Pulses for Sustainable Agriculture & Health
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Global demand for pulses is rapidly increasing. As noted in a recent editorial, filling the demand-supply gap will be critical.  For the South Asia region, pulses are traditionally important food commodities and cheap sources of protein. The region is now experiencing shortages of pulses which is causing an increase in imports.  In an effort to increase consumption of pulses, a number of states have included them in the Public Distribution System and a recent IFPRI discussion paper evaluates the opportunities and constraints for including pulses in the PDS.   Pulses are also emerging as the ‘future food’ in developed and many African countries. The challenge is to increase pulses production efficiently not only to meet the domestic requirement in the region but also supply for new consumers in developed and African countries. 
On January 5, 2016, IFPRI held a roundtable discussion on “Enhancing Opportunities for Increasing Production and Consumption of Pulses.” This event highlighted the importance of increasing consumer awareness of the nutritious benefits of pulses, as well as integrating government efforts and filling research gaps to encourage pulse production and consumption. A second dialogue was organized on May 31 and June 1, 2016 and featured representatives from eight different countries, 48 discussions, and 104 poster presentations.

The main themes of this latest workshop touched on major aspects of the pulse sector - Global and Indian Perspective on Pulses; Pulses Production, Consumption and Environmental Services; Pulse Consumption Behaviors; Price Behavior of Pulses; Drivers of Pulses Production; Pulses, Climate Change and Eco-system Services; International Trade in Pulses; Aggregation Models for Pulses; Leveraging Markets to Increase Pulse Production; and Evidence for Market Integration in Pulses; and Value Addition for Pulses through Food Convergent Innovation. An additional session on Farmer Producer Organization for Pulses was attended by farmers from Bihar and Maharastra.

The main theme that emerged from the inaugural session was that focus should be placed improving India’s national pulse sector through the use of technology and increased government support. There is scope for India to become the world’s largest pulse-producing country, but to make this happen, research must identify ways to fit pulses into the country’s current cropping pattern and yield gaps must be addressed so that pulse price volatility can be better managed.

Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI, launched the Global Food Policy Report 2016 at this event. Pulses receive special mention in the report, as they fall under stress-tolerant, environmentally friendly, and nutrient-rich protein options. Pulses also have high payoff potential if improved technologies are used (this is particularly true in the Indian states of Bihar and Odisha) they have high payoff potential with improved technologies.

Dr. Parthasarathy Rao, a former ICRISAT scientist provided an overview of pulse production, consumption, and demand, citing the Global Perspective of Pulses. According to the presentation, pulses account for 5.8 percent of the world’s arable land. In India, they account for 18 percent. Six pulse varieties contribute 80 percent of pulse production globally – drybeans (32 percent), chickpeas (17 percent), drypeas (15 percent), cowpeas (9 percent), and lentils and pigeonpeas combined (6 percent). Pulse production shows a rising trend in Asia and Africa; together, these regions account for about 67 percent of global pulse production. Global demand for pulses for use as both food and feed is also increasing for food and feed; 75 percent of pulses are consumed as food in developing countries, while 35 percent are consumed as food in developed countries. Pulses contribute 13 percent of India’s overall protein intake. In terms of production, Asia has not yet reached self-sufficiency. Canada, Myanmar, the US, Australia, and China account for 75 percent of all global pulse exports, and India is largest pulse-importing country in the world.

Pulse imports to India are mainly from Myanamar, Canada, and Africa. Raj Chandra of IFPRI showed evidence that imported pulses do have a cooling effect on the domestic prices of Indian pulses.  A unitary shock in the imports at first leads to a sustained increase in prices up till 20 weeks, after which price stabilizes. Import needs to be operationalized quickly as it takes some time to have effect on prices. Canada has started branding and promoting pulses via programs focusing on the crops’ nutritional and health benefits. Lack of availability of seed was reason for low production in 2016 due to high world pulse prices.  We can reduce non-renewable input use such as nitrogen phosphate and less water with the help of pulses. It was also pointed out that different pulses have very low elasticity of substitution. There should have pulse brand value instead of generic branding. Nutritional security is important in the long run.

Dr. N. P. Singh, Director of the Indian Institute of Pulses Research, Kanpur (IIPR), represented the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) and highlighted issues affecting pulse production in India, as well as key strategies to boost production. He suggested that a variety of approaches need to be developed, including area-specific pulse varieties, advancement of transgenic technologies for biotic and abiotic stress resistance, horizontal expansion of pulses in central and southern India, minimum support price policies, government support, and hybrid technology in pigeon pea production. Specific interventions should include the dissemination of improved pulse varieties among farmers, increased seed replacement rate, the development of widely adaptable varieties across different locations and seasons, the establishment of regulations regarding GM technology, assured procurement of farm produce, increased availability of critical inputs and quality seeds, increased access to irrigation, and the development of stable, high-yielding commercial hybrids.  New Initiatives by ICAR consist of the creation of 150 seed hubs at ICAR institutes, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs); and State Agricultural University (SAUs), the enhancement of breeder seed production, bio-fertilizer, and bio-control agent units at ICAR and SAUs, technology demonstrations through AICRPs and KVKs, and training of state agricultural department officers, farmers, and millers. Together, all of these initiatives can help to enhance production.

For India, rice fallows could help expand pulse production. The main challenges to this strategy lie in a lack of seeds, water management problems, animal predation, limited input support and assistance, and limited lifecycle assessments based on scientific research. There remains a need to set up long-term ecological sites.  For climate change and eco-system services adaptation there should be enhancement of the knowledge of farmers about weather and climate with grass root applications recommendations, screening and release of suitable pulse varieties based on ecological zones, better management and agriculture practices should be demonstrated, institutional interventions, and development of short duration varieties. To increase market integration there can be supply chain development, branding, and grading can play a role. Pulses markets are characterized with imperfect competition and large traders.

For marketing of pulses, FPOs remain the best option available for small pulse producers. These organizations face little to no political interference and have more bargaining power in both the input and the product markets; in addition, every farmer is a shareholder. The credit system still needs to be strengthened to support these organizations, however; it still takes three months to open a bank account for an FPO in Bihar, and even longer to receive a loan. In addition, pulse cooperatives should not be based on the model of milk cooperatives, as every commodity has specific physical and biological attributes that must be taken into consideration. Aggregation models focused on the roles of FPOs, private-public partnerships, and the promotion of contract farming can help increase pulse production and improve management of the pulse sector.

The per capita pulse availability has been declining for India. Drivers of pulse production were has been affected by population, production, and policies. Indian policy focus has been on cereals and less on pulses. Price helped in cultivation of pulses and not expansion. Thus there is need for tapping the fallow lands in the eastern region and new technological advancements. The increased measures of pest and seed treatment coupled with increase in the area under rabbi season can increase the pulse availability. Sri Lanka does have a comparative advantage for cultivation of pulses and can be utilized. Another presentation made at the event highlighted that area, yield and percentage of area under irrigation can contribute significantly to pulse production. Other drivers for high pulse production will be regulated market with facilities for storage, improvement in market statistics related to arrivals and destinations, imports with tariff-rate-quota.

Avinash Kishore of IFPRI covered the supply response to changes in prices in India and the inclusion of pulses in PDS. He suggested that the MSP objective is not only to guarantee procurement but also address other constraints to risk management in supply chains.  Farmers’ incentives to grow pulses are driven by high retail price but does not show in case of pulses due to large wedge between the farm gate price and retail price. A study done by IFPRI shows that area of pulses namely pigeon pea is not responding to increase in farm gate prices. Its contention is pulse supply response is piecewise elastic.  Inclusion of pulses in the PDS did not increase the overall pulse consumption, but it did displace consumers from open market to PDS market. 

 Finally, the synthesis presentation made by Avinash Kishore of IFPRI highlighted the following main points:

  • Extension efforts are needed to promote better practices.
  • GM varieties need to be developed to increase resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.
  • Promotion of an integrated pulse breeding program is needed across India.
  • Agro-ecology-specific research and extension in pulses are both needed.
  • Pulses should be introduced into rice-fallow areas and rice-rice/rice-wheat systems.
  • Opportunities for biofortification of pulses need to be explored.
  • The issue of food safety in pulses remains; this must be addressed both for health reasons and to ensure that Indian producers can tap into global export markets with higher safety standards.
  • A system that rewards farmers for environmentally friendly practices can help promote pulse production, as pulses are environmentally friendly crops.
  • Aggregation through FPOs should be promoted, and financial institutions should make it easier for FPOs to operate and receive credit and loans.
  • Branding helps in marketing and quality assurance and should thus be in the pulse sector.
  • Insurance to reduce price risk can help increase production.
  • Environmental services such as soil testing need to be assessed and passed on to growers, either directly or indirectly.
  • Social marketing can be used to promote pulse consumption.
  • There is a need for gender disaggregated data on pulse consumption to reduce disparities and understand differences in consumption by gender.


The speakers participating in this video are as follows:

1)      Pravesh Sharma, formerly with Government of India 
2)      Sukhpal Singh, Professor at IIM Ahmendabad 
3)      KM Singh, Director Extension at Rajendra Agriculture     
          University, Smastipur 
4)      Kaushlendra, Kaushalaya Foundation, GirishSohani, BAIF

5)      Rajiv Kumar, Mokama
6)      Dinbandhu Pathak,BIHTA
7)      Rakesh Kumar, ,ARWAL             
8)      Ramjit Sharma ,BIKARAM             
9)      Vinoy Kumar Sharma, NALANDA

By: Jaspreet Aulakh, IFPRI and Sitaram Bishnoi, ICAR

Acknowledgement: Avinash Kishore, Research Fellow, IPFRI presented synthesis presentation that has contributed to points in the end of this summary. 


Photo credit:Flickr, Didi