Background

Legumes Translated brings developers of grain legume crops (protein crops) and related value chains together in an EU Framework Programme Thematic Network. This provides a knowledge platform for the development of legume crop (or protein crop) production and use. The overall goal is to increase the production and use of grain legume crops in Europe as part of an overall change in how protein is sourced and used in Europe.  

Although grain legumes such as faba bean, pea and soya account for about 14% of the global arable cropping area and are essential to global plant protein supplies and many sustainable plant-based foods, they account for only about 3% of arable cropping in the EU.[1] The European Union’s agricultural system as a whole is about 71% self-sufficient in all tradable plant protein [2] but 86% of the plant protein imported to meet the 29% deficit is soya (the equivalent of about 36 million tonnes per annum.

This protein deficit is a fundamental challenge to the resilience, acceptance and performance of our agri-food systems. There is concern in the agri-food sector and with consumers that there are low environmental and social standards in production in exporting countries to meet this deficit.

 

The yields of major crops in Europe are stagnating because of agronomic problems in cropping systems dominated by cereals, especially wheat and its relatives. [3]  Introducing legumes is a particularly effective way of diversifying cropping sequences to break the build-up of diseases, pests and weeds in these crops with the added benefit of the biological nitrogen fixation. Legumes also make a contribution to biodiversity by supporting insect pollinators.

 

Cropping and farming system innovation must go hand-in-hand with corresponding value chain developments.  Market segments linked to the demand for GMO-free value chains and locally/regionally produced crops are growing, which is especially true for pulse and soybean-based foods.  The area of grain legumes increased very substantially from 2014 to 2015 in response to changes in the Common Agricultural Policy.  There are indications that Europe is now on the cusp of a significant change manifest in the positive political response to the European Soya Declaration and the European Commission’s work on Europe’s protein balance. [4] There are technical opportunities such as those arising from how grain legumes can be used to address constraints in cropping systems, and a critical mass of actors involved in grain legume development.

[1] Watson, C.A., Reckling, M., Preissel, S., Bachinger, J., Bergkvist, G., Kuhlman, T., Lindström, K., Nemecek, T., Topp, Cairistona, F.E., Vanhatola, A., Zander, P., Murphy-Bokern, D., Stoddard, F. (2017).  Grain legume production and use in European agricultural systems. Advances in Agronomy 144, 235-303.

[2] Murphy-Bokern, D., Peeters, A. and Westhoek, H. (2017). The role of legumes in bringing protein to the table. In: Murphy-Bokern, D., Stoddard, F., and Watson, C. (Eds.).  Legumes in cropping systems.  CABI.

[3] Brisson et al. (2010). Why are wheat yields stagnating in Europe?  A comprehensive data analysis for France.  Field Crops Research 119: 201-212.

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2014-2019/hogan/announcements/speech-commissioner-phil-hogan-fefac-afaca-congress-8th-june-2017-cordoba-spain_en

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