If the production of pulse crops brought such strong environmental, social and economic benefit to Saskatchewan, could it bring similar benefits to other regions around the world? And how could such measures of sustainability (measured as net gains across environmental, social and economic criteria) be applied in diverse contexts around the world, which could range from the Sahel region of Africa to India, the largest pulse-consuming nation?
These are the questions which a new report, “Pulse crops and sustainability: A framework to evaluate multiple benefits,” sought to answer. With the UN declaration of the 2016 International Year of Pulses, more attention is being given to the role of pulses—beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and other pulses—in our food system. The world will need more food and more protein in the future, and pulses can be an increasingly important source of nutrition, while providing other benefits as well. The report proposes a framework for assessing the environmental, social and economic benefits and trade-offs of increasing pulse production, based on observations from around the world. Two case studies are explored in further detail—Saskatchewan, Canada and pulse producing regions of Sub-Saharan Africa—covering both developed and developing country contexts. In both contexts, finding evidence of the social and economic aspects of pulse production was not as easy as literature on the environmental benefits of adding pulses to crop rotations. Yet the social and economic contributions of pulses in these two different parts of the world are significant and are crucial for farmers, livelihoods, and food security.
The framework is intended to be used as a decision support tool. For each criterion, or key attribute, of sustainability relevant to pulse production (refer to Figure 1) a set of questions guides evaluation of the sustainability of potential management decisions, including common trade-offs. The questions are indicative, and should be adapted to local circumstances.