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Beans’ talk

The idea that plants have developed a subterranean internet, which they use to raise the alarm when danger threatens, sounds more like the science-fiction of James Cameron’s film “Avatar” than any sort of science fact. But fact it seems to be, if work by David Johnson of the University of Aberdeen is anything to go by. For Dr Johnson believes he has shown that just such an internet, with fungal hyphae standing in for local Wi-Fi, alerts beanstalks to danger if one of their neighbours is attacked by aphids.

The experiment which suggests this was following up the discovery, made in 2010 by a Chinese team, that when a tomato plant gets infected with leaf blight, nearby plants start activating genes that help ward the infection off—even if all airflow between the plants in question has been eliminated. The researchers who conducted this study knew that soil fungi whose hyphae are symbiotic with tomatoes (providing them with minerals in exchange for food) also form a network connecting one plant to another. They speculated, though they could not prove, that molecules signalling danger were passing through this fungal network.

Dr Johnson knew from his own past work that when broad-bean plants are attacked by aphids they respond with volatile chemicals that both irritate the parasites and attract aphid-hunting wasps. He did not know, though, whether the message could spread, tomato-like, from plant to plant. So he set out to find out—and to do so in a way which would show if fungi were the messengers.

As they report in Ecology Letters, he and his colleagues set up eight “mesocosms”, each containing five beanstalks. The plants were allowed to grow for four months, and during this time every plant could interact with symbiotic fungi in the soil.

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Vegetables Likely To Take More Of Your Plate In 2016

Author: Bonny Wolf

About a decade ago, food writer Michael Pollan issued a call to action: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. As 2016 opens, it looks like many American cooks and diners are heeding that call.

Vegetables have moved from the side to the center of the plate. And as another year begins, it appears that plants are the new meat.

Bon Appetit magazine named AL’s Place in San Francisco the best new restaurant of 2015. Meats at AL’s Place are listed under “sides.” The rest of the menu features vegetable-centric dishes sometimes featuring animal protein as an ingredient — pear curry, black lime yellowtail, persimmon, blistered squash. The hanger steak (with smoked salmon butter), however, is a side dish.

This and other restaurants are also using the whole vegetable. What used to go in the compost heap is now fermented, roasted or smoked and used in other dishes. The stem-to-leaf approach follows the example of nose-to-tail eating.

WastED is a project that brings together chefs, farmers, fishermen and food purveyors to “reconceive waste” in the food chain, according to the group’s website.

Eaters in 2016 also are likely to see more dried beans, peas and lentils on their plates. The United Nations has declared this the International Year of Pulses to raise consumer awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of the edible dry seeds. Chickpeas seems to be the rising star of the pulse world. They’re not just for hummus anymore.

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The pulse of life

When pulses are removed from farming systems, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are used… A recent study has shown that organic farming increased nitrogen content of soil between 44 and 144 per cent.

Pulses are truly the pulse of life: for the soil, for people and the planet. In our farms they give life to the soil by providing nitrogen. This is how ancient cultures enriched their soils. Farming did not begin with the Green Revolution and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Whether it is the diversity-based systems of India, or the three sisters planted by the first nations in North America, or the ancient Milpa system of Mexico, beans and pulses were vital to indigenous agro-ecological systems.

As Sir Albert Howard, known as the father of modern agriculture, writes in An Agricultural Testament, comparing agriculture in the West with agriculture in India: “Mixed crops are the rule. In this respect the cultivators of the Orient have followed nature’s method as seen in the primeval forest. Mixed cropping is perhaps most universal when the cereal crop is the main constituent. Crops like millets, wheat, barley and maize are mixed with an appropriate subsidiary pulse, sometimes a species that ripens much later than the cereal. The pigeon pea (cajanus indicus), perhaps the most important leguminous crop of the Gangetic alluvium, is grown either with millets or with maize… Leguminous plants are common. Although it was not until 1888, after a protracted controversy lasting 30 years, that Western science finally accepted as proved the important role played by pulse crops in enriching the soil, centuries of experience had taught the peasants of the east the same lesson.”

The monocultures promoted by the Green Revolution had a direct impact on the decline of pulse production by displacing biodiversity, and with it depleting soil fertility. Mixed cropping was impossible with the intensive use of chemicals of the Green Revolution. With the change from mixed cropping to monocultures, less pulses were planted, production reduced and with the absence of legumes, nitrogen levels in the soil got depleted.

The Green Revolution ensured India produced more rice and wheat, but our pulses have disappeared from the monoculture fields. Between 1960-61 and 2010-2011, acreage under wheat has gone up from 29.58 per cent to 44.5 per cent and rice from 4.79 per cent to 25 per cent. Meanwhile, the area under pulses has dropped from 19 per cent to 0.21 per cent, oilseeds from 3.9 per cent to 0.71 per cent, millets from 11.26 per cent to 0.21 per cent. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre and health per acre, Punjab is actually producing less food and nutrition as a result of the Green Revolution.

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#LovePulses: 10 Ways to Celebrate the International Year of Pulses

Authors: Danielle Nierenberg and Emily Nink

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.

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International Year of Pulses Booklet

Meet Pulses: The Next Big Superfood Category

What are Pulses? In technical terms, they’re the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family. In understandable terms, they’re a category of superfoods that includes chickpeas, lentils, dry peas, and bean varieties. They’re also incredibly healthy, affordable, sustainable and tasty.

Download the PDF from the Global Pulse Confederation

What are pulses and why are they important crops for food security

The International year of Pulses 2016 (IYP) aims to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition. The IYP 2016 creates a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.

Learn More on FAO’s International Year of Pulses Website