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The Global Economy of Pulses

The Global Economy of Pulses
Picture: Collected

Pulses are edible dry seeds of plants belonging to the Leguminosae family. They are consumed in the form of whole seed, split grain, dehulled split grain and flour. Many different types of pulses were grown the world over.

Of these, the major ones, in terms of global production and consumption quantities, are the common bean, chickpea, dry pea, lentil, cowpea, mung bean, urd bean and pigeonpea. In addition, there are a large number of minor pulses that are grown and consumed in different parts of the world. While pulses are primarily grown for human consumption, there is, in addition, substantial demand for them as animal feed in some of the developed countries. Of the various pulses, dry pea, faba bean and lupins are widely used as animal feed. The pulse grain has a pair of cotyledons which make up its edible part. There are two aspects of pulses that distinguish them from most other food crops. First, they are very nutritious and their consumption is associated with many health benefits. They are rich in proteins and minerals, have high fibre content and low fat content, and no cholesterol. The carbohydrates in pulses are absorbed and digested slowly, and thus help control diabetes and obesity. Secondly, pulses, like other plants of the Leguminosae family, have root nodules which absorb inert nitrogen from soil air and convert it into biologically useful ammonia, a process referred to as biological nitrogen fixation. The root nodules are formed by soil-borne rhizobia bacteria that attach themselves to the roots of these plants. In the symbiotic relationship that forms between the plant and these bacteria, the plant provides nutrients and energy to the bacteria, and the bacteria in turn produce nitrogen that helps growth of the plant. While most of the nitrogen is used for plant growth, a part of it is released into the soil when the bacteria die and some more when plant residue decomposes. Consequently, the pulse crops do not need any additional nitrogen as fertilizer and, because of the release of excess nitrogen in the soil, the requirement of fossil fuel-based chemical nitrogen fertilization in crops that follow in the cropping cycle is also reduced. These properties of pulses make them an indispensable ally in the fight against malnutrition, in particular protein malnutrition, and in reducing the use of fossil fuels in agriculture. However, although pulses have an important role to play in raising the levels of human nutrition and in maintaining the environmental sustainability of agriculture, low yields and low returns are factors that have historically constrained their growth. Global Trends in Production In the triennium ending 2014, the annual global production of pulses was about 77 million tonnes. Of this, the production of dry bean accounted for about 24 million tonnes, chickpea production for about 13 million tonnes, dry pea production for about 11 million tonnes and cowpea production for about 7 million tonnes. The annual production of lentil in the same triennium was estimated to be 5 million tonnes, while that of pigeonpea and faba bean was about 4 million tonnes each. The combined annual production of all other pulses – including bambara bean, lupins, vetches and pulses that are not separately classified – was about 7 million tonnes. The global production of pulses was about 3.5 percent of the global production of cereals in the early 1970s. Given the slow rate of growth over the last five decades, the global ratio of pulse production to cereal production declined further, to about 2.8 percent, by the triennium ending 2014. In the early 1970s, the average per hectare yield of pulses was about one-third of average per hectare cereal yield. With a higher growth rate in per hectare yield of cereal crops, the gap between the yields of cereal and pulse crops has widened over the decades. In the triennium ending 2014, the average yield of pulse crops was just about a quarter of the average yield of cereal crops. Since the 1970s, there have been two phases of high growth in the production of pulses. The first phase, over the 1980s, saw the annual production of pulses increase from about 36 million tonnes at the start of the decade to about 48 million tonnes by the end of the decade. In this period, the growth of pulses production was led by dry pea production. Increased dry pea production over the 1980s was a result of a simultaneous increase in yields (at a rate of 5.3 percent per annum) and expansion of area (at a rate of 4.2 percent per annum). In the triennium ending 1991, at about 2 tonnes per hectare, the average global yield of dry pea was higher than the average yield of all other pulses.

Regional Distribution of Production

Share of different regions of the world in production of major pulses, 2012–14 (percent)

The above table shows the regional distribution of production of different types of pulses in the triennium ending 2014. While pulses are produced in every region of the world, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa together account for about half of global production. Cultivation of dry bean, a category comprising many different types of beans, is the most widespread across different regions of the world. In 2012–14, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 24 percent of global production of dry bean, Latin America and the Caribbean for about 24 percent, Southeast Asia for about 18 percent, and South Asia for about 17 percent. In contrast, global chickpea cultivation was more concentrated, with about 74 percent of total production coming from South Asia alone. Pigeonpea production was also concentrated in South Asia (68 percent), although there has been an increase in the shares of sub-Saharan Africa (16.7 percent) and Southeast Asia (12.7 percent – mostly in Myanmar). Dry pea is produced primarily in North America (38 percent) and Europe (29 percent). Cowpea, a legume specific to arid regions, is primarily grown in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounted for about 96 percent of global production in 2012–14. North America is the largest (42 percent) producer of lentil, followed by South Asia (30 percent). Figure 1.2 shows the changes in shares of different regions of the world in the production of pulses between 2001 and 2014. The figure shows that there was an increase in the shares of North America and Africa, and a decline in the share of Europe. Africa’s share increased in the production of almost all pulses. North America increased its share primarily in the production of dry pea and lentil. Europe, once the largest producer of dry pea, saw a sharp decline in overall production of pulses. Although Asia remained a major producer of many pulses, its share in global production declined between 2001 and 2014. Find the full report…

Source: FAO

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