You can help combat climate change by eating beans

12 September 2019

It’s a vicious cycle: climate change often negatively affects agricultural production while agricultural production itself, especially on a vast scale, impacts the climate.

And things are going to get worse. As the planet’s population grows, there will be ever more mouths to feed. Yet erratic weather patterns tend to reduce crop yields, thereby driving up the prices of essential dietary staples. “Climate change is acting as a brake,” notes Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University in the US. “We need yields to grow to meet growing demand, but already climate change is slowing those yields.”

Yet here’s the thing: not all crops affect the climate in the same way. Some are far more beneficial for the environment than others. Take legumes. Not only are beans, lentils and peas healthy foods, but they are also far more environmentally friendly than numerous other staple crops.

Pulses, which are edible seeds in the legume family of plants, are highly water efficient requiring far less water to grown than, say, rice. And that matters because agriculture already accounts for some 70% of freshwater use around the planet and within a decade or so demand for fresh water is set to increase by another 50%.

Better yet: pulse cultivation comes with a low carbon footprint because they don’t require nitrogen fertilizers (which are in part produced from natural gas) thanks to their ability to obtain nitrogen directly from the air and convert it into nutrients. Growing pulses also makes soils fertile and that reduces the need of fertilizers for other crops too.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, in large part, come from nitrogen fertilizers. Pulse crops have a lower carbon footprint than most foods, because they require a small amount fertilizer to grow,” explains Pulse Canada, an industry group. “Pulses have a special relationship with certain soil bacteria that have the ability to convert nitrogen in the air into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. This means that farmers need to add little or no nitrogen fertilizer to grow a pulse crop.”

Pulses are versatile and delicious foods that can be turned into an endless variety of dishes and snacks.

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