Pulses: Pulse of Sustainable Agri-Food Systems
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Pulses: Pulse of Sustainable Agri-Food Systems

The country is the largest producer (25% of global production), consumer (27% of world consumption) and importer (14%) of pulses in the world

Post by DR. PARVEEN KUMAR on Saturday, February 10, 2024

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Having the unique distinction of being grown in both ‘Kharif ‘as well as ‘Rabi’ season, Pulses are the leguminous crops harvested for dry grains, yielding seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod and used both as food and feed. However, ‘Rabi’ pulses contribute more than 60 per cent of the total production. Pulses exclude crops harvested green for food which are classified as vegetable crops as well as those crops used mainly for oil extraction and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes. An important source of protein, this group of crops also contributes to soil health and mitigating climate change trough their unique nitrogen fixing properties. The major pulses grown and consumed in India include Pigeon Peas (Arhar/Toor/Red Gram), Green Beans (Moong Beans), Bengal Gram (Desi Chick Pea/Desi Chana), Black Matpe (Urad/Mah/Black Gram), Black Eyed Peas (Lobia), Lentils (Masoor), Chick Peas (Kabuli Chana), White Peas (Matar) and Red Kidney Beans (Rajmash).


The country is the largest producer (25% of global production), consumer (27% of world consumption) and importer (14%) of pulses in the world. Pulses account for around 20 per cent of the area under food grains and contribute around 7-10 per cent of the total food grains production in the country. Gram is the most dominant pulse having a share of around 40 per cent in the total production followed by Tur/Arhar at 15 to 20 per cent and Urad/Black Matpe and Moong at around 8-10 per cent each. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka are the top five pulses producing States. Productivity of pulses is 7.6 q/ha. In the year 2023, the pulse production in the country stood at around 27.5 million metric tonnes.


Nutritional and Environmental Security

They are packed with nutrients and have high protein content. It is estimated that pulses contain 20-25 per cent of protein by weight and have twice the protein available in wheat and thrice that is present in rice. This makes them an ideal source of protein particularly in rainfed and resource poor regions where meat and dairy products are not physically or economically accessible to peoples. Pulses are also low in fat and rich in soluble fiber which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. Due to these immense benefits, these are recommended by health organizations for the management of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions also. Pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity. These are low in sodium, rich in potassium and good source of iron.



Pulses are reported among the top high fibre foods, necessary for supporting digestive health and helping to reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases. These are also classified as an excellent source of folate, a B-vitamin naturally present in many food essential to the proper functioning of nervous system and especially important during pregnancy to prevent fetal defects. In addition to its nutritional advantage, pulses have low carbon and water footprints which make them an integral part of the sustainable farming system. As per estimates, water footprints for producing one kilogram of meat are five times higher than that of pulses. Further, one kilogram of legume emits 0.5 kilogram in CO 2 equivalent whereas one kilogram of meat produce 9.5 kilogram in CO 2 equivalent. Pulses are highly water efficient: for producing 1 kg of lentils needs 1250 liters, while 1 kg of beef requires 13,000 liters. Intercropping with pulses increases farm biodiversity and creates a more diverse landscape for animals and insects. Pulses are low Glycemic index foods and help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels making them suitable for people with diabetes.


World Pulses Day (Feb.10)

Recognizing the value of pulses in ensuring nutritional and environmental security the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2013 adopted a resolution (A/RES/68/231) proclaiming 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP). The celebration of the year, led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (FAO), increased the public awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. Building on the success of the International Year of Pulses and recognizing their potential to further achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with particular relevance to Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 13 and 15, Burkina Faso proposed the observance of World Pulses Day. In 2019, the General Assembly proclaimed 10 February as the World Pulses Day vide resolution A/RES/73/251.


Pushed to the Marginal Lands

Due to their ability to grow without support of any external inputs, pulses were well integrated into the different farming systems prevalent in diverse agro-climatic zones. Unfortunately in green revolution era, this vital group of crops was not taken due care of.  Green revolution in 1960s only promoted rice and wheat with the High Yielding Varieties (HYVs), intensive use of chemical fertilizers and plant protection chemicals. Pulses were pushed to the marginal lands. The lack of any substantial policy support also resulted in decrease in area under their cultivation. Ultimately, all this led to an adverse bearing on the productivity and overall production of the pulses. Pulses are still cultivated on the marginal and degraded lands, predominantly under rainfed conditions. The trend of commercialization of agriculture has further aggravated the status of pulses in the farming system. There is very little value addition for pulses. Pulses are mostly consumed whole or split, apart from desi chickpea which is usually consumed in the form of flour/besan and has growing demand. Most of the processing units are production regions mainly to minimize the transportation cost for procuring raw materials and use traditional technology. However, the growing health consciousness, preference for quality packaged products and shortage of labour drives the processors to use modern technology.



Availability and requirement

Despite all this importance, per capita net availability of pulses in India is not at par with the recommendation. The per capita availability has shown an unusual trend from 51.1 gm/day (1971) to 41.9 gm/day (2013) to 53 gram/day in 2022 as against WHO recommendation of 80gm/day. This raises question about the nutritional aspect as pulses are considered to be ‘poor man’s protein’.


Pulses; Pulse of the Nation

Pulses have been rightly called as the pulse of the nation. As pulse defines life, pulses ensure nutritional security for the lives. So there is an urgent need to work towards raising its productivity by development of high yielding, climate and disease resilient varieties of pulses and improved production and protection technologies. The ICAR in collaboration with State Agricultural Universities is undertaking basic and strategic research on pulses for developing location-specific high yielding varieties along with package of practices. The National Food Security Mission NFSM-Pulses initiative of the Government of India operational in 28 States and 2 Union Territories including Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh aims to augment the pulse production in the country.


During the period from 2014 to 2023, an impressive 343 high-yielding varieties and hybrids of pulses have been officially recognized for commercial cultivation across the country. For providing marketing support to the producers, a comprehensive umbrella scheme with three components called as Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA) Scheme has been started. It has a Price Support Scheme (PSS) aimed at Procurement from pre-registered farmers at Minimum Support Price (MSP). 


The Price Deficiency Payment Scheme (PDPS) compensates farmers for price differences and Private Procurement Stockist Scheme (PPSS) encourage private sector participation in procurement. Government has also launched a portal to buy pulses directly from farmers at support prices aiming to be self sufficient in pulse production by 2027. The key to country’s food and nutritional security lies in the availability and affordability of pulses.



(Dr. Kumar writes on agriculture and social issues and can be reached at: pkumar6674@gmail.com)

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