The value of pulses in agriculture and nutrition – Kashmir Reader
Harnessing the potential of these legumes will help minimize the risks to human health, especially those related to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers
The celebration of international days is meant to educate the general masses about various concerns, challenges, prospects and progress made in a particular field. In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution proclaiming 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The aim was to raise awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at the top. This was followed by another United Nations resolution in 2019 in which February 10 was proclaimed World Pulses Day. This day is an opportunity to learn about legumes, especially their value in agriculture and nutrition.
When we talk about India, pulses have a great importance in the diet of the country. About 43% of the country’s population is vegetarian, and pulses are an important source of protein for them. It is for this reason that legumes are part of the country’s cultural heritage. India has made good progress in the production of pulses over the years. The initiative taken by the government under the NFSM has greatly helped the country to improve the production of pulses. To this end, 644 districts from 28 States and Union Territories (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were covered by GOI’s NFSM-Pulses programme. According to the program guidelines, incentives are given to the farmer for demonstration of clusters, seed distribution, production of certified seeds of high yielding varieties (HRVs), agricultural machinery and tools, micro-irrigation, crop protection chemicals, nutrient management, soil management. improvements and training. Consequently, production of pulses increased from 14.6 million tonnes in 2010-11 to 23.03 million tonnes in 2020-21, or 58% more. In Jammu and Kashmir as well, the production of pulses increased significantly after the initiative. In 2016-17, the production was only 10.26 thousand tons, which increased to 44.17 thousand tons in 2019-20. This is a huge leap in production to the tune of 330%.
Although they are wonderful crops with the unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, deep root system, efficient use of water and stability of yields under low availability resources, pulses face many challenges in creating sufficient space in existing cropping systems in most parts of the world. world. Also here in India, the pulses program was not an easy task at all, as motivating the farmers was a bit difficult. Indeed, high-yielding cereal varieties are considered more profitable than legumes. Non-availability of adequate quantities of quality seed of improved varieties, political issues such as minimum support price and infrastructure development for pulse processing were other reasons for poor adoption. Low average productivity, even less than 1 ton per hectare, makes it a less preferred crop and therefore pulses are mainly grown in resource-poor and harsh environments that are frequently prone to drought and other biotic and abiotic stresses.
In the Kashmir Valley, there are many opportunities to further improve pulse production by integrating it with horticultural crops. Intercropping small legume crops in apple orchards during the juvenile stage has been a practice in the past and there is a good scope of intercropping with high density apple orchards, for which we need to generate data and standardize location-specific intercropping systems. Introducing legumes into existing cropping systems, either in rotation or in association, is highly beneficial due to many complementary effects. Past experience shows that supplying nutrients through chemical fertilizers alone is not wise. The integration of organic and biological sources of nutrients into existing practice is essential to sustain production and at the same time reduce environmental pollution.
Legumes, in combination with specific bacterial strains, have the ability to convert unavailable nitrogen gas present in the atmosphere into food for plants. This symbiotic association between legumes and bacteria has a great impact on nitrogen dynamics. Research reveals that this crop group also helps improve the nutrient status of the soil with respect to other essential nutrients, including micronutrients. Legumes are also considered essential components of soil conservation technology due to some unique characteristics like 1.) Ability to produce maximum foliage in a short time to cover the soil which helps to reduce the impact direct raindrops, water runoff and wind onto the ground, thus reducing soil erosion. Cowpea, green gram, and black gram, for example, provide an early, dense ground cover that usually coincides with peak runoff and are therefore recognized as important rainy season cover crops, 2.) The tap root system, which penetrates deep and increases soil permeability at shallower depths. This helps to increase the water absorption capacity of the soil and therefore reduces runoff. 3.) Rotting roots strengthen the state of soil organic matter, which improves the physical condition of the soil and encourages earthworm activity.
Thus, legumes facilitate the infiltration and percolation of water. In addition to this, some fast-growing legumes compete very effectively with weeds for limited resources like nutrients, water, sunlight and space by covering the soil surface very quickly. This reduces the weed population and their negative impact on yield and quality. As intercrops, they not only provide additional products, but also reduce the weed population and have a complementary effect on the main crop. Legumes also improve soil physical properties by producing a sticky protein substance called glomalinin in the rhizosphere (narrow region of soil/substrate near the roots) which increases the stability of soil aggregates.
Being a cheap and rich source of protein, pulses play a vital role in the country’s nutrition as a dietary component of a large portion of the vegetarian population. On average, pulses contain 20-25% protein on a dry seed basis, nearly three times the value seen for many cereals. These proteins provide amino acids for the synthesis of body proteins and other biologically important compounds in the body. The amino acid composition of legume protein complements that of cereals, as legume protein is high in lysine and relatively low in sulfur amino acids. An almost opposite situation occurs in cereal proteins. The mix of grain and legume proteins makes dal-chawal or dal-roti a great food combination. According to the recommendations of the Indian Council of Medical Research, 50g and 60g of pulse per day are needed for an average adult woman and man, respectively. Given this, the importance of pulses to the country that has the second highest population in the world cannot be overstated. Adequate supply of protein in the form of pulses will therefore contribute immensely to the nutritional security of the country.
Since symbiotic nitrogen fixation brings a large amount of nitrogen to the soil, it helps to minimize dependence on chemical fertilizers. This in turn reduces the chemical load in soils and the pollution associated with the manufacture of fertilizers. Exploiting this potential of these legumes will certainly contribute to minimizing the risks to human health, in particular those linked to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.
The author is Sr Scientist & Head, KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. [email protected]