2016 is the United Nations International Year of Pulses (IYP). Pulses, or grain legumes, include 12 crops such as dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils, which are high in protein, fiber, and micronutrients.

In celebration of the global launch of IYP, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created a short video highlighting unique opportunities for pulses to contribute to the future of food security. Pulses offer many opportunities for reducing the environmental footprint of food production, especially by fixing nitrogen to improve soil quality.

Just 43 gallons of water can produce one pound of pulses, compared with 216 gallons for soybeans and 368 gallons for peanuts. And production of pulses emits only 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef production.

Furthermore, improvements in pulse productivity could be especially impactful in the developing world. “Pulses are important food crops for the food security of large proportions of populations, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. Just one serving of chickpeas contains 1.5 times as much iron as a 3-ounce serving of steak, and pulses are a fraction of the cost of other protein sources.

"Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health," adds UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The water efficiency of pulses allows the plants to enrich soil where they grow and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

By replacing animal protein with plant protein, pulses can also contribute to nutritional challenges in the developed world. “Pulses have great potential to…tackle many chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes,” says Huseyin Arslan, President of the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC). “We congratulate the UN on its focus on pulses and their importance to global food security and nutrition.” The GPC is a nonprofit international federation of 600 private sector members and 18 national federations based in Dubai.

In New York, a conference examining the scientific potential of pulses took place on November 19, 2015. Experts in nutrition science, agriculture, food policy, and public health discussed pulses at the event, Little Beans, Big Opportunities: Realizing the Potential of Pulses to Meet Today's Global Health Challenges, which was presented by the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Bush Brothers & Company. And from Turkey to Singapore, other events launched new nutritional guidelines and activities in schools to promote pulses.

Many organizations around the world are collaborating to celebrate the launch of IYP and to improve the productivity of pulses to support small farmers and improve food security. The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC), for example, is working to promote mungbean production on 20,000 hectares in Pakistan. And Pulse Canada is examining how peas, lentils, and chickpeas can contribute to a more sustainable Canadian farming sector while improving food security. From its base in Washington, D.C., HarvestPlus is responding to widespread iron deficiencies through its partnerships with farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, public organizations, and research institutes in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement iron-biofortified beans in crop production.

The India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), which facilitates the trade of pulses and grains in India, strives to cultivate holistic solutions throughout the value chain, as well as to support ethical business practices. As India’s forefront of the IYP 2016 campaign, IPGA will bring together hundreds of global stakeholders for its Pulses Conclave in February 2016 in Jaipur, India. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a research organization of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), will highlight a bean-growing country of Africa every month through a blog series.

But it’s not only institutions and global organizations that will be involved in IYP in 2016. Food Tank is highlighting ten ways for individuals to get involved, including:

  1. Eat more pulses—both at home and away from home! Pledge to eat pulses at least once a week for ten weeks.
  2. Participate in a Pulse Feast on January 6, 2016.
  3. Contribute a recipe featuring one or more pulses to a global collection by emailing IYP@emergingag.com. Your recipe could be featured on a new website once it launches! And don’t forget to share your recipe with #FoodTank on social media!
  4. Try substituting pulses for animal protein in a new dish!
  5. Use the hashtags #IYP2016, #LovePulses, and #FoodTank to discuss the launch of IYP on social media. Check out the Facebook page HERE and the Instagram page HERE.
  6. Try cooking with a new variety of pulse that you haven’t tasted before.
  7. Contact your favorite restaurants or office/campus cafeterias to tell them about IYP and ask them to feature new pulse dishes on their menus.
  8. Tell your local grocery store about IYP and ask them to promote pulses as a healthy and sustainable option.
  9. Donate pulses to a local food bank.
  10. Promote pulses with local youth groups, and try planting pulse seeds with a local community garden or school group. Get creative with educational activities!

How else will you celebrate IYP? We want to know! Share your ideas with Danielle@foodtank.com and SHARE this list!