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Transition paths to sustainable legume based systems in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TRUE (Transition paths to sustainable legume based systems in Europe)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-09-30

Agriculture accounts for 25% of total (global) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The production of animals for meat and the application of synthetic nitrogen (N) fertiliser are the largest contributors to agriculture’s GHGs budget. Fortunately, legume crops such as beans and clover, are a sustainable source of highly nutritious food and feed and may also be used as a natural N fertiliser, thanks to their capacity for “biological N fixation”, that converts atmospheric-N (N2) to biologically useful N. Thus, legumes require greatly reduced levels of synthetic N fertiliser, and often none. Legumes can also help nutrition security by countering undernutrition and unbalanced nutrition, which impose financial health-care cost burden, through the effective implementation of sustainable legume-based diets. Europe’s food systems are highly legume dependant, but environmental and human health benefits are forfeited as the EUs legume-grain demand is imported and used for mainly animal feed; often soybean, GM, and sourced from what was biodiverse rainforest and/or cerrado regions. Thus, grain legumes occupy only a very small percentage of European farmed land. Also, the use and efficiency of forage legumes (in pasture systems) needs increased. More diverse agri-food systems supported by home-grown legumes are required to help safeguard environmental and nutritional securities. This transition demands greater cooperation among all agri-food system actors.

The EU-H2020 funded project TRUE (TRansition paths to sUstainable legume-based systems in Europe) was designed from the perspective that the scientific knowledge and societal desire for more-sustainable legume-supported agri-food systems does exist, but that co-innovation among supply chain actors to identify, realise and prioritise transition paths remains to be achieved. TRUE is therefore aimed at working with the full-range of stakeholders across the supply chain, including civil society bodies, to identify and enable routes (transition paths) to help realise more-sustainable legume-supported agri-food systems. TRUE comprises an equal balance of 24 academic and non-academic partners, who span the agri-food system to deliver a diverse suite of research- and innovation-strategies in parallel and in a transdisciplinary context.
TRUE has established the Legume Innovation Network, from the projects inclusive approach, and strong dissemination activities. Strict adherence to Open Access and data-sharing means all outputs are presented on the TRUE website, and TRUE-Community pages on Zenodo, and are also popularised on social media outlets. Content includes: an extensive peer-reviewed evidence-base covering all food system aspects from production to policy; Practice Abstracts; methods (termed SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures); plus data from experimental trials of TRUEs innovative Work Packages and Case Studies (CS). The 24 CS have served as excellent and practical models, highlighting the breadth of value-chain wide know-how and capacities necessary for the home-grown legume transition. The CS insights have been compiled into key reports, including the TRUE-Innovation Catalogue, -ebook, and -Brochure. These resources are allied to key peer-reviewed scientific reports on socioeconomic- and market-conditions, plus policy recommendations, that will facilitate home-grown legume-based cropped systems. The LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) tools developed and implemented by TRUE have also accounted the environmental and nutritional impacts and benefits of novel legume-based products. Critically, and collectively, TRUE’s efforts have highlighted the absence of sufficient capacities for the processing of home-grown legumes, and especially across different regions, and to human food grade. TRUE also highlights that greater effort is urgently required to ensure that innovations and facilitative measures are integrated, or combined, across value chains. Also, that this effort includes the identification of indicators of home-grown legume-based food systems function, at national and sub-national (or bioregional) scales. Baseline values for these indicators should identify current states and acceptable thresholds, out-with which interventions are necessary. TRUEs Pathfinder Decision Support System can assist here, as it has been developed to guide businesses, scholars, and policy-makers on the factors determining the extent to which legume-based value chains are truly sustainable.
TRUE has gone beyond the simple identification of transition paths to enable and facilitate home-grown legume-supported food- and feed-systems across Europe. Many of the innovations are being implemented, and span from novel precision-agriculture equipment and -inputs to clear policy recommendations, identified by multi-stakeholder consultation. Improving legume performance through improved crop breeding and agronomy should remain a focus. However, we should safeguard against an over-focus on production elements of the system, relative to ex-farm gate factors. Greater incentivisation of legume-processing facilities must be encouraged, including the availability of more-affordable smaller-scale capacities, such as empower the short-value chains at local or bioregionalised scales. There is also a dearth of facilities for processing legume to grades which meet minimum recommendations for human food consumption. Nevertheless, the accounting tools, insights, and products which have been established and developed have already impacted positively, commercially, and environmentally. From the early project stages, TRUE has recognised that, ‘sustainability is the language of responsible food marketing”. Despite this, the depth of consumer understanding of legumes, is low and this situation is compounded by the current inadequate nature of (school) educational provisions, value-chain labelling and categorisation regimes (e.g. among wholesalers), and marketing. Greater effort must be made to ensure all consumers are fully aware of the significance of legumes, local legume cultivation, and legume-based products. This foundation is essential if home-grown legume-based systems are to be realised in tandem with resilient local businesses, and good-food cultures. Allied to this, robust monitoring tools are necessary to validate claims regarding the environmental and/or nutrient-density benefits of legume-based food systems and products. TRUE has established these, increasing scales of legume cultivation, and their commercial competitiveness. Life Cycle Assessment is an important facilitative tool in this, and TRUEs LCA tools will move beyond environmental impact assessments, to account key indicators of ecosystem functions (or ‘ecosystem services’) at practical scales - such as that of the catchment, or even farm/field. This will empower improved consumer awareness, positive consumer choice, and consequent benefits for responsive and responsible businesses. Interested parties should therefore continue to monitor the projects legacy website ( for outputs from TRUE, and the Legume Innovation Network (LIN). The LIN is currently being developed on a voluntary basis, to help enable co-innovation between legume-focused businesses, NGOs (non-governmental organisations), and researchers.