Finger On The Pulses
Imports have grown steadily from 3.8 million tonne in 2012-2013 to 5.79 million tonne last year, to feed domestic demand. Yet, prices of pulses have remained untamed — implying a craving for pulses that should make nutrition experts at the FAO proud
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Pulses, peas, beans and lentils are really wonder seeds. They are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids, which fight obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes. The legumes biologically fix nitrogen in the soil to enhance soil fertility and are ideal for inter-cropping. They grow in semi-arid conditions and require very little fertiliser or water and so, are good for the ecology.
Farmers in Hawaii began growing a hardy, drought tolerant legume from India at the turn of the 19th Century as livestock feed. Pigeon pea slowly became popular as a ‘soil builder’, inter-planted with pineapple. In India, the seeds of the legume are eaten as tur or arhar dal. The West Asian hummus, made of chickpea paste, is fad food now, but many lesser known varieties of pulses are grown and eaten locally and never reach the world market.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. As part of its drive to promote the nutritious seeds, which could simultaneously cure the world of hunger and save the environment, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) hosted an online discussion on pulses. It also published a book, that recounts how these “edible seeds” fit into the history and culture of each region. Small farmers around the world, from the African coast of Malawi to the hilly terrains of Myanmar in Asia, grow pulses as both food and forage.
Some now grow them as a cash crop for export to India. Farmers in Mozambique, for instance, willspecifically grow pigeon pea and black lentils (urad dal) for the Indian market over the ensuing five years. India will also import pulses from Malawi and Myanmar and possibly some other countries too. In the past, India has imported pulses from distant Canada to southern Australia.
Pulses are today grown in 90 countries around the world, but nowhere as much as in India. India is simultaneously the world’s largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses and if the runaway prices of pulses in the home market are any indication, our craving for the legumes is insatiable. Production of pulses (with lots of incentives from the government) have hovered around 17 million tonne to 18 million tonne of late.
Imports have grown steadily from 3.8 million tonne in 2012-2013 to 5.79 million tonne last year, to feed domestic demand. Yet, prices of pulses have remained untamed — implying a craving for pulses that should make nutrition experts at the FAO proud.