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The Power of Pulses

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The Power of Pulses

The cultivation of pulses dates back to thousands of years, and these super-foods have been the key to meeting people’s nutritional needs since ages. A peek into the history suggests that pulses, along with grains, are one of the earliest crops, grown around 11,000 years ago. Pulses are cultivated in almost every corner of the world. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, in 2020, they were grown in 169 countries of the world and a yield of 94,621,001 tons was obtained. In that year, the three biggest pulse-producing countries were India, Canada and China, respectively. India produced 24.7% of world’s total produce, Canada 8.6% and China 5.1%. India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses. It consumes 27% of the world’s pulses and imports around 14% of the world’s total pulse produce. Canada, on the other hand, is the largest exporter – It exported 4,359,946 metric tons of pulses worth US$2,000 million in 2018. The average per-capita consumption of pulses in the world is 8 kilograms a year.

Although pulses have been an essential part of human diet for centuries, their nutritional value is not generally recognized and the average level of production of pulses remains low worldwide. During the past 50 years, the production of maize, wheat, rice and soybeans has increased manifolds, while the increase in that of pulses has been marginal. Thanks to its radical innovations in agriculture, the Green Revolution, between 1961 and 2012, led to massive growth in production of many basic foodstuffs. During this period, the total production of maize, wheat, rice and soybean increased between 200% and 800%, while the production of pulses could rise by only 59%. While the Green Revolution can be credited with feeding billions of additional people around the world, it is also a fact that many other crops have not received equal efforts to develop better varieties and cultivation methods. For example, according to the FAO, rice, corn and wheat alone provide more than 60% of the world’s food energy, despite the fact that the world has around 50,000 species of edible plants.

Although more than 60% of the total consumption of pulses is done by humans, yet the importance of pulses in human diet varies from region to region and country to country. Developing countries generally have a higher consumption ratio as the consumption of pulses is as high as 75% of the world’s total in these countries while the remaining 25% is in developed countries. However, as international experts assert, the consumption of pulses has been steadily declining in both developed and developing countries. In contrast, the consumption of dairy products and meat has increased significantly, and that trend is projected to continue while no major change in per-capita consumption of pulses has been predicted. The current average consumption of pulses in the world is about 21 grams per capita per day.

Pulses in Pakistan
According to the FAO, Pakistan produced 747,004 tons of pulses during the year 2020 – 0.79% of global production – and was ranked 21st in the world. Pakistan, with a production of 497,608 tons, emerged as the world’s third largest producer of gram that year. According to the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, pulses are grown on only 5% of the country’s cultivated area. During the financial year 2020-21, Pakistan imported 1,266,287 metric tons of pulses worth US$709.731 million, according to the data of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The import of pulses was 4.5% higher in quantity and 15.4% in value, as compared to the previous financial year 2019-20.

During 2020, Pakistan was the second largest importer of gram, third largest of dry peas, the fourth largest of dry beans and the fifth largest of lentils. The annual per-capita consumption of pulses in Pakistan is around 7 kgs. The total area under pulses in Pakistan in 2018-19 was around 1.167 million hectares. Among these pulses, gram is an important winter legume and Mung (green gram) is an important summer produce. In the said financial year, gram was cultivated on 81% of the cultivated area and accounted for 65% of the total production of pulses whereas Mung accounted for 14% of the total area under pulses and contributed 17% to the total production. Lentils and black gram were grown on 1.2% of the total area under pulses and each contributed 1% to the total production.

Unfortunately, the cultivation of pulses is a neglected domain in the agricultural sector of the country. An analysis of “50 years of Pakistan” (Volume I (1947-1997)) – released by the Statistics Bureau – and Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan 2018-19, published by Federal Ministry of National Food Security and Research of Pakistan — shows that the increase in the production of pulses in Pakistan was far less than that in the production of maize, wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane during the last 71 years. Due to the use of latest innovations and modern practices in the agricultural sector the production of many basic commodities between 1947-48 and 2018-19, has increased tremendously. For example, during this period, the production of maize, wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane increased by 941% and the total area under cultivation of these crops increased by 151%. However, in case of pulses, the total production declined by 4.5%. It means that we could produce far less quantity of pulses in 2018-19 than we produced in 1947-48. Moreover, the total area on which pulses were sown also declined by 9.2% during the same period.

Now, here arises a million-dollar question: why a significant increase in production of pulses, like that in other crops, could not be achieved?

Dr Muhammad Anjum Ali Buttar, Director General, Department of Agriculture (Extension), Punjab, has answered this question. He says, “There are several reasons for this. There is a lack of high-quality seeds mainly because the private sector is not interested in producing those. Second, owing to a paucity of modern mechanical resources for cultivation and harvesting of pulses, most of the work is done manually which raises the cost of producing of pulses manifolds. In addition, due to reduction in subsidy on special interventions required for cultivation of pulses and non-availability of support price, farmers feel no incentive in them. In our country, pulses are usually grown in areas which are considered agriculturally weak. These are usually rain-fed areas where climate change is affecting the rainfall patterns. Moreover, a sandy land, the growth of weeds and lack of water availability makes the production of pulses uncertain. In addition, the country is importing pulses that cost much lower than the indigenous produce.” He added: “In Punjab, in order to attract farmers towards sowing pulses, we are focused on enhancing their financial resources. We have seen some encouraging results of our efforts. I believe the pulses should be cultivated in those areas of the country where land is available but fallow so as to increase our total produce.”

Sharing the mode of efforts being made to increase the production of pulses, Dr Buttar, further stated that the Federal and the Punjab governments have taken various steps in this regard and many projects have already been started. He said, “For the promotion of pulses’ cultivation in Punjab, work on a five-year project called ‘Promotion of Pulses Cultivation in Punjab’ is underway. Under this project, certified seeds and machinery is being provided to the farmers throughout Punjab.” He added that under this scheme, portable solar irrigation systems are being provided in districts of Mianwali, Bhakkar, Layyah and Khushab (Nurpur Thal tehsil only). Moreover, as many as 64,208 farmers of Mung, Mash, gram and lentils will be selected for transfer of improved production technology for seed conversion, increase in area, distribution of machinery and increase in their capacity of producing pulses. Moreover, production of 63,608 sacks of certified seeds of high quality and newly approved varieties of these pulses and provision of certified seeds to the farmers for their cultivation on 63,608 acres of land on 50% cost-sharing basis is part of the project. In addition to this, pulse-growers will be provided with machinery including 200 seed drills, 100 multi-crop threshers, 500 small machines to weed the field, 300 mechanical weeders and 20 portable solar irrigation systems on 50-50 cost-sharing basis, while 72 demonstration plots based on better varieties of pulses and cultivation methods will also be prepared.”

According to Dr Buttar, so far the gram seeds, to be sown on 14,221 acres of land, have been distributed among the farmer in areas suitable for gram cultivation while seeds to be sown on 7548 acres in the top ten Mung-growing districts of Punjab have been distributed on 50% cost. “In Punjab, we grew gram seeds on 164.5 acres of land in our Adaptive Research Farms with an aim to amplify the seed production. These seeds encouragingly yielded around 642.24 maunds per acre of grams in 2020-21. On the other hand, Mung seeds were sown on 293.5 acres and yield was 723.72 maunds per acre,” he said in this context, he further told: “To promote mechanization in the production of pulses, 10 units of portable solar irrigation system, 18 seed drills, 17 multi-crop threshers, 6 mechanical weeders and 55 small weeders were distributed during the year 2020-21. The process to distribute 182 seed drills, 83 multi-crop threshers, 445 small weeders and 294 mechanical weeders has already been started during the current financial year. Moreover, 10 units of portable solar irrigation system will also be distributed during the current financial year.

The area of land cultivated for pulses in the country and production of pulses has been stagnant for the last many years. However, amidst substantial growth in population, consumption is steadily soaring. So, to bridge the gap between supply and demand, the import of pulses has been on an upward trajectory. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the government imposed, in 2007, a 35% tax on export of pulses in a bid to secure local production for domestic use. A large portion of the pulses we eat comes from imports, so when their prices in the international market are high, they become expensive in Pakistan as well, becoming a cause of concern for poor consumers.

In developing countries like Pakistan, poor citizens often suffer from uncertainties regarding sustainable availability and stability in prices of food in the face of extreme weather conditions, natural disasters and a number of manmade factors. However, food security not only means physical access to food but it also includes making financial access to that easier. Since people living in urban areas and on the peripheries of cities have to buy most of their food, it makes them more vulnerable to the fluctuation in prices and fluid situation of the food market than their rural counterparts. Urban dwellers are, thus, more prone to negative implications of increasing prices which ascertain as to what and how much food a person can consume.

Owing to rising food prices, they either reduce the amount of food intake, putting their health in danger by eating less, or they eat substandard food that is unfit for their use. In this state of affairs, around 52% of the urban households in Pakistan, which are already food-insecure according to the National Nutrition Survey of 2011, as well as that 32% population which lives below the poverty line and spends between 50% and 80% of income on food, (as per the Social Policy and Development Center document Poverty and Wellness Stability Pakistan 2016), the current wave of inflation has proved to be more pernicious. It has made meaningless for them the issues like access to food, food security, etc. To avoid getting further entangled in this quagmire, we need to take urgent measures to increase domestic production of pulses so as to ensure our food security while controlling the rising prices of pulses, at the same time.

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