most developing countries constitute the main source of protein for most populations.
In addition to contributing to a healthy, balanced diet, pulses nutritional qualities makes them particularly helpful in the fight against some non-communicable diseases.
The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by eliminating risk factors, such as unhealthy diets and promoting better eating habits, of which pulses are an essential component.
Pulses can help lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose, which is a key factors in against diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Eating pulses as a replacement to some animal protein also helps limit the intake of saturated fats and increases the intake of fibres.
Pulses have also been shown to be helpful in the prevention of certain cancers, because of their fibre content but also because of their mineral and amino-acid contents, in particular folate.
Therefore pulses are included in all ‘food baskets’ and dietary guidelines. The World Food Programme (WFP) for instance includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils and sugar and salt.
2.Pulses have Rhizobium bacteria in their roots which can fix atmospheric nitrogen as a mini fertiliser plant.Thus they can enrich soil fertility.
Endowed with deep tap root system they can be cultivated under dryland situation.
Being a short duration and long duration crop it can be accommodated in a cropping system better than other crops.
A hectare of pulse crops can fix 20-200 kg of nitrogen with no cost.But it is surprising
that the energy rich crop is invariably cultivated under conditions of energy starvation.
The jewel crop has bypassed many improved technologies.
What is needed?
Encouraging awareness of the nutritional value of pulses can help consumers adopt healthier diets.
In developing countries, where the trend in dietary choices tends to go towards more animal based protein and cereals, retaining pulses is an important way to ensure diets remain balanced and to avoid the increase in non-communicable disease often associated with diet transitions and rising incomes.
Pulses & Food Security :
Over 60 per cent of total utilisation of pulses is for human consumption. But the importance of pulses in human diets varies from region to region and country to country, with a general trend of higher consumption in lower income nations.
The share of food use in total utilisation of pulses in the developing countries is over 75 per cent, compared to 25 per cent in the developed countries.
Pulses are locally adapted and can be grown by local farmers for their own nutrition as well as for sale, which is important to improve food security.
They are highly accepted crops, which can be kept well in storage. Pulses, because of their role in improving sustainability, notably through soil management, also impact food security.
Soil degradation is a major threat to food security in many areas for which inclusion of pulses in cropping system is a must.Under climate resilient agriculture pulses are considered as ideal crops.Being a low duty crop pulses are ideal crops for diversification in irrigated commands.
Pulses can be grown under multiple cropping as a sole crop, inter crop, mixed crop, paira crop and on field bunds.Under nutrition sensitive agriculture pulses are most preferred.
Government has rightly included pulses under NFSM from 11th FYP and the MSP of pulses has been hiked to encourage farmers.Furter, dal has been included under NFSA through PDS.The jewel crop should receive better treatment by way of improved crop production technologies.
A twin approach of horizontal expansion of area and vertical increase of productivity should be the strategy for increasing production and productivity of these neglected crops.Pulses should measure the pulse of agriculture development.