Journal article Open Access

The Biology of Legumes and Their Agronomic, Economic, and Social Impact

Marta W. Vasconcelos; Michael A. Grusak; Elisabete Pinto; Ana Gomes; Helena Ferreira; Bálint Balázs; Tiziana Centofanti; Georgia Ntatsi; Dimitrios Savvas; Anestis Karkanis; Michael Williams; Albert Vandenberg; Luiza Toma; Shailesh Shrestha; Faical Akaichi; Christine Oré Barrios; Sabine Gruber; Euan K. James; Marta Maluk; Alison Karley; Pete Iannetta

Intensive agriculture and meat-based westernized diets have brought a heavy environmental burden to the planet. Legumes, or pulses, are members of the large Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family, which comprise about 5% of all plant species. They are ancient crops whose popularity both for farmers and consumers has gone through several stages of acceptance, and in recent years, legumes have regained their luster. This is due to a global understanding that: (1) farming systems need to promote biodiversity, (2) biological nitrogen fixation is an important tool to reduce the application of external chemical inputs, namely in the form of nitrogen fertil- izers, and that (3) plant-based foods have fewer adverse environmental effects per unit weight, per serving, per unit of energy, or per protein weight than do animal source foods, across various environmental indicators. Legumes play a key role in answering these three global challenges and are pivotal actors in the diversification and sustainable intensification of agriculture, particularly in light of new and urgent challenges such as climate change. In this chapter, we showcase the importance of legumes as contemporary agents of change, whose impacts start in the field, but then branch out into competitive global economies, modernized societies, and ultimately, improved food security and human health.

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